What Is It Like To Be Uncaused?

The problem of free will is that to the extent that our acts are uncaused, they are irrational, but that if they are wholly caused (ergo wholly rational), then they are not free, but rather are straightforward functions of their causal inputs – in which case, they do not actually exist as entities disparate from those inputs.

It would seem that if we are somewhat free, we are to that extent irrational. There’s the rub.

Nothing can be a bit irrational. A thing cannot happen in a world, cannot fit into it, unless it makes perfect sense in terms of that world, mutatis mutandis. It may not make perfect sense to us – as when, e.g., a schizophrenic under the sway of his delusions declares himself to be Napoleon – but that is only because it is in the nature of things that we cannot understand all the reasons that motivate the schizophrenic’s behavior, and all their organic and historic sources. If we could, we’d see the sense in them – we’d see how it could come to pass that he could be so deluded in his thoughts and acts.

A defect of rationality then is a defect of actuality, so that whatever is at all actual is rational to the full extent of its actuality, and vice versa. The schizophrenic might have behaved more rationally, and had he done so, his ontological power – his actuality – would have been greater: capable of generating more goodness.

Nevertheless, the crazed acts of the schizophrenic are coherently and intelligibly tied to their causal antecedents, exhaustively and with no gaps. The constitution of a coherent world can allow for no causal loose ends.

The world is not as much or as good as it might have been: but it is truly a world.

In a world with no causal loose ends, how can any act be free? Simple: Decisions are irrational until they have been made.

What could we mean, after all, in saying that a thing that has not yet happened – that, NB, *does not exist* – is rational or intelligible? Until it has happened, it is not anything at all! So a decision that has not been effected is not intelligible. It is not rational. It is not yet caused, because it is not yet. Only what is actual can have been caused.

Thus only the decisions we have already made can be said to have been caused, for it is only after the fact that we can look back and interpret the fact. The decisions now being made, and that will be made, are imponderable, because they do not yet exist to be pondered.

Does this introduce randomness into decisions? Ex ante, yes (for until a thing exists, it cannot be orderly); ex post, no. In the act of deciding there is always an element of risk, of danger; this could not be possible if the character of the act were not to some degree causally (ergo morally) obscure to us as we enacted it: unintelligible. We can’t tally all the causal and moral meanings of our acts until we see how they have worked out. So our acts are all inherently unintelligible as enacted, at least a little bit.

We never know – we cannot possibly know – what we are going to do before we have done it, or therefore even as we do it.

Ex ante, then, our acts are all a bit uncaused, a bit sui generis. We effect, not the forms that we choose to implement, but the choice. Ex post – and only ex post – may we see how our acts all made sense, somehow or other.

This would account for the opacity of the future, which would amount to its utter unintelligibility. It would allow for the complete coherence, rationality and intelligibility of the world as so far constituted, while allowing also for the bit of wild origination we feel as the most fundamental aspect of our own living acts from one moment to the next, for the danger of temptation and for moral hazard.

What is it like to be uncaused? It is like this moment, right now.

26 thoughts on “What Is It Like To Be Uncaused?

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  3. One of the obscurer locutions in Eric Voegelin’s work is his claim that “there is no eidos of history.” We can begin to understand the claim by remembering that Voegelin insists on the openness of history. History is the stream of experience in which human beings live and create and produce. The term eidos means “an image.” Does history not have an image? True – there is an “image” of events from the earliest records to now; but the span from the earliest records to now does not delimit history, which is everything that will have happened once it has happened in an indefinitely postponed future. To represent the stream of events as an image is to falsify it by stopping it dead right now.

    Stopping history dead right now is, in fact, the essence of what is called Progress. Progressives claim to know the goal of history (precisely its eidos). They propose to alter reality until it corresponds to that image, giving rise to the Utopia that will never change. To dedicate one’s life to an eidos of history is, therefore, to cancel freedom by damning up the unscheduled process of actual change.

    The uncaused character of the future frightens the progressive mentality. All Utopians are people who are scared to death by the prospect of freedom. Anyone who loves freedom must abjure Utopia.

