P H I L O S O P H Y P A T H W A Y S ISSN 2043-0728
Issue number 180
15th November 2013
Edited by Martin Jenkins
I. 'The Theme of Freedom, Choice and Responsibility in the Philosophy
of Existence: A Critical Appraisal' by Helen T. Olojede
II. 'The Selfish Genes Doctrine: Progressive Research Program or
Modern Phlogiston?' by Jurgen Lawrenz
III. 'Allowing for Every Contingency. A Dialogue on Determinism,
Contingency and Free Will' by Raam Gokhale
From the List Manager
IV. Erwin Laya 'Letter from the Philippines'
V. Sharon Kaye 'Call for Papers: What's Wrong With Childhood Today?'
This edition of Philosophy Pathways centres on one issue of 'the
human condition'; namely are human beings agents, free to create
ourselves or, are there factors which determine who and what we are
and become? That is the perennial issue of Free Will or Determinism.
Helen T. Olojede of the Department of Philosophy, University of
Ibadan in Nigeria critically appraises the issue through the
existentialism of Jean-Paul Sartre. Sartre maintained a
phenomenological view wherein nothingness surrounds being forcing us
to be free; a view Olojede critically supports. Without this, human
beings cannot realize themselves as human beings.
Pathways contributor and Panel member of Ask a Philosopher Jurgen
Lawrenz approaches the issue by a critical examination of the Selfish
Gene Theory of Richard Dawkins. In response to the article by Michael
Uhall in Philosophy Pathways Issue 175, Lawrenz takes to task the
contention that genes wholly determine the human being. I found this
a welcome article challenging the uncritical belief promulgated in
the popular media that genetics totally determines who and what we
Finally, in dialogue form, drawing on Aristotle's example of the 'Sea
Battle', Raam Gokhale analyses the issues of necessity, indeterminism,
determinism and contingency concerning human activity. The dialogue
does not come to a definite conclusion but expresses the different
perspectives concerning whether we human beings freely choose or
whether other factors incline or determine our being.
About the Editor:
I. 'THE THEME OF FREEDOM, CHOICE AND RESPONSIBILITY IN THE PHILOSOPHY
OF EXISTENCE: A CRITICAL APPRAISAL' BY HELEN T. OLOJEDE
The focus of this paper is to examine critically the tripartite but
inextricably linked theme of freedom, choice and responsibility in
existential philosophy using Jean-Paul Sartre as foil. In doing this,
the paper looks at the idea of existentialism, followed by an analysis
of freedom and its relation to liberty and to the Other. It examines
the idea of determinism and Sigmund Freud and B.F Skinner's theories
on human nature.
Keywords: Existentialism, Freedom, Choice, Responsibility,
What necessitates this paper are certain recurring themes in the
works of existential philosophers. One such theme found is that of
freedom, choice and responsibility which this work analyses in the
ideas of Sartre; Sartre being a philosopher who dwelled more on it.
It is in this light that the paper opens with a general discussion of
existentialism, its emergence and the central position. It goes
further to examine the idea of freedom, its relationship with
liberty; the aim is to have a clear understanding of the concept and
be able to grasp Sartre's notion of freedom. The third part discusses
the theme and how they are all related to another; a critique is
equally attempted at this point. Sigmund Freud and B.F Skinner's
opposing views of freedom in terms of determinism were also briefly
examined. In the conclusion, the paper offers its own thoughts and
suggestions as to Sartre's idea of freedom and why his notion should
be preferred to a contrasting one.
Existentialism is the philosophy of existence; it is concerned with
the nature of human existence, its values and its meanings.
Existentialism arose as a backlash against traditional philosophy
which was preoccupied with abstract essence rather than existence.
Existentialist philosophers are concerned with concrete human
existence, that is, what it means for human beings to exist; they
analyse and describe the peculiar characteristics of human existence.
Jean-Paul Sartre in his 1946 lecture Existentialism is Humanism says
'by existentialism we mean a doctrine which makes human life possible
and in addition, declares that every truth and every action implies a
human setting and a human subjectivity'.
A central proposition of existentialism is that existence precedes
essence, meaning that human being's existence comes before and his
more fundamental than any meaning which may be ascribed to human
life. Existentialists hold widely differing views about human
existence, but there are still a number of recurring themes in their
writings like: Factical thrownness, Authenticity and inauthenticity,
Despair, Angst, Anguish, Death, Man and the World, Freedom Choice and
The term freedom connotes different things in different contexts. It
is sometimes used interchangeably with the term liberty, there is
however a very subtle difference between them that is hardly taken
note of. Linguist Geoffrey Nunberg suggests that many languages do
not distinguish between 'liberty' and 'freedom'. Nunberg concedes
that 'even in English, the words can sometimes seem to be
equivalent.' However, Nunberg notes a distinction:
... liberty implies a system of rules, a 'network of
restraint and order,' hence the word's close association
with political life. Freedom has a more general meaning,
which ranges from an opposition to slavery to the absence
of psychological or personal encumbrances... 
In political philosophy, freedom is usually conceived in two
different senses, in terms of negative and positive freedom. The
former has to do with freedom in terms of what is not the case.
Freedom in this view amount to freedom form compulsion, coercion and
constraint. If there are ranges of options open to us so that we are
constrained in our choice, then we do what we do freely. The positive
type however, suggest that there is more to freedom than the absence
of compulsion, coercion and constraint. To have positive freedom we
must be free of all these and also have the capacity and
understanding to exercise autonomy. Political freedom is also
regarded as freedom in terms of negative and positive. It is
understood negatively as freedom from external constraints of
actions, while the positive aspect has to do with exercise of rights.
This concept of political freedom is connected to equality, civil
liberties and human rights.
Freedom, choice and responsibility
This theme can be found in the works of several existential
philosophers, but Jean Paul Sartre wrote much more on the subject. He
defined freedom thus:
The very being of the For-itself which is 'condemned to be
free' and must forever choose itself -- i.e., make itself.
