Additions to a revised Determinists Strike Back Part 4

As I did for Determinists Strike Back Part 3, Part 4 has also been revised with many new additions. For anyone who has already read Part 4, I am including some of the new additions in this post:

Determinists Strike Back, Part 4

Scientific Studies Showing the Negative Effects of Believing in Determinism

One interesting new discovery comes from Iain McGilchrist in The Matter With Things[1] which points to studies concerning the negative effects of believing in determinism. McGilchrist points out that they involve an increase in antisocial attitudes and behaviors, increases in deceitfulness, aggressive behavior, selfishness, lower achievement levels and increased susceptibility to addiction.[2] In other words, determinism predictably gives rise to antisocial fatalistic nihilism, contrary to RP’s assertions. Lower achievement levels seem obvious, since why make an effort if the outcome is predetermined? A belief in determinism is inherently disempowering and counterproductive, as any fatalistic attitude will be.

A.I. Is On The Wrong Path. You Can’t Get There From Here.

Gad Saad interviewed cognitive scientist Gary Marcus who argues that what is described as A.I. mostly involves “look up tables.” If the answer cannot be found there then, since the machine cannot reason, it is stuck. If, for instance, you saw a man carrying a stop sign and you had never seen that before, you would probably know how to respond to that novel situation, but a computer would not. Marcus comments that driverless cars are supposed to be on the horizon because, after forty or fifty year’s work, scientists can now get cars to stick to their lanes. “We’re almost there,” they say. But, Marcus comments, a ladder to the moon will never get you to the moon. You can get a little bit better driverless car, or a program for detecting sarcasm, so they can seem good in a directional way, but really, you are no closer to your actual destination. With regard to A.I., Marcus compares the situation to climbing K2 when you really want to climb Everest. The only way to get up Everest is to go back down K2 and start again. Since, as I will explain below, A.I. as it currently exists lacks any understanding of what it encounters, it will never get there. At the core of the problem, since intelligence cannot be reduced to algorithms, writing more algorithms will never get you to where you want to go, no matter how clever and sophisticated. Large language models, for instance, are “autocomplete on steroids” says Marcus. They are predicting the next words in sentences, but it is just not the right solution. K2 not Everest. You ask, “What do you like to do in your spare time?” And the AI says, “I like to spend time with friends and family.” It has just found those words in its database, but has no idea what “friends” or “family” means. If you ask it, it will just assemble some words from its database again. Since we do not know how a child learns language, how it connects, for instance, the concepts “go” and “went” and thus understands the concept of time, we cannot get a machine to do it.

Machine Learning is Not Philosophically Interesting – addition

This video, How Machines Learn, was sent to me by my computer programming son. Algorithms determine what YouTube videos will be suggested to you. In the old days, we gave bots instructions that humans could explain. But many things are just too big and complicated for humans to program. Out of all the financial transactions going on, which are fraudulent? Of the octillion videos that exist, which eight should the bot recommend? Also, related to the comment above, we do not know how people and even little children learn to distinguish a 3 from a bee. So, we build a bot that builds bots and one that teaches them. Builder bot assembles more or less at random. And teacher bot cannot tell a bee from a 3 either. If it could, we would just use teacher bot. The human gives teacher bot millions of pictures of 3s and bees and an answer key (look up tables) as to which is which. Teacher bot tests student bots. The good ones are put to one side. The bad ones discarded, as judged by the answer key. Builder bot is still not good at building bots, but now it takes the remaining bots and copies them while making changes and new combinations. The teacher has thousands of students and the test involves millions of questions. As the student bots improve, the grade needed to survive to the next round gets higher. Eventually, the bot is pretty good. But, neither the builder bot, teacher bot, the human nor the student bot itself knows how the bot is doing what it is doing. The student bot is only good at the types of questions it has been taught. It is great with photos, but cannot handle videos and is baffled if the photos are upside down. And that’s the problem. Humans can easily handle something upside down, and something it has never encountered along those lines, but where humans have not anticipated a particular scenario, the bot will likely not be able to make up for the deficient training by improvising. No complete set of rules can be written for driving situations, just as the workers at the front desk of a hotel cannot be given written instructions covering all eventualities. They need discretion to be able to do their jobs well. Concerning the bot, things that are obviously not bees, it is confident that they are. All the teacher can do is include more questions to include the ones that the student bot gets wrong. More data = longer tests = better bots. The human directs teacher bot how to score the test.