    • Precisely; control freaks, the lot of them, terrified of mess and death, ridden with anxiety. As I wrote a few years ago at VFR, the only way a liberal can be safe from anxiety and uncertainty about death is to go ahead and die:

      I learned something about liberalism driving to the train this a.m. from two highly intelligent drive time radio jocks on one of our local conservative radio stations here in the Bay Area. One asked the other, “Do you think that liberals really, really believe in their hearts that when the government runs our whole medical system it will be better than it is today? I mean, how can you be awake and believe that? How can they avoid the conclusion that it will be far worse?”

      His partner replied: “It’s because they hate uncertainty more than anything. They can’t stand the thought of all these private companies and their messy, unorganized competition being in control of the economy. They want everything nailed down, controlled, determined, so that they don’t have to be afraid anymore, so that they know everything will be taken care of. They are happy to trade a reduction in quality for an increase in certainty.”

      I thought, “That’s just true. It’s not so much their abstract philosophy that’s driving them, as it is their own fear. Which only makes sense. Because liberals believe that we can’t apprehend the truth (either because it isn’t out there, or because we haven’t the capacity – see my four philosophical types – or because they are themselves sloppy or lazy thinkers, and feel therefore that they themselves don’t understand things), they condemn themselves to uncertainty about everything, and thus to fear. The natural human response is to clamp down, to control everything that can be controlled. Interesting.”

      This evening, driving home from the train, I reflected upon this notion of the liberal drive to rub out uncertainty, and remembered Twain’s aphorism that only death and taxes are really certain. What is the liberal platform? Taxes, of course, but mostly death: abortion, euthanasia, the destruction of the family, of marriage, of enterprise, of property, of gender, science, religion, the arts, and morality, national suicide, zero population growth, radical environmentalism, on and on, the familiar litany.

      Eliminate the uncertainty in life and you eliminate all the adventure thereof, leaving only the certainties: death and taxes.

      Who else hates uncertainty and mess more than anything? Gnostics. Interesting.

      From the comment thread of that post:

      In general, then, the liberal drive to freeze things in some ideal condition, so as to eliminate the uncertainties they might otherwise generate, entails killing them. The fixity liberals desire is rigor mortis. When the liberal social policy is completely implemented, there will be no society left. There will remain only a relatively small number of isolated individuals. But even then, their certainty will not be complete. Suicide is only way they will be able to perfect their certainty.

      Death is the only way a creature can make itself perfectly safe from death and pain.

  4. The problem of free will is that to the extent that our acts are uncaused, they are irrational, but that if they are wholly caused (ergo wholly rational), then they are not free, but rather are straightforward functions of their causal inputs – in which case, they do not actually exist as entities disparate from those inputs.

    Whatever other problems, the problem at *this* point is that you’re thinking like a determinist (which in or culture generally meant ‘materialist’); unintentional, no doubt, but nonetheless.

    ‘Free will’ is a problem only for those who seek to reduce it to “something more basic”; that is, to make of ‘free will’ something it is not, and to “build” it out of something it is not.

    but that if they are wholly caused (ergo wholly rational),

    Something that is “wholly caused” is not necessarily rational (and generally isn’t rational). Such a thing may be rationally understood; but that is quite a different thing from being itself rational.

    The constitution of a coherent world can allow for no causal loose ends. … In a world with no causal loose ends, how can any act be free? Simple: Decisions are irrational until they have been made.

    Indeed, a “world” in which there is even a single “causal loose end” is no world at all; it cannot cohere, it unravels. But that doesn’t make decisions “irrational until they have been made” — until they are made, they don’t even exist. And so the pseudo-problem remains (for the determinist/materialist): whence ‘freedom’ in a world of deterministic cause-and-effect?

    • Ilion, I can’t tell for sure, but I’m as close as can be to thinking we agree entirely on these issues. The only one where you express something at odds (I think) with what I would argue is when you say that, “Something that is “wholly caused” is not necessarily rational (and generally isn’t rational). Such a thing may be rationally understood; but that is quite a different thing from being itself rational.” I agree of course that a thing can fail to be as rational as it might have been (as in our fallen world things so often do), and that therefore it might without undue impropriety be characterized loosely as itself irrational. But I can’t see how one could rationally understand something that was a concretion of irrationality. Indeed, I can’t see how one would concresce irrationality. At most, I can see how one would concresce rationality to a lesser extent than one might have done.