'To be free' does not mean 'to obtain what one has wished'
but rather 'by oneself to determine oneself to wish' (in
the broad sense of choosing). In other words success is not
important to freedom.
Sartre's central assertion in this regard is that man is condemned to
be free, that there is no limit to our freedom except that we are not
free to cease being free. He reaches this conclusion about the nature
of human freedom through his notion of consciousness, that
consciousness is always that of something and can never be empty.
Sartre spoke of freedom in purely negative terms as the human
capacity to negate, nihilate and withdraw from the material things
and situations. He believed we are condemned to free because we had
no choice in the matter of being free because we are thrown into this
world by chance. This is what Heidegger called 'factical thrownness in
Stemming from this, we are responsible for our actions, for what we
do in an absolute sense because it is believed that man is capable of
realizing his essential finitude, to seize upon his circumstances and
actualize his historical possibilities, that is, develop his
potentials. Choice is therefore central to human existence; the
refusal to choose is by itself a choice, freedom of choice entails
commitment and responsibility. Because individuals are free to choose
their own path, existentialists have argued that they must accept the
risks and responsibilities of following their commitments wherever it
leads. These thoughts therefore show how the concepts, freedom, choice
and responsibilities (commitment) are intertwined.
Sartre's idea of freedom however raises certain questions. It could
be asked whether man is actually totally free without any factor
determining the choice of his actions. Determinism is the direct
opposite of the statement that man is free. Determinism states that
everything that happened is determined by prior causes, which means
that we have no control over what we choose and that our choices are
determined. Certain theories on human nature have also buttressed the
position that we are not free as Sartre made us to believe.
The psychologist, Sigmund Freud, says that all phenomena are
determined by the laws of physics and chemistry. He argues that
instinctive drives are internal in man, psychological factors like
the environment, parental influences are various factors that
determine man's freedom. B.F Skinner also opines that genetic factors
influence and determine the actions of man because they cannot be
manipulated. These and many other theories have come to posit that
humans are not 'condemned to be free' as Sartre has made us to
It is pertinent to note that Sartre's concept of freedom does not
exclude the Other; on the contrary, it recognises the awareness of
the Other. '...the fact of the Other is incontestable and touches me
to the heart...' He did not conceive of man as being free in the
sense man being the only one in the world or as some form of
solipsism like Rene Descartes, rather, although he emphasised
existential subjectivity, he also gives room for existential
intersubjectivity. This intersubjectivity does not limit the freedom
of the individual as Sartre opines, but simply acknowledges that
there are other subjectivities. Each individual is still supposed to
realise his essential finitude and intersubjectivity does not hinder
Sartre declares, 'I must have contact with another person, the other
is indispensable to my own existence, as well to my knowledge about
myself, this being the case in discovering my own inner being, I
discover the other person at the same time...' When therefore
existentialism emphasises man's individual nature, they do so to
enable him to determine himself from within; that man should assert
his distinctive character does not argue the case that man is an
isolated being on an island. If we refuse to assert our
individuality, we have no one but ourselves to blame. Man to the
existentialists is totally free.
Although, Sartre's idea of freedom has received a wide range of
criticisms, his conception of freedom could be more appreciated if we
understand and interpret Sartre as out to make man responsible for his
actions and not resort to making cheap excuses for the actions he
carried out willingly. This is because; man is known to easily blame
his actions on one force or the other. In Sartre's attempt to do this
however, we could see him making frantic efforts to defend the concept
of freedom. This is probably what made him say that obstacles are not
enough to stop man's projects because to him, freedom is the freedom
to change our environment, to surmount obstacles. To have a good
understanding of Sartre's concept of freedom, one has to have it in
mind that he is an atheist and that he believes that the Christian
God or religion does not enable one to take responsibility. This is
probably the reason he conceives of man as being absolutely free with
no restriction. His philosophy I think is reactionary against religion
or the Christian teachings.
This paper makes a case for Sartre's 'supposed' exaggerated freedom
as against the theory of determinism, this is because, the former
spurs one on, it breeds hope, courage, and optimism. This idea is not
without obvious shortcomings of course, but I think it is a better
idea to have. The reason being that, if we are too conscious of the
fact that we are determined by some factors beyond our control, there
is always the high probability to relent and relax in the face of
challenges and obstacles. If we understand Sartre in this light, his
concept of freedom will be better appreciated and probably advocated.
1. Basic Routledge Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, pp.2643-2650; Gleen
Bradock, 'Sartre on Atheism, Freedom, and Morality : The Humanism of
Existentialism' in Christine Daigle (edited) Existentialist Thinkers
and Ethics . (McGill-Queens University Press 2003) pp. 95-107 ; Jean
Paul Sartre, 'Existentialism as a Humanism', in Walter Kauffman,
Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre, (Meridian Books, 1960) pp.
2. Nick Gier, Two types of Existentialism, A Paper presented at the
Northwest Conference on Philosophy, Seattle Pacific University,
November 20, 1976. Available at:
http://www.webpages.uidaho.edu/ngier/315/2types.htm; see also, Joseph
Omoregbe, A Simplified History of Western Philosophy vol.3 (Joja
Educational Research, 2005) 44-55
3. Geoffrey Nunberg, 'Freedom and Liberty'. Available at:
on May 1st 2011).
4. Political Freedom , available at
http://www.politicalphilosophy.info/freedom.html (accessed on 1st
5. Rob Harle, (1999) 'Condemned To be Free'. Available at
(accessed on May23rd 2011).