Determinism is the Result of a Wrongheaded Conception of Causation

Determinists rely on a story involving causal chains. I have a new section giving a diagnosis about how the picture of reality determinists have is mistaken. It is related to how McGilchrist solves Zeno’s paradoxes.

The left hemisphere focuses on discrete objects, the right hemisphere on intuitive awareness of context. The RH is also what connects us to reality. The LH only involves concepts, maps of reality, and foregrounded aspects of a broader background. As such, LH breaks reality into bits. Determinism is very much a LH phenomenon. It is a theory, not something derived from experience. No one experiences determinism. And, in typical LH fashion, it imagines reality as broken into chunks; as separate events in which events are conceived of as causes and effects. Iain McGilchrist argues that reality is actually a continuous flow and in the process he resolves Zeno’s paradoxes. An arrow reaches its target because it is in a state of constant movement. If one freezes the arrow and imagines it occupying some particular position in space, movement is eradicated from the conception of the flying arrow and then the arrow will never reach its target. This is actually how Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle functions. To know the position of a particle is not to know its speed. And to know its speed, is not to know its position. By conceiving of the particle as stationary, as being in particular spot, one can no longer perceive its motion. The particle or the arrow is not moving through an infinite series of “points” either. Those imaginary points have no dimensionality. A line is not a series of points; it is continuous. By misconstruing a line as a series of juddering points, the arrow then needs to move past all those points. Since there is an infinity of them, the arrow never reaches its target. But, of course, it does reach its target. Non-dimensional, non-extended points, are nothing. Because they lack extension, they cannot compose a line, in a similar way, straight lines, no matter how small, cannot make a curve.

The image that comes to mind regarding determinism is to think of reality as akin to an explosion of dynamite that sets off another explosion of dynamite – discrete moments of cause and effect. If reality is instead a flow, then this cause/effect paradigm goes out the window.

The modern concept of cause and effect is highly artificial. Aristotle identifies four causes. Formal, efficient, material, and final cause. The formal cause of a house is its blueprint. The efficient cause is its builders. The material cause are the materials used in its construction. And the final cause is the reason the house was built in the first place; namely, to provide shelter for humans. The final cause is the most important because without it the materials will not be purchased, the blueprints will not be drawn up, and the builders won’t be engaged. We tend to focus on the efficient cause only, but Aristotle’s account is more complete. It is also not mechanical or deterministic.

Isolating “a” cause is also a strange LH abstraction for other reasons. The universe is a complex whole; a Gestalt. The universe has to be pretty much as it is in order for something to happen the way it does. If someone asks, “Why did that happen?” The real answer would be something like, “Well. In the beginning was the Big Bang. Due to slight deviations of uniformity from the plasma that emerged, gravitational forces brought some of it into lumps that became stars creating heavier elements through the process of fusion and bringing light to the cosmos. Then…” In other words, the whole history of the universe had to occur as it did. Our solar system had to come into existence and life had to emerge and then human beings needed to evolve and on and on. It is not practical to recite all this every time something happens, so we focus on a little part of it and act like it is taking place in isolation. This makes it seem like reality is starting and stopping all the time rather than unfolding in flowing time. The starting and stopping jerkiness thus created in the imagination then gives rise to the determinist mechanical picture of reality. We take a re-presentation of reality done for practical purposes and confuse it with the continuous flow of reality itself.

Physicist Lee Smolin points out that the theories of physics cannot be applied to the whole universe. In order to study some part of the universe, we regard it as dynamic and changing, while the rest of the universe is treated as though it were static. But, the truth is, everything is dynamic and changing. Stasis is postulated for practical purposes only; it is a kind of pretense making physics possible.[3]

When analytic philosophers try to explain the difference between mere correlation and real causation they cannot do it. They point out that saying given a cause X, the effect Y “necessarily” follows, does not mean logically necessary. So, in what sense is the effect necessary? It is not. The most one can say really is that the effect does follow after the cause. But, correlated events simply “do” happen too.

Symbolic logic is completely unable to capture causation either. So, any sense of causation is simply lost as soon as symbols are introduced. If-then hypothetical statements have nothing to do with causation. In logic, if the consequent is true, then the entire statement is true and that makes a nonsense of common sense or causation. For example, “If hula hoops were invented in 1963, then the current offerings of Netflix are pitiful.” So long as it is true that the current offerings of Netflix are pitiful, and it is, then the entire conditional statement is also true. Never mind that the statement is stupid and antecedent and consequent are unrelated.