  5. “the extent that our acts are uncaused, they are irrational,”
    Why?
    An act is rational if deliberately undertaken for some purpose.
    A freely willed act is the act done after due deliberation. It is free in the sense that it is the final cause –the purpose to be achieved-that determines the act and not the chains of causation from the past.
    In this sense, it is precisely and only the freely-willed acts, that are rational.
    Otherwise, could you give an example of a non-freely willed act that could be called rational?
    A reading of CS Lewis’s Miracles (initial chapters) would be useful.

    • That’s a really good question.

      “Rationality” in the post referred to reasonability under Leibniz’ Principle of Sufficient Reason. Things happen for reasons sufficient to cause them to happen. If a thing were to happen without being sufficiently caused, it would to that extent be uncaused, and so to that extent not reasonable – or, we could therefore as well say, not intelligible.

      Ration and reason are the same word.

      A freely willed act … is free in the sense that it is the final cause – the purpose to be achieved – that determines the act and not the chains of causation from the past.

      In this sense, it is precisely and only the freely-willed acts, that are rational.

      To be sure. But a determinist could argue that the selection of the purpose to be achieved is itself under the Principle of Sufficient Reason a product of chains of causation from the past, of aesthetic evaluations delivered to us each moment as data, and of logical operations on concepts that, as logical, are ineluctable; and that this is the only way it could be fully rational in the sense explicated above: i.e., sufficiently caused.

      As against that determinist, I argue that however plentiful the reasons for our acts provided to us at each moment from our past, there are at each moment at least several options really open to us; and that as, being finite, we cannot see all ends of our acts (as would be needful if they were to be completely determined to us), or therefore properly evaluate them (the future is opaque), we can choose among them without that choice itself having been determined by them in their environing world.

      • If determism has a problem with free will, that is so much worse for it. That we can deliberate on a purpose —again I refer to CS Lewis on the difference between chains of physical causation and chains of logical ground-consequent —implies that physical causation is not the sole thing there is.

        To be sufficiently caused in the sense of physically caused, EXCLUDES the thing from being a consequent from a logical ground. This is what is called Argument from Reason and proves immateriality of the intellect.

      • Yes, but the thoroughgoing determinist would not suggest that we are wholly determined only by our physical antecedents. He would include among the array of our determinants the logical operations you rightly adduce.

        The “problem” of free will would arise for the determinist even if the only environing world we confronted was the Realm of the Forms.

        This in fact is just where Leibniz himself arrived. His monads are windowless with respect to each other. They do not exert causal effects upon each other, or know each other. They each know, and are caused by, only God.

      • Determinsm does not hold, even in principle, on the mental acts. For given a logical Ground, indefinitely many Consequents could be obtained from it. It is the mind that CHOOSES the Consequent. to pursue
        Also, from CS Lewis “Miracles”
        “An act of knowing must be determined solely by the what is known, You may call it a Cause and Effect and call “being known” a mode of causation if you like. But it is a unique mode”.

      • Sure. What you have here said agrees with what I have argued in the post and its thread.

        Nevertheless, what you have here said – and what Lewis has said in the quote you offer – will not budge the thoroughgoing determinist, for they do not touch his argument. Lewis admits it: “call ”being known’ a mode of causation if you like. But it is a unique mode.” The determinist replies, “well, I *do* call it a cause, and whether or not it is a unique sort of cause, it is indeed a cause.”

        Understand, Vishmehr: I don’t disagree with you about the falsity of determinism and the reality of free will. It’s just that if there is to be freedom, then there cannot be complete causation ex ante; yet nevertheless there must be complete causation for worlds to cohere as such; so that causation must be complete, but only ex post.

      • It is needed to define Determinism more precisely. The scientific determinism takes all reality to be formalizable i.e. amenable to the methods of quantitative analysis. This type of determinism CAN NOT be reconciled with free will since mental causation (the act of knowing) is irreducibly non-formal–can not be reduced to quantities.

      • Sure; formal causes are not the only sort. But the type of determinist we need to worry about is not scientific; scientific determinism has been a dead letter since Gödel. The sort of determinist who might give us pause is what might be called the Aristotelian determinist, who says, “there are four sorts of causes – material, efficient, formal, and final – and between them they *completely* determine things.” That’s a much tougher challenge than anything scientific determinism threw at us. It was that sort of determinism I was addressing in the post.