6. Joseph Omoregbe, A Simplified History of Western Philosophy vol.3
( Lagos: Joja Educational Research, 2005), 44-48; Jim Unah,
Heidegger: Through Kant to Fundamental Ontology (Ibadan: Hope
Publication 1997) p. xxii; F.F Seeburger, Journal of Philosophy and
Phenomenological Research, vol. xxxvi, (December 1979, No 2),
7. Ibid; A.C. Odesanmi 'Jean Paul Sartre and the concept of
Determinism,' in Global Journal of Humanities, Vol. 7, No.1&2, 2008,
8. Inwagen P. 'The incompatibility of freewill and determinism', in
Philosophical studies, 27, 1975, pp.185-199
10. Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness p.63
11. Omoregbe, op.cit., pp. 104-107
Basic Routledge Encyclopaedia of Philosophy
Daigle Christine. (edited) Existentialist Thinkers and Ethics,
Mcgill-Queens University Press, 2003
Gier Nick. Two types of Existentialism, A Paper presented at the
Northwest Conference on Philosophy, Seattle Pacific University,
November 20, 1976.
Harle Rob. (1999) 'Condemned To be Free'. Available at
(accessed on May23rd 2011).
Kauffman Walter. Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre, Meridian
Nunberg Geoffrey. 'Freedom and Liberty' Available at:
on May 1st 2011).
Odesanmi A.C. 'Jean Paul Sartre and the concept of Determinism,' in
Global Journal of Humanities, Vol. 7, No.1&2, 2008
Omoregbe Joseph. A Simplified History of Western Philosophy vol.3
Ibadan: Joja Educational Research, 2005
Political Freedom , available at
http://www.politicalphilosophy.info/freedom.html (accessed On 1st
Sartre Jean-Paul. Being and Nothingness
Seeburger F.F. Journal of Philosophy and Phenomenological Research,
vol. xxxvi, No. 2, December, 1979
Unah Jim Heidegger: Through Kant to Fundamental Ontology Ibadan: Hope
(c) Helen T. Olojede 2013
Department of Philosophy
University of Ibadan
II. 'THE SELFISH GENES DOCTRINE: PROGRESSIVE RESEARCH PROGRAM OR
MODERN PHLOGISTON?' BY JURGEN LAWENZ
Michael Uhall issued a challenge to the 'Selfish Gene Doctrine' in
the October 2012 issue of this Journal, which the reader should
consult before perusing my paper. I intend to pick up some of his
points and throw light from a different perspective on them.
Basically because Uhall does not go far enough in his critique and
implicitly accepts some of the grounding tenets of the doctrine. It
seems to me that, far from being (as he calls it) 'a potentially
progressive research program', it is a red herring and flatly
contradicts the fundamental tenets of the life sciences, to which
nonetheless it claims to be making a contribution.
Accordingly I need to point out two problems even before I begin with
issues. The first is verbal: The term 'selfish gene'. It seems not to
have occurred to disputants that it is an intentional term and
therefore radical nonsense, since a gene is a thing and hence cannot
be selfish. We should not blithely concede it as metaphorical
language, since the doctrine does not frame its arguments in
metaphorical terms, but insinuates (strongly!) a scientific grounding.
The second is the assertion that the target of evolution is 'the
gene'. No self-respecting evolutionist would agree -- indeed the
theory of evolution would collapse if this claim could be confirmed.
The target of selection is organisms. Genes are not equipped for
survival, but organisms are; and for this purpose the organism
utilises resources for which genes engender no forms of specification
whatever, namely subjective characters such as the will to survive and
appropriate survival strategies. An ancillary negative point is the
complete disregard by this doctrine of epigenetic features with their
demonstrable capacity for overriding genetically produced physical
Immediately we have made ourselves aware of these two question marks
on the doctrine, we cannot escape querying the initial premise that
'only the replicator is heritable.' Every Tom, Dick and Harry on the
street would raise eyebrows at this assertion; and rightly so,
because it not only sounds improbable, but is a mere paper thought
that rides roughshod over the innumerable characters passed on by
parents to their offspring which belong into the class of
transmissions that are (as Cairns-Smith calls them) the 'hands off'
part of the cycle. I might mention instincts as typical candidates,
since nothing on the genome could possibly contain a specification
for them. But in truth there are more of these than we could count;
and this brings a criterion of this doctrine to light which is
suppressed to such an extent that no-one even seems to have the
courage to speak of it. Namely, that the selfish gene doctrine has
very little evidence and nothing resembling a proof in its favour.
Indeed, it seems to have been completely overlooked by its proponents
that the genome contains no specification for life, which one would
expect to be absolutely indispensable. Hence the question remains
unanswered of how life is added to the chemical materials of which
bodies are constructed. For without such a gene we have no
explanation why living bodies differ from non-living bodies -- and,
for that matter, why with all our science and know-how, we have not
gained an iota of understanding of how the proteins are actually made
that are so clearly specified on the genome. In a word: The doctrine
is helpless in the face of the autonomous agency and intentional
character of the 'products' of these chemical assemblies.
As a philosopher I should not pass over an aspect of this doctrine
that could (at your choice) be described as 'purblind', 'pernicious'
or 'dehumanising', depending on the life form under consideration. In
respect to human life is undoubtedly all three, since the thrust of
all its arguments is a genetic determinism imbued with a radical
fatality that makes us all victims of a blind mechanism, thereby
turning humans into machines for the replication of genes. I cannot
think of any fatalistic doctrine more calculated than this to sap
life of all meaning and purpose. This is pretty much the exact
opposite of what our Western scientific and philosophical enterprise
has sought to provide in its emphasis on enlightenment. What we get
here is a pitch black picture of the utter futility of conscious
I don't think any reader should take this to be a rhetorical
over-emphasis. Rather, the boot on this issue is on the other foot.
As mentioned, for a 'theory' that is in reality a mere conjecture and
lacks the most elementary verification routines, to put its chest out
and promulgate its 'scientific' authority in way that influences
society in its educational and even legal systems, is pretty damning.
But I shall leave it to readers to draw any such conclusions
Accordingly it is worth dwelling for a moment on the term
'adaptation' which is central to the theory of evolution. I invite
readers to take on board the intentional flavour of the word.
Adaptation is 'tinkering', change by trial and error. I would like to
be shown a gene that encourages living creatures to tinker, and even
more so to enact strategies for their survival, so that they will
indeed live long enough to pass on their genes. But this is merely
one of the innumerable holes in this doctrine.
