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Randolph Clarke

Christian,

A follow-up to my question during the Zoom session. I imagined someone in a room with a friend, deliberating about whether to remain and converse or leave to run an errand. Seeing better reason to stay and converse, he so chooses and stays. Unbeknownst to him, the room is locked and he could not have left. To understand his deliberation and choice, we need not suppose that he had the real option of leaving; it is enough to recognize that he took himself to have that option. I asked: Is what is indispensible to behavioral and social sciences an affirmation of real (plural) options, or will recognition of apparent options do?

You pointed out that the man can attempt to leave, and he can choose to leave. So we think. But I wonder whether behavioral and social sciences must assume real (plural) options of these things. Might it be enough to recognize that we commonly take ourselves to have plural options of choice and attempt?

An anthropologist bent on understanding the conduct of members of a society in which "witches" play important roles will need to attribute to these people belief in witches. The anthropologist need not affirm the real existence of witches. Might behavioral and social scientists need only attribute to us belief in free will, rather than needing to posit the real existence of free will?

The point isn't that free will is no more real than are witches. The question is just about whether an affirmation of real (plural) options is indispensible to behavioral and social sciences.

Tom Clark

Somewhat along the lines of Randolph's question, I'm not sure how alternative possibilities can be real at the agential level ("ontic, not just epistemic") such that the future is genuinely open, when the basic physical level is deterministic, thus not open, as Christian agrees it is. In explaining behavior at the agent level, we want to know why a particular option was chosen, and it isn't clear (as Randolph suggests) that the special sciences need the assumption of an open future in such explanations. They just need laws and initial conditions and be consistent with physics. True, since we're not omniscient we ordinarily act under the practical assumption of having alternative possibilities, but it seems that at both the basic and special sciences operate on the assumption that explanations are essentially deterministic. So I don't see where the libertarian component of Christian's view comes in here.

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