      • The Aristotelian determinist is new to me. Could you give a link or provide a reference?
        I understood the Aristotelian “causes” as more like explanations, and not something that could “determine” something. They provide explanations for the Aristotlean substances. I do not understand what is the link with determinism.

      • Aristotelian determinism is a term I came up with in writing that comment. I deployed it only to indicate the sort of determinism I was addressing in the post, and to emphasize to you that I was not focusing on merely materialist determinism, which is a very weak reed.

        The other such term I’ve used in this thread is “thoroughgoing determinism.” The thoroughgoing determinist says, “take all the causal factors of an event – physical, logical, aesthetic, divine, formal, whatever – if together they are sufficient to cause the event to happen, then it must happen, and is by them completely determined to happen.”

        This is the first time I’ve encountered the notion that the Four Causes might not be causes. I have a hard time understanding how an explanation could succeed as such except by adducing causes. Certainly there is a difference between, say, forces and reasons. But I can’t see how a reason that exerted no causal influence upon an event – that nowise informed it – could be informative as an explanation of it.

      • This is dealt with by Schopenhauer quite nicely. According to Schopenhauer any number of potential actions can compete for selection in our neurally instantiated cognitive space. These potentials are called motives. These motives appear to us as candidate options for selection that determine how we respond to some stimulus- this is all obviously taking place at a higher level of abstract cognition than a reflex might be. The motives present themselves for selection in this cognitive space following their incitement by a motivating object. There are two levels of determinism to account for here.

        1. The motivating object appears under the principle of sufficient reason within the causal nexus of material reality. It appears under the laws of determination in a physical system.
        2. The motive is experienced in cognition that is reducible to its neurologically supervenient base; given current research findings it is more likely that the cognitive event simply *is* the neurological event that mediates its “appearance” to consciousness. For Schopenhauer himself the mental and the physical exist as dual aspects of the Will and as such it makes no difference whether we decide for an identity-theory or an eliminativist one– as long as we stick with Schopenhauer.

        These two level of determination equate to two levels of causal determination insofar as the motivating object and the motive are both exist in causally closed physical systems. To provide a determinist rejoin to your objection then:

        I agree that prior to the choice there are multiple possible options that we could decide in favour of. However this doesn’t mean that the final choice is undetermined because all those choices are neurologically instantiated in order to appear (and fail to appear) to cognition for heuristical or deliberative selection. As they are neurologically instantiated they obey mechanistic laws according to which neurological systems are understood to operate. The choice is thus fully determined regardless of what is chosen.

        That there are differences in how decision-machines (people) decide under identical circumstances is explainable with Schopenhauer through the idea of transcendental and empirical character. These could roughly translate as genetic temperament and shaped personality (ie. the interaction between genes and gene-expression) and this is mediated (epigenetically) by the environing world, and the histories of that world and their interaction.This would also explain individual variance across duration in otherwise identical contexts.

        Plain English; decisions are made by brains; brains are physical; they exist in a physical world and are physical systems themselves; decisions are thus physical operations in a physical system in a physical world; there is total causal closure; that someone else decides otherwise than me- or that I decide otherwise in the same situation at time 1 and time 2- is explainable in alterations to the inputs and components of the decision making brain.

      • Thanks for your engagement with this topic. Here’s the key paragraph of your comment:

        I agree that prior to the choice there are multiple possible options that we could decide in favour of. However this doesn’t mean that the final choice is undetermined because all those choices are neurologically instantiated in order to appear (and fail to appear) to cognition for heuristical or deliberative selection. As they are neurologically instantiated they obey mechanistic laws according to which neurological systems are understood to operate. The choice is thus fully determined regardless of what is chosen.

        If the choice is completely predetermined by its causal antecedents, then it isn’t a choice, and there are no real options. The “number of potential actions [that] can compete for selection in our neurally instantiated cognitive space” then is zero. There is no such selection, and it is therefore quite difficult to see what we might mean by suggesting that there is such a thing as a space in which these nonexistent options were cognized as if they were real.

        The basic problem with determinism is that it eliminates what it hopes to explain, rendering the explanation vacuous.