Throughout the arguments brought up by Uhall, one also misses the
mention of the infraction of Cricks' Dogma that has been put on
notice since evidence of reverse transcription came to light in the
study of yeast (and since then in other types of organisms). It is
probably too close to Lamarckism for the comfort of Darwinists; but
it needs to be said that life is not rigidly bound to one or the
other. Science must be adaptive too. The selfish gene doctrine is
unadaptive in principle and consequently dogmatic in high degree. On
this score alone it should raise suspicions on how long we can fly
with it before it runs out of fuel.
Uhall, instead, finds ontological problems. That's a pleasing
philosophical stance, otherwise sorely inconspicuous in this
literature. But I think he hampers himself by clinging too closely to
the dogmatic line of enquiry. He assumes, as others do, that 'a gene
is a functional unit'. It is nothing of the kind. Genes don't
function; they are not machines. They are (Cairns-Smith again)
analogous to a recipe. So the decisive criterion is hardly that a
chromosomal segment may become 'invisible' to selection, but that the
entire genome is invisible.
Further, the idea that the genome is an unchanging identity cannot be
upheld, since mutation is the rule rather than the exception; and
further that as things, genes are subject to the corruption that
affects all things. Iron bars left exposed to wind and weather will
rust; and so genes, left to themselves, go on a curve of
disintegration from the moment they are formed and need the attention
of a substantial 'staff' of enzymes whose job it is to repair the
damage -- which is not ever going to transpire without hiccups. But
the mutation of genes is common knowledge, which therefore makes one
wonder what this queer insistence on 'unchanging identity' is
supposed to accomplish.
While on this subject, there is an additional caveat to be observed
respecting the presumed 'functionality' of genes -- I would say, a
fatal infraction of the selfish gene proposition. A great swag of all
genes (apparently the majority) are what I call contingency genes.
What they release are not muscle or glandular or nerve cells, but
cells that become glands, muscles, nerves etc., depending on the
feedback of the environment. This feedback is not directed at the
genes, but the organism, which thereupon constructs the cells as
needed. For example, it stands to reason that the perceptive
environment at the North Pole will differ significantly from the
Amazonian jungle: accordingly the sensory equipment of a (human or
animal) baby born into such habitat will vary significantly. It
further stands to reason that if genes were as deterministic as we
are led to believe, then (say) an orphan born to an Amazonian native,
but brought up by French parents in Paris, would be very ill-equipped
for life. We know this is not the case.
Therefore Uhall's critique of the ontologically dubious status of
genes is well placed.
I wish finally to deal, very briefly, with the stress placed on
altruism in Uhall's critique (which is indeed a sore point and
frequently debated). It is entirely unnecessary, except insofar as
some animals also exhibit altruistic behaviour. As far as humans are
concerned, almost everything from poetry and pottery, aeroplanes and
agriculture, politics and plastics to jokes and (indeed!) genetic
theories is inexplicable under the terms of genetic theories. Which
brings me to an eloquent passage written by Cairns-Smith in his book
(from which I have already quoted) Seven Clues to the Origin of Life.
This author is very much in league with molecular genetics and
compiled a seriously intended breviary of chemical wisdom in support
of a theory of origin from the dirt of the Earth. But he remains wary
enough to wonder some way into his book whether the whole effort may
be worth nothing more than the funny old phlogiston doctrine. It was
a coherent theory, he writes, which explained everything to
perfection. But it gave this appearance because of the
'comprehensiveness of its error: it was almost exactly the opposite
of what is the case. For 'phlogiston' read 'absence of oxygen'...'
Curiously his own doctrine cracks its head on the same brick wall,
with its inconclusive conclusion about 'Gene-1' and its correlation
to life (which one might call the 'from dirt to life syndrome'. The
selfish gene doctrine is even worse. But what, at bottom, is really
wrong with it?
Elementary, dear Watson!
Genes are neither intentional nor functional entities. They are a
pure information repository of organisms; and it is organisms that
initiate and carry through all the supposed functions of genes.
Accordingly, paraphrasing Cairns-Smith: 'For 'selfish genes' read
'selfish organisms' and everything comes out right!'
So much so that the evolutionary facts as we know them point
unequivocally in the opposite direction to what Cairns-Smith, Dawkins
& Co. would have us believe. Namely that genes are products of the
self-sustaining strategies of organisms. In other words, the
'inventors' of genes are organisms, not Lady Fortune, nor the
roulette wheel at Monte Carlo, RNA, nucleotides or any of the other
improbable candidates for extracting life from lifeless materials and
processes. But I obviously cannot put this theory into two sentences;
and so for the reader curious to follow it up, here is a link to a
PS: Apart from the two references in the text, no footnotes appear in
this paper because it is entirely self-quoting.
(c) Jurgen Lawrenz 2013
III. 'ALLOWING FOR EVERY CONTINGENCY: A DIALOGUE ON DETERMINISM,
CONTINGENCY AND FREE WILL' BY RAAM GOKHALE
'Though atoms fall straight downward through the void... yet
at uncertain times and at uncertain points, they swerve a
bit - enough that one may say they changed direction.'
'You will say that I feel free. This is an illusion, which
may be compared to that of the fly in the fable, who, upon
the pole of a heavy carriage, applauded himself for
directing its course. Man, who thinks himself free, is a
fly who imagines he has power to move the universe, while
he is himself unknowingly carried along by it.'
- Baron d'Holbach
'The mechanics of free will is inconceivable to mankind.'
- Kedar Joshi
Scene and Players: Ram, Kedar, Sushama are at the vegetarian
restaurant Wadeshwar in Pune in deference to Kedar's and Sushama's
Kedar: You know Sushama, Ram tends to use American idioms for his
titles, though they may be entirely over the heads of 'benighted
natives' like us. What did you have in mind, Ram?
