Alrenous thinks we have no control over our wants. We simply find ourselves wanting what we want like Woody Allen’s grotesque comment about seducing someone pretty close to being his common law step-daughter – “the heart wants what it wants.”
But we can change our mind about what we want, or we can decide not to pursue a want. There can be a back forth between thinking and wanting. In Plato’s notion of the tripartite soul, there is logos, thumos and eros. Logos is the rational part, thumos is gumption and drive to achieve things and eros is happenstance desires. According to Plato, when logos is in charge of the soul then it is logos that controls eros, not the other way around. Logos decides which desires to pursue and which to forego.
If eros controls the soul in the way Plato says is true of most people then Alrenous would be correct. Wisdom for Plato involves knowing which desires to satisfy and which to ignore. The difference between thinking and wanting is something we are all familiar with. If there is not, then rationality doesn’t exist and we are back to the physical determinist’s performative contradiction. I would find myself either wanting free will to exist or I do not and that determines whether I believe in it, not rational argument. If Alrenous says yes, but we always end up doing what we want to do – clearly that is not true. We can do our duty, say to our children, when we would prefer not to – I’m thinking about supervising my son’s music practice when he was younger.
Alrenous may say that by definition the very fact that we do something means that we are obeying our wants/desires. These wants may be some kind of second order wants, wants about wants, but we still ultimately do what we want. Here we have the self-sealing (no true Scotsman) fallacy. The title of the blog post indicates as much “Free Will is Analytically Impossible.”
Alrenous claim that free will is analytically impossible is not a factual claim about reality – about a state of affairs. Factual claims admit of hypothetical exceptions. If a Freudian says everyone is neurotic, this is only a factual claim if the Freudian can describe what kind of person could be described as non-neurotic even though such a person may not exist. If no such hypothetical situation exists then one is no longer making a factual claim, one is making neurosis a property of being human by definition. To say ‘that human is neurotic’ would be a tautology – by that definition being human just is to be neurotic.
If Alrenous can describe no circumstances, even hypothetical, where someone would qualify as having free will, then he is not making a statement about reality, he is uttering a tautology. Another way of describing how to tell the difference between factual claims and a tautology is – is a counter-example even hypothetically possible? ‘Bachelors are unmarried men’ is a tautology involving the meaning of words, not an empirical claim. Tautologies do not have counter-examples.
Alrenous has set up his argument so that no counter-examples are possible, even hypothetically. He mistakenly sees this as proving free will is “analytically” impossible. He is just redefining all thinking as in fact wanting. Thinking and wanting are not the same thing, hence we can think about and evaluate our wants and are free to do what we want including the thing we don’t want to do. If Alrenous mangles language to make this impossible by definition, then we are dealing with the self-sealing fallacy.