        The argument of the post is that a choice is not actual until it has been made, and its effects felt in history. Only what is actual can have real properties of any sort – such as having been caused by this or that. Once a choice is made, then and only then might we adduce its causal factors, and see how it was determined vis-à-vis its antecedents. But within the moment of decision, that determination is obscure to us, precisely because it does not yet exist as a datum of our apprehension. It is in and by that moment of decision that the determination is manufactured, so that it is thereafter available to subsequent entities as a datum of their own apprehensions.

        Determination – the actualization of novel events – *just is* decision.

      • The denial that there exist any potential decisions is the denial that there are multiple possible actions an agent could make. This entails that we reject the fairly well evidenced idea that the brain is in part a prediction engine that tests various hypotheses. It also entails that the brain doesn’t simulate possible scenarios for itself. The former idea of prediction has some grounding in cognitive science, whist the latter idea of simulation has some intuitive familiarity in our phenomena experiences of day dreaming and deliberative cognition around planning. The various options are not nonexistent and have an existence in our neurological mechanisms and in our experience. Dispensing with neural and phenomenological talk- or perhaps drawing them together intuitively- we usually say that they exist in the imagination. As we have said though, the imagination is itself something pertaining to or a function of the mind and thus of neural activity.

        Of these competing motives I have said they are themselves instantiated in neural activity (as predictions-simulations-day dreams that may be more or less consciously experienced). This is the nature of their existence. They are neurological and therefore perfectly natural. They haven’t at this point been selected. We could ask what it is that we’re talking about their being selected as or for? The obvious answer is that they are selected for action: that is, motives are motives for action. Thus the ‘choice’ constitutes the selection of one of these possible motives for action to be *the* motive for action (although we could equally imagine a complex of such motives being selected simultaneously- accounting for unconscious motivation and bad faith).

        The choice is thus chosen when this possible action pathway is activated and these are eliminated. At this stage the choice becomes a choice because it is coupled to behavioural activation- ie. it passes from possible action to motor action; neurocognitive behaviour becomes whole body behaviour. So far we’re not actually disagreeing, if the contention is that ‘a choice is not actual until it has been made’. We also agree that ‘determination *just is* decision’.

        We further agree that ‘determination is obscure to us’. As I have described it here the entire decision making process takes place in neural processes that do not necessarily have anything to do with our consciousness. Further more it is entirely possible, and even probable, that our conscious perception of decision making is a secondary effect of a processes that has already gone on without us in that same subpersonal neurocognitive unconscious. So I make the stronger claim that it isn’t just that it’s obscure to us but that it takes place without us.

        There is a technical problem that causes us to disagree. You say that ‘it is in and by the moment of decision that the determination is manufactured’. If the decision is a physical phenomena then it is also a determined and determinative phenomena- it is a consequent that follows from a ground and become the ground for action. Thus we can legitimately substitute the term “decision” for “determination”so that the sentence reads thus:

        ‘But within the moment of being determined, that determination is obscure to us, precisely because it is in and by that moment of determination that the determination is manufactured. Determination *just is* determination.’

        And so we see that we don’t actually disagree. That a determination is only determined in the moment that it is determined is precisely what is at stake in physical laws of causation. A determination cannot be determined after it is determined- at least not in the usual circumstances that exclude quantum effects preceding causes.

        The problem seems to me to pivot on the initial assumption that determination is equal to predetermination. To say that a decision is fully determined doesn’t mean that it was predetermined as though all possible actions were already known in some providential or otherwise intelligible order. The laws of causation say nothing of predetermination, although it is certainly the case that if we remained constrained to Schopenhauer this would be true.

        That we can only adduce causal factors of a decision follows from this picture as much as it does yours. In fact it is actually harder to do than in yours because the brain is now considered one physical system within a larger physical system that is marked by complex causal nexuses. That is a decision is only stage in a series of micro and macro determinations such that the entire network of the determinations of decisions becomes impossible to map accurately. In fact we end the mapping processes at the moment of the decision for convenience and because it allows us to attribute some kind of responsibility. This is crucially important for us, of course. A further complication is that the moment a decision is made isn’t necessarily the moment we think or feel as though we have made the decision, as has been repeatedly shown in the laboratory. I am not claiming this means we have no veto over these automatic decisions but I am suggesting that evidence points to this being the limit of our conscious involvement in the end stages of decision making, after deliberation and planning.