Ram: Now that's unfair: I am considerate of Indian preferences, our
eating vegetarian here's a case in point. Re the title, I'm afraid
you got me 'caught between a rock and a hard place'. Oops I'm sorry:
that's an American idiom isn't it? Well I trust it's transparent
Anyway the title is not particularly idiomatic. It's just part of a
quote I myself thought up, but knowing how you frown upon my quoting
myself, I'd determined to use it only in the body of the dialogue.
The quote is: 'The will finds its freedom in determining its course
by allowing for every contingency'. The title is thus just the last
four words of the quote, a quote of a quote if you will, hence
perhaps doubly a sin. But don't ask me to elaborate upon it just yet.
I want to save it for a later more dramatic point in the dialogue, a
Sushama: Hmm... the Lucretius quote addresses determinism and
contingency. Baron d'Holbach's and Kedar's quotes -- we really should
frown on any of us quoting ourselves -- both address free will and
determinism. Your quote seems to have the dubious distinction of
referencing all three. I say dubious because the quote seems
artificially constructed to use 'free will', 'determinism' and
'contingency' by hook or crook in one sentence.
Huh... 'hook or crook' -- is that an American or Indian idiom?
Kedar: Neither. It's British so imported to India and America...
though in a dialogue about free will you might do better to use
'willy-nilly', which I think means the same thing.
But I have to agree with you. Ram's quote only makes me think of
another reason he shouldn't quote himself: he isn't very good. Still
with the 'denouement' comment, he clearly seems to have something in
Ram: All in good time people. For now I suggest we start at the
beginning. Don't you find it surprising that at the dawn of science
when good causal explanations were the rarity, people were
Sushama: Not at all. Although science brings with it determinism
because it explains everything, it also brings with it a confidence
in the power of the will because it enables us through technology to
control everything. So at the dawn of science when people wielded
less power over their environment, you might expect to find more
fatalists hence determinists.
The crucial question for us though is not were people deterministic
but were philosophers. And that they certainly were.
Ram: Yes -- I'm sure you know the history. The first philosophers,
the Ionians, were identified as such because they eschewed
mythological explanations in favour of physicalist or materialistic
ones. So they were probably deterministic. And certainly by the time
-- 5th century B.C. -- of Democritus and Leucippus, the first
atomists, we had an explicit statement of determinism, namely
Leucippus' quote, 'Nothing occurs at random, but everything for a
reason and by necessity.'
That is one type of determinism: physical determinism. Then with
Aristotle's De Interpretatione, we have a different type: logical
determinism. The puzzle Aristotle puts forth is as follows: Let S be
'There will be a sea battle tomorrow.' Then by excluded middle we can
say S or not-S, or It's true that (S or not-S). Therefore it's true
today that S or it's true today that not-S. So it would seem whether
there is going to be a sea battle tomorrow, its truth-value, is
already determined today and indeed for everyday since the beginning
of time. The people on the ships can just sit idly and let it
happen... what will happen will happen regardless of whether they act
So logical and physical -- these are the two broad classifications of
determinism even to the present day, and to me it's surprising they
were known to the ancients.
Kedar: Thanks for the history lesson, Ram. But can't we deny logical
determinism by maintaining that truth doesn't distribute across
disjunctions, that it is true that (S or not-S) but not (it is true
that S or it is true that not-S)?
Sushama: Very good Kedar. That's the denial of bivalence move that
Aristotle himself proposed. For him future contingents have no truth
value. I myself don't find the solution very satisfactory. After all,
'There will be a sea battle tomorrow' and 'There won't be a sea battle
tomorrow' are both meaningful sentences, not at all questionable like
'This sentence is false'; they should have a truth value. Anyway, the
medieval philosophers were obsessed with this problem which they
recast in terms of God's foreknowledge. If God knows whether S is
true or not-S is true for every sentence S, how can there be any
contingency, in particular, how can there be anything like free will
which Christianity explicitly requires?
I think the solution is not to deny that truth distributes across
disjunctions, as did Aristotle and certain medieval philosophers, but
that necessity does. Thus it is necessary that (it is true that (S or
not-S)). It is also necessary that (it is true that S or it is true
that not-S), so truth distributes. But contingency is preserved
because it doesn't follow that necessity distributes, that it doesn't
follow that (it is necessarily true that S) or (it is necessarily true
that not-S). The sailors on the ships better do their jobs because
though only one of S or not-S is true, the other could be true.
Kedar: In defence of Aristotle, it must be emphasized that the true
proposition in S or not-S -- say, 'There won't be a sea-battle
tomorrow', since we're all pacifists -- is true for all time.
Aristotle's point is that after all, what other earmarks besides
timelessness can we demand of necessary propositions? This is not my
position but if we defend heathens like Aristotle maybe others will
defend heathens like us.
Ram: Well, 'There won't be a sea battle tomorrow' is true timelessly
because it incorporates a reference to a time instant. Its
timelessness is just like the truth of 'There wasn't a sea battle
Kedar: But what's the difference between the sea-battle sentences and
'There won't be a total eclipse tomorrow' which you would want to say
is physically necessary?
Ram: Well, the eclipse sentence can be derived from laws that make no
reference to particular time instants -- such as 'eclipses happen in
Pune according to certain function f'; the sea battle sentence
Anyway, we're getting a bit off track. I agree that Aristotle
equates, 'true for all time' with necessary -- that's how he gets his
puzzle off the ground and into the sea of puzzlement. But I agree with
Sushama that that is the precise equation we must resist. And in fact
a good illustration of her point is Godel's incompleteness theorems.
Specifically if we let 'it is necessary that' be replaced with 'it is
provable that' then it is provable -- by simple excluded middle --
that (Arithmetic is consistent or Arithmetic is inconsistent). But as
Godel showed, it is not provable that 'Arithmetic is consistent' nor
certainly is it provable that 'Arithmetic is inconsistent'.
This is a good illustration of Sushama's point about distributing
truth but not necessity because one of the disjuncts -- 'Arithmetic
is consistent' -- though it seems like it should be necessary in the
sense of provable, it provably isn't. If even it is not necessary,
logical determinism can scarcely have a foothold against propositions
that seem more contingent to us.