        One further point, although its probably pedantic: you say that a choice isn’t actual until it has been made. I agree. You go on to say that it’s effects must also be felt in history. If I decide that I will join some militant organization and exact some terrible act (that I perceive as justice) your theory dictates that I haven’t made that decision until I actually do those things. It could be broken down into sub-choices. I chose to join such an organization. I further chose to exact my pathetic vengeance. Even in this instance the choice isn’t actual in the first instance until I actually join the group, and in the second instance until I successfully undertake an act of violent retribution. But this is at some distance from how we would usually consider a choice or decision. It also introduces some weird entailments. In the first case if I successfully join the group then the responsibility for my choice is in fact distributed across all those agents who decided to admit me. In the second case any number of empirical obstacles could forbid me from carrying out the acts I have decided to take. For instance my weapons could fail or an intelligence agency could discover me and the police descend to drag me away. In these instances your theory would dictate that I had not made a decision at all.

        This is of course going overboard. You could retort that the decision being made I would research the group or I would have the weapons strapped to me and make all kind of plans and contact various people. But in discussing the principle of the decision being delayed we could easily imagine a scenario in which I make a decision that would require the passage of many years before I made any action that disturbed the world beyond my mind. I take it that entry into the world beyond my mind is a minimal expectation for something entering into history.

        Of course I think this case is absurd and I don’t for a second think its what you mean. I’m quite happy to be corrected if I’ve misread you- and there is a good chance of that.

        I ultimately agree that determinations are the actualisations of events- I dispense with “novel” because we can require persistent determinations to cause discrete events to produce the appearance of entities persisting in time- but I would abolish the requirements that such events exist on the macroscale or that they take part in history. For me a whole series of determinations take place for a decision to be made. Chief among these are various microscopic determinations made at the level of synapses, neurons and neural clusters.

      • An act is effective in history if it affects *anything at all,* including the state of a brain, or of a particle. E.g., every collapse of the wave function is an effect in history: an effect of an act.

        You write:

        To say that a decision is fully determined doesn’t mean that it was predetermined as though all possible actions were already known in some providential or otherwise intelligible order. The laws of causation say nothing of predetermination, although it is certainly the case that if we remained constrained to Schopenhauer this would be true.

        If you reject predetermination, then I don’t think we disagree. Notice then however that to reject predetermination is to reject what has traditionally been denoted by the term “determinism.” If you reject predetermination, you are not a determinist.

        However, you also write:

        If the decision is a physical phenomenon then it is also a determined and determinative phenomenon – it is a consequent that follows from a ground and becomes the ground for action.

        If you were to say that that consequent follows from its causal antecedents ineluctably, then you *would* believe in predestination. I can’t tell from your comments whether you believe in that ineluctability. Your mention of options and selections would seem to indicate that you do not.

        The bottom line is that the determinations of things can be complete only ex post. Before they have happened, and while they are in the process of happening, their character is not yet settled (because they just don’t exist yet so as to have a character in the first place): they are, precisely, indeterminate, and indeterminable, even in principle. Before things have finished becoming, their determination is metaphysically impossible.

        But there is symmetry: after things have finished becoming, their indetermination is metaphysically impossible, for it would entail their inactuality.

        I should make clear that by “thing” I mean “actual event.” Events can be very small; it may be that the Planck length gives the minimum (but maybe not; all that we can know about that question, apparently, is that if there are events smaller than the Planck length, they cannot be distinguished as such by other events in our cosmos).

      • It seems like we’re more in agreement than not. In denying predetermination I’m first denying providence or inherent intelligibility. Predetermination reads to me as the idea that things happen in the way they were always going to happen as though according to plan or through the theological architecture of Predestination. But I see that isn’t what you mean at all. More concretely and with less evocations of providence predeterminism means that all events are determined in advance.This is only true insofar as all possible events are conditioned in advance: that is, nothing can occur- barring the existence of miracles, which I guess readers here might want to accept- outside the parameters established by the initial conditions of the universe. There are still choices and decisions and this is why it is possible to talk about competing motives and heuristics and deliberation for selection. It is simply that choices and decisions are themselves determined qua being actual physical events in a chain of actual physical events. My brain is still making choices it just does so in a way that is fully consistent with causal laws. This might actually entail that the word “choice” needs to be eliminated from our vocabulary or that it be significantly updated, at the very least.

        Given all that I suppose I am happy to admit to a secularized notion of predeterminism for the physical universe. I realize this site is predicated on shared religious commitments but I would suspect that most people in this community might be inclined to share a physical view of the world in which God operates very rarely. I may be wrong on that.

        A new tension opens up with this admitted: do I require God or some idealist space outside of physical reality? I don’t think they are requirements. A bigger problem is the idea that events are indeterminate until they occur. In my first post and in your reply I think it comes out that we pretty much agree on this matter. My ideas on choice correspond to your insistence on indeterminism. They meet where I talk about neurocognitive competition and selection processes, these being the moment of indeterminism. So everything hinges on whether you take indeterminism in the strict sense of an event without a cause- an uncaused event- or whether it is consistent to hold a weaker version of indeterminism meaning things are simply not yet determined (where determined means actualized). This seems adequate to your theory. An event is indeterminate until it is actualized but once it occurs it is revealed to have always been going to happen.

        Here I have to correct myself or complicate my own admissions. As it stands we’re aware of quantum particles that “pop” in and out of existence at impossibly vanishingly small temporal scales. They burst into existence and due to inherent instability decay in almost the same instant. This is occurring all the time. As far as I’m aware we have no explanation for this activity other than to say it doesn’t seem to be caused by anything. If that is the case then strong indeterminism exists at the small scale and my pre-determinism is inadequate to reality. To save it I have to posit some ground for these quantum particles. But these considerations lead me back to Schopenhauer and to his assertion that physical causation demands an ideal realm that escapes the absurd problem of infinitely regressing causes.

      • You sound so many notes in this comment that I am still unsure where you stand on the question of whether acts are wholly predetermined by their causal factors, or whether they are to some degree uncaused – radically free.

        … nothing can occur … outside the parameters established by the initial conditions of the universe. There are still choices and decisions and this is why it is possible to talk about competing motives and heuristics and deliberation for selection. It is simply that choices and decisions are themselves determined qua being actual physical events in a chain of actual physical events.

        If the choices and decisions are predetermined, then they are not choices or decisions; they are not anything; they don’t actually exist. If on the other hand choices and decisions are postdetermined, they do.

        … I suppose I am happy to admit to a secularized notion of predeterminism for the physical universe. I realize this site is predicated on shared religious commitments but I would suspect that most people in this community might be inclined to share a physical view of the world in which God operates very rarely. I may be wrong on that.

        Yeah, I think you are wrong on that. As the Ground of Being, God operates pervasively in creation. He creates every detail of the world from each moment to the next, altogether new at each moment. This does not mean that he predetermines it. God’s act is not before creaturely occasions in the order of time. Being eternal, it is as it were contemporaneous with them all.

        NB then that the newness of each moment he creates means that predeterminism as it is generally construed must be false: for what is predetermined is not at all new, but is rather merely an aspect of what has gone before. If predeterminism is true, then there is in fact no such thing as novelty, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding. No novelty means no acts, no phenomena: no disparate things. If predeterminism is true, then our experience is illusory – all of it, so that there is in fact no created order, no world. A block universe is not a universe at all, properly speaking.

        If the postdeterminism that I notice in the original post is true, then we get to keep our experience along with the causal coherence of the cosmos – its order and intelligibility, ergo its integrity qua world.

        Now notwithstanding all the foregoing, the fact that God does not predetermine creaturely occasions does not mean that they are not providentially arrayed in the order of time. Divine providence does not so much denote fore-sight as it does for-sight. God does not see things before they happen (because before they happen, they are not there to be seen, by anyone), but as they happen – all of them, all at once. And his knowledge of them is their ontological forecondition: if omniscience did not know they existed, then they could not exist. His creative act in view of them, then, provides for each of them their whole mundane historical context, in respect to which they then become freely actual. He informs their becoming ab initio with his knowledge of the whole of cosmic history. Thus God does not force history to happen a certain way, but rather allows it.

        A new tension opens up with this admitted: do I require God or some idealist space outside of physical reality?