Kedar: Ahem, Ram is always happy when he can sneak some maths into
the dialogue, whether it is willy-nilly or otherwise I'll let you two
be the judge. For the record, can I just stipulate I agree with you
and mention an argument for a sort of logical indeterminism?
Sushama and Ram: Sure.
Kedar: The logical indeterminism I have in mind results from the
intelligent design argument for God. The argument is: there must be
free will -- the free will of God -- if there is to be a first
designer. If God doesn't have free will, if he is also determined
then he too would have to be designed leading to an infinite regress.
So my position is that God has free will, man does not. What true free
will is, is incomprehensible to man. That's what I mean by, 'The
mechanics of free will is inconceivable to mankind'.
Sushama: God? Don't you know what the famous determinist Laplace said
to Napoleon about God? 'Sire we have no need of that hypothesis.' But
seriously I have to disagree with you. Free will is the most
conceivable concept there is. The freedom from restraint feeling we
have, we probably share with the ant whose path we've suddenly not
blocked. Some kind of frustration, discomfort at being constrained
must be felt by the ant because we can see its apparent panic when
Ram: Interesting statement Sushama... though now I'm not sure where
you stand in the debate. Surely you don't want to say an ant has free
will or that our sense of free will is comparable to that of the ant.
Or is yours a skeptical solution, accounting for our sense of free
will without thereby justifying it?
Sushama: No I'm not proposing a Humean type skeptical solution. I'm
not proposing any solution, more like aligning the burden of proof
before the debate starts. When you asked me to come up with prefatory
quotes, I found almost all were in favour of determinism. Whether it's
Omar Khayyam saying, 'And what the first morning of creation wrote,
the last dawn of reckoning shall read', or Shakespeare's Romeo
saying, 'I am fortune's fool' to nearly all of Macbeth, poets have
found the predetermination of our fates pretty compelling.
Paradoxically, I think this shows that the default presumption is in
favour of free will: it is much more quotable to make statements
challenging the given than supporting it. The given is 'there is
free-will' because that is the common experience. That puts the
burden of proof on determinism, all the fancy quotes aside.
With regard to whether ants have free will, I think there is a
gradation: the ant experiences freedom from constraint when unblocked
by our hands, Ram would feel freedom from constraint if we were at a
non-vegetarian restaurant. The difference is one of degree but is
admittedly great enough to allow us to drop the dividing line between
free will and determined behaviour so that even ants have free will or
only humans or only God.
Ram: Or that whale from the Free Willy movie...
Kedar: Another Americanism...
Ram: Ahem, Hollywood unlike Bollywood is international.
But seriously, I'd like to get back to the history. Leucippus's quote
indicates that the original atomists were strict determinists;
Lucretius's quote coming later in the 2nd century B.C. allows atoms
to 'swerve' to allow for contingency. Of the two 'Lou's I must say I
find Lucretius and his 'swerviness' a bit ludicrous, to bring in a
third 'Lou': just because there's randomness, why should we suppose
that our choices are free? Our flipping a coin between two
alternatives doesn't make room for free will; it rather places the
activity of willing in neutral.
Kedar: You find the same error of omission in modern day physicists
like Michio Kaku who argues -- on a Youtube video of all things --
that the indeterminism of quantum mechanics allows for free will,
unlike Einstein's determinism as reflected in his comment, 'God does
not play dice with the universe'. How indeterminism allows for free
will. is a question left glaringly unanswered.
Sushama: Well there is a sense in which if the universe were
completely determined there would be at most a skeptical solution to
the problem of free will.
Ram: Fair enough: indeterminism allows free will to exist but it
doesn't show how it can or even what we mean by it.
Kedar: Actually I find an inconsistency in the whole notion of free
will. An act proceeds from a free will if it is a contingent event.
But if the free will causes the event to come to pass how can the
event be contingent, since causes determine their effects?
Sushama: Very clever. Might be too clever since our intuitions about
free will, though they may stand some correction, are unlikely to be
Ram: Kedar being younger always wants to expose the paradoxes of
common sense while older, 'wiser' philosophers like me and, I gather
you, want to make sense of common sense. Experience has persuaded me
that the appropriate stance to take is a pragmatic one like William
James' being merely content to classify realist and idealist
philosophers without adjudicating between them. Therefore I propose
we only marshal the scientific arguments for and against
indeterminism and remain philosophically neutral on the issue.
We just mentioned Michio Kaku's, I would say, naive argument for free
will by appealing to the indeterminacy of quantum mechanics. Pragmatic
balance requires us to mention the ways in which modern physics is
deterministic. Specifically, the state vector of the entire universe
evolves deterministically in accordance with Schrodinger's equation
because there can be no outside observer to collapse the wave packet.
Similarly general relativity seems to favour determinism because of
its substantivism about space-time. Because these theories are stated
in mathematical terms and because they eschew traditional
deterministic concepts like causality, you might be tempted to
classify the resulting view as a relatively innocuous logical
determinism. But the theories are dependent on how the world is and
hence the view is better classified as the more inexorable physical
Stephen Hawking seems to have this in mind when he says (looks up
quote on laptop):
'The initial configuration of the universe may have been
chosen by God, or it may itself have been determined by the
laws of science. In either case, it would seem that
everything in the universe would then be determined by
evolution according to the laws of science, so it is
difficult to see how we can be masters of our fate.'
The upshot? Whether there is genuine randomness in the world or
whether our assigning probabilities merely reflects our ignorance
about the 'hidden variables' is something we as philosophers
shouldn't hang our hats on. Philosophers should instead answer the
question of free will independently of either answer to the
Kedar: Not so fast. You see Sushama, Ram and I always have a
discussion about necessity, me saying that the only necessity is
logical necessity while Ram championing a nebulous physical
necessity. Don't you think Ram owes us an explanation of physical
necessity in a dialogue about determinism?
Sushama: Oh I can hardly wait. In fact, to continue with my 'burden
of proof' remarks, I would add that to the extent an accepted account
of physical necessity is lacking in philosophy -- especially after
Hume -- the burden of proof is again on determinism.