        You do. Not “outside” physical reality, quite, but rather transcendent thereto, ergo inclusive thereof. You need something transphysical in order to get the physical, just as you need the eternal to get the temporal, the perfect to get the imperfect, and so forth. Without context, there can be no texts; no venience without subvenience.

        … everything hinges on whether you take indeterminism in the strict sense of an event without a cause – an uncaused event – or whether it is consistent to hold a weaker version of indeterminism meaning things are simply not yet determined (where determined means actualized). This seems adequate to your theory.

        The weaker version of indeterminism you describe entails the stronger. So it *just is* the stronger. The character of an event is not determined by its causal relations to other events, but vice versa: its causal relations to other events are determined by its character.

        An event is indeterminate until it is actualized but once it occurs it is revealed to have always been going to happen.

        Not quite. Once an event occurs it is definite, and has a definite character, including its many relations to its antecedents. Then and only then can we (or any mind) ascertain its causal factors, so as to see how it is related to other events. But even then, we must recognize that it might have turned out otherwise – i.e., that it is revealed that it was *not* foreordained that it should happen.

        As far as I’m aware we have no explanation for [the foam of virtual particles constantly generated by the quantum vacuum] other than to say it doesn’t seem to be caused by anything.

        Safer to say that we cannot peg down the causes of this or that quantum event to an indefinite degree of precision. The quantum foam *is* the vacuum, apparently. The proper question then is, “whence the vacuum, and what is its sufficient reason?” But this is the same question as, “whence the cosmos?”

        [If virtual particles are causeless] then strong indeterminism exists at the small scale and my pre-determinism is inadequate to reality.

        Virtual particles – like all other creaturely events – are partially causeless ex ante, wholly caused ex post. Their causes precede them, but not yet qua causes, but rather only as facts; for, their causes have not yet caused them until they are done becoming, and so themselves exist as facts in their own right.

        So, yes, strong indeterminism holds at the small scale (thus all scales) and predeterminism is inadequate to reality.

        To save it I have to posit some ground for these quantum particles … physical causation demands an ideal realm that escapes the absurd problem of infinitely regressing causes.

        Yes. It does. So does causation of any sort.

        You must posit a ground for virtual particles (and all others) no matter what: nothing is groundless; groundlessness is nothingness. No ground, no thing. But that there is necessarily such a ground for contingent things does not entail that that ground determines them ex ante; if it did, they would not be things in the first place, but rather only operations of the ground; and so there would be no such determinations.

        Under predetermination, there are no things, but at most only one thing. No things, no determinations of things. Predetermination is radically incoherent, for it renders determination impossible.

        If there are to be definite things with determinate (ergo determinable) characters, they must be postdetermined.

  6. Pardon, I’m new here.

    The first paragraph strikes me as simply incoherent. Why on earth should freely chosen events be ‘uncaused’ or ‘irrational’?

    Free will as I understand it simply means that the cause of my actions is, at least in part, me. My choices cannot be completely explained by what is physically, biologically, and/or psychologically the case. I don’t deny that those things have their due, but they are not exhaustive.

    I know that I choose freely by direct experience. I know it better than I know there is even a brain inside my skull – that is after all an inference from a rather long chain of reasoning. Being a determinist requires a steadfast commitment to willful blindness that never ceases to baffle me.

    • An event is not caused until it is over and done with. Until it is over and done with, it is not yet an event in the first place. Only as completed then may its causal budget be ascertained (in principle). So any choosing that goes on in the becoming of an event must be uncaused by definition.

      What is not yet is not yet subject to the Principle of Sufficient Reason. Until it is complete, its sufficient reasons cannot be adduced. It is therefore not rational; not amenable to rational analysis, even by itself. It does not make rational sense, because it is not, yet, anything at all definite; and only that which is definite can be rational.

      Once a choice has been made, I can see and say that I made it, and so caused it. But the choice is constitutive of the me that made the decision: the me of the decision is the me that made it. And a thing cannot cause itself (for until it is actual, it cannot do anything at all). So the origin of the choice, and the origin of the me of the choice, are alike shrouded in profound obscurity.

      At the root and basis of each moment of our experience is an abyssal mystery. We cannot understand it, cannot penetrate it, for it is the transition from the non-being of an event into its being – and non-being is completely unintelligible.

      No response to your second and third paragraphs, other than agreement – I might have written them myself.

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