Ram: Well the burden is not all one way. The success of science in
finding materialistic explanations of everything goes a long way to
knock the ball back in the free will camp.
Hmm... sometimes I wonder if all philosophy does is play intellectual
tennis, aligning the burden of proof, without actually ever proving
Kedar: Don't wax so philosophical about philosophy; wax philosophical
by doing philosophy. You still owe us an account of physical necessity.
Ram: Very well, I'll take up the gauntlet. To echo our eclipse
discussion, we may say S is physically necessary if it's a logical
consequence of the laws of nature.
Kedar: So the only necessity is logical necessity, right?
Ram: We've had this discussion before in the Just-if-ication
dialogue. Here I don't propose to go into what exactly is a law of
nature. I will only emphasize that facts like, 'If an apple fell from
a tree, it would accelerate toward the ground at roughly 9.8 meters/
second-squared' are not logical truths. That they are entailed by
laws of nature is a logical truth. But facts like this must be
necessary in a sense other than logic. Logic is only used to mirror
that physical necessity. If we were only interested in logical
relationships, 'All bachelors are unmarried' could be a law of
nature. We're not free to decide what are the laws of nature. That
impossibility is the flip-side of their physical necessity.
Kedar: I just deny that there are any such things as 'laws of
nature'. Any conjunctions between events are at most highly probable.
Ram: And you know my move: that the probabilities are what they are
is a matter of physical necessity as implied by the laws of nature.
Sushama: Hold on Ram. I agree with you that certain events, like
maybe the toss of a coin, can necessarily have the probability that
they do. But if true, this would mean that strict determinism is
false, that there are genuine contingencies in the world which is all
we should be concerned about for the time being.
Ram: Of course you're right Sushama. I got carried away. I have a
tight rope to walk being a necessitarian, indeterminist,
free-will-compatibilist. Yes, a tight rope to walk but one that
strikes a balance between the intuitions behind each camp.
Sushama: How do you mean?
Ram: Well a necessitarian indeterminist can allow for the intuition
that there are genuinely contingent events in the world while at the
same time allowing covering laws to give deductive explanations of
these predictable, physically necessary processes. This is the true
lesson of quantum mechanics that Railton captured with his D-S
(deductive-statistical) model of explanation: there is indeterminism
in the world but the indeterminism, the probabilities involved are
strictly determined by the formalism of Schrodinger's equation.
Events are probabilistically determined but the probabilities are
necessarily what they are.
Sushama: So much for the necessitarian indeterminist position. How
does your 'tight-rope walker' get to the far end of free-will
compatiblism? By using the 'umbrella' of freedom as freedom from
constraint as I was proposing?
Ram: No. Or rather not just that, because I think more is needed,
because I don't think the difference between the freedom of the ant
and the free-will of the human is merely one of gradation. There is a
qualitative difference as well: when we choose a path, we're conscious
that had the circumstances been otherwise we would've chosen
differently. The ant presumably has no such consciousness.
Kedar: Is this what you meant by your title quote, 'The will finds
its freedom in determining its course by allowing for every
contingency'? If that's your view, you could've chosen a better
title... like maybe 'Where There's a Way, There's a Will'?
But seriously, is the dialogue ending? The point at which you were
going to dramatically unveil your theory was the denouement... a
denouement is a surprise ending isn't it?
Sushama: You ought to know by now Kedar, there are no surprises in
philosophy. Didn't Wittgenstein say something like that? I would add,
there are no endings either.
Ram: OK maybe it's not much of a surprise. Instead of a denouement, I
should've called it a climax in the Aristotelian sense of being in the
middle of the 'beginning, middle and end'.
At any rate, Kedar is right. What I meant by 'The will finds its
freedom in determining its course by allowing for every contingency'
is the will is free because in allowing for contingencies, it is
conscious that contingent on circumstances, it could've chosen
Kedar: Are you sure this isn't a 'beginning, muddle and end'? You're
using choice in the definition but what do we mean by choice if not
choice of a free will?
Sushama: Not quite. 'Free choice' we can define as action free from
constraint which even the ant can have. Free will comes in because
we're conscious that we could've chosen differently.
Ram: Thanks Sushama. That said, maybe I should point out some of the
other advantages of my position:
First, it makes sense of how the existence of genuine contingencies
in the world could allow for free will. We can illustrate the problem
by considering the tree-diagrams of decision theory. A decision tree
has two kinds of nodes: a chance node symbolized by a circle and a
choice node symbolized by a square; all our decisions are paths down
an inverted Christmas tree composed of these two possibilities --
choice and chance. When swervy Lucretius or Youtuber Michio Kaku say
that randomness allows there to be free will without specifying how,
we're left trying as it were to put a square peg in a round hole. My
account makes it clear how contingency allows free will: if there is
a genuine chance node in the path of our decisions, we could've
chosen differently had the chance gone the other way.
Second, the proposal is actually neutral on the contingency question.
Even if everything including the toss of a coin, when a given
subatomic particle will decay is determined, we can still make sense
of the claim that had circumstances been different, we would've
chosen differently. The counterfactual is valid even if strict
determinism is the correct view.
Third, it allows for a sense in which human beings have free will but
ants don't. Ants to use Sushama's distinction can have free choice in
the sense of an unimpeded path but only human beings have free will
in the sense of being conscious of alternate choices they could've
made, by being aware of the whole decision tree.
Kedar: Interesting. But doesn't consciousness figure too prominently
in your account of free will? I mean don't you want to distinguish
between free will on the one hand and our consciousness of having
chosen freely on the other?
Sushama: No Kedar. Consciousness should play a prominent part in the
choices of a free will. If there is no consciousness -- as when we
act without reflection -- there is little qualitative difference
between the ant and us. In fact the American philosopher, John Searle
incorporates a similar notion in his account of intentional actions.
His 'intention-in-action' is an intention that must be present in the
act and causing the act if the act is to be intentional. The role of
consciousness in Ram's compatibilist account of free will seems to
play a similar role. This is no accident: you would expect an account
of free will and an account of intentional actions to intersect in
Ram: Good parallel, Sushama! A choice is a free will choice only if
consciousness of all the considerations that went into making the
choice play a role in making the choice -- that's how a choice is
determined, to belatedly answer Kedar's free will paradox. Similarly
an act is an intentional act only if the intention plays an
appropriate causal role in the act.
Kedar: As I said Ram's is an interesting view. Inserting, the
counterfactual, 'if circumstances had been different' in front of 'I
could've chosen differently' makes it clear that either prong of our
free choice would've been completely determined by reasons.
Sushama: That's an important point. When we're unable to think of
reasons for why we acted as we did, our actions seem less free than
when we can enumerate our reasons.
Kedar: Well you two seem to be in agreement and I am at least
politely quiescent, which is as agreeable as my 'youthful nature'
will deterministically allow me to be. What now? Does Aristotle in
his aesthetics have anything to say about how to proceed
non-anticlimactically from the middle to the end?
Ram: Well I don't know about Aristotle's aesthetics but the logical
course would be to trace the impact of our view for ethics.
Specifically, can we assign praise or blame for actions if they are
the result of a free will choosing in our sense of the term?
Sushama: I think your account, Ram, is silent on whether our actions
could've been different than they were. It only says if my actions
were free and the circumstances had been different, I might have
acted differently. There is no commitment one way or the other on
whether the circumstances could've been different.
This is a virtue of your account but its noncommittal nature leaves
me uncertain about where you stand on the praise/ blame issue.
Kedar: I think Ram is committed to a rationalistic ethics. If free
will is analyzed in terms of decision-theoretic concepts, choices can
be praised or blamed based on how rational they are.
Ram: I agree that introducing decision-theoretic concepts makes the
account seem very rationalistic. But the ethics need not be
rationalistic in the Greek akrasia sense, where weakness-of-will
behaviour is a failure of reasoning. The payoffs for gambles and
choices in the decision tree are assigned in terms of utilities but
how the utilities are measured could be by the degree to which the
actions promote the greatest happiness for the greatest number or
Kantian duties or any other goal of ethical action which can be
assigned a numerical value for the sake of comparison with other
goals. Simply put, decision theory is not committed to any specific
Kedar: Point taken. But getting back to the praise/ blame issue, the
real rub is doling out rewards and punishments isn't it? If our
choices are determined by reasons and the appeal reasons have for us
is determined by psychological factors over which we ultimately have
no control, there can be no justification of rewards or punishments.
Sushama: I disagree. I remember the prison dialogue we had:
retribution was only one goal of prisons we considered -- though it
was my goal. Prevention and reformation are other goals which can be
used to justify rewards and punishments, though without retribution,
some of the 'moral fire' would be lacking.
Ram: I'm glad you brought up the 'Prison through a Philosophic Prism'
dialogue, Sushama. It allows me to point out that my views on free
will are consistent with my reformative views on the role of
Kedar: Consistency being a bare minimum for a philosopher is not
something to brag about.
Sushama: Didn't Whitman say something like, 'Do I contradict myself?
Well so I contradict myself!'
Ram: Well I haven't read much Whitman. Maybe he is being consistent
to his true character in tolerating inconsistency. Kind of like
mathematics 'proving' its own consistency only if it's in fact
inconsistent -- because anything and everything follows from a
Kedar: Godel again? Talk about consistency. You just don't miss an
opportunity to drag mathematics into anything do you -- even if it's
(the waiter arrives with the bill)
Sushama: Don't pooh-pooh mathematics Kedar for how else are we going
to split this bill up.
(c) Raam Gokhale 2013
IV. ERWIN LAYA 'LETTER FROM THE PHILIPPINES'
To: Geoffrey Klempner
From: Erwin Laya
Subject: Re: Checking to see if you are OK
Date: 13 Nov 2013 09:57
Good day Geoffrey!
I just read your email only today. Many thanks for your concern
especially to our country. My place, Davao City is in the other
island of the Philippines. Davao City is far from Tacloban City, the
opposite island of Mindanao.
Indeed, my fellow Filipinos, especially the victims of the recent
calamity really need the aid not only from our government but above
all the international communities. We were really surprised by the
power of Typhoon Yolanda (international name 'Haiyan'). The people of
Tacloban and other provinces in Visayas region were ready for the
heavy rains and winds, but not the storm surge. The storm surge
nearly erase the provinces from the map.
Let us pray that the whole world will undertake some drastic solution
to minimize natural calamities like typhoon, hurricane, or cyclone due
to climate change.
V. SHARON KAYE 'CALL FOR PAPERS: WHAT'S WRONG WITH CHILDHOOD TODAY?'
It sucks to be a kid these days, or so my own kids tell me. I suppose
it has always has.
Or has it? And does it have to? What might we be doing wrong?
Psychologists barrage us every day with new theories about how we
should be raising our children -- as though they have human happiness
all figured out. But wait a minute! Happiness is the purview of
philosophers, not psychologists, and statistics don't tell us a damn
thing about it.
How to live the good life is perhaps the greatest philosophical
question ever posed. The answer may be elusive, but one thing is
sure: it starts young, really young. What do kids need to be doing
(or not doing) in order to maximize their chance of living well, now
and into the future?
You know you have an idea. Now make an argument and find a famous
philosopher to back you up.
Philosophy Pathways Electronic Journal wants to publish your article.
Its length can be anywhere between 800-4000 words. The target length
is 2500 words.
Submit your article by email to me, Guest Editor Sharon Kaye,
Professor of Philosophy, John Carroll University, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Submissions are due by Monday, December 23, 2013.
I will also consider submissions of philosophical fiction and
philosophical drawings relevant to the theme.
Philosophy Pathways is the electronic newsletter for the
Pathways to Philosophy distance learning program
To subscribe or cancel your subscription please email your
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The views expressed in this newsletter do not necessarily
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