If determinism depends on causation for its meaning and we cannot define causation then determinism is on much less firm ground than it would like.

[1] p. 1138.

[2] Vohs KD & Schooler JW, ‘The value of believing in free will: encouraging a belief in determinism increases cheating,’ Psychological Science, 2008, 19 (1), 49-54. Baumeister RF, Masicampo EJ & DeWall C, ‘Prosocial benefits of feeling free: disbelief in free will increases aggression and reduces helpfulness,’ Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 2009, 34 (2), 260-8. Stillman TF, Baumeister RF, Vohs KD et al, “Personal philosophy and personal achievement: belief in free will predicts better job performance,” Social Psychology and Personality Science, 2010, 1 (1), 43-50. And Vohs KD and Baumeister RF, “Addiction and Free Will,” Addiction Research & Theory, 200917 (3), 231-5.

[3] p. 922. Quoted in The Matter With Things.

25 thoughts on “Additions to a revised Determinists Strike Back Part 4

  1. Navigation systems still occasionally tell you to turn left when it should be right or tell you “you’ve arrived at your destination” a block or two too early or late, or tell you to take a u-turn through a closed intersection. But sure, driverless cars will work out great.

  2. Since we do not know how a child learns language…

    Indeed, we do not. I recall discussing it in a tutorial with Miss Anscombe, who was not only one of England’s leading philosophers, but the mother of 3 sons and 4 daughters.

    She pointed out that we can teach a foreigner the English names of certain thing by pointing to them and repeating the name, “knife,” “fork,” “spoon”; but this is because the foreigner already has a language and understands the concept of “naming.” Presumably, he also understands “pointing,” for gestures are a form of language.

    She stressed that the teaching of language to children is not explanation, but training

    An analogy I brought up: when I say I know how to ride a horse, I am not talking about a set of rules, stored in memory and labelled “piaffe,” “passage,” “half-pass”; here, know simply means can, able to. Unusually, it passed muster.

    No one experiences determinism

    Of course they don’t. It is an empty category; it cannot be used to distinguish any sequence of events from any other.

    Iain McGilchrist argues that reality is actually a continuous flow and in the process he resolves Zeno’s paradoxes.

    Henri Bergson argues that we “take the ceaseless, living flow of which the universe is composed and make cuts across it, inserting artificial stops or gaps in what is really a continuous and indivisible process. The effect of these stops or gaps is to produce the impression of a world of apparently solid objects. These have no existence as separate objects in reality; they are, as it were, the design or pattern which our intellects have impressed on reality to serve our purposes.” This is reminiscent of Dedekind’s creation of a new irrational number at every gap in the continuous number line at which there is no existing real number.

    • Hi, Michael Paterson-Seymour:

      I think it was you who introduced me to the phrase “sequences of events” in the context of determinism. I’ve been using it ever since. It captures the worldview of determinism very nicely. Without agency, there are no organisms, just “sequences of events.” There is nothing to distinguish them from their environment. Human existence is rendered invisible. We simply merge with all nonsentient events. The difference between an avalanche and a person ceases to exist. So, thanks for that. It captures a philosophic truth and it has been great as a reductio ad absurdum.

      That’s a good Bergson quotation. However, your comment that “This is reminiscent of Dedekind’s creation of a new irrational number at every gap in the continuous number line at which there is no existing real number” would not be correct. A number line is not continuous in anything like the manner Bergson has in mind, and, where something is composed of discrete items, no matter how many are added, those discrete items do not become continuous. That’s precisely the kind of thinking that McGilchrist criticizes. A line is not composed of “points.” Points have no dimension at all, so no matter how many you have, they still take up no space. But, most importantly, it is to confuse continuity with something that inherently has divisions. A CD versus an LP – digital versus analogue.

      • The comparison with Dedikind was to the “artificial stops or gaps,” Bergson refers to. It is rather like Hume’s idea of isolating an infinite number of shades of colour from the spectrum (Sorry, I forget the reference)

  3. Prof. Cox, what would you tell someone who thinks that even if a belief in determinism causes the problems you write about, he’ll avoid them because he believes deterministically that determinism is false?

    • Hi, Bill: If he knows his belief in free will is caused deterministically, then he will in fact believe in determinism. I assume you’re kidding, but if determinism is true this exchange and any other we ever have, any thought in our heads, any action or feeling all mean absolutely nothing. Meaning itself would be an illusion, as would any sense of there being a “me” and a “you.”

      We either plan to live as a human being or we embrace such a black hole of fatalistic nihilism that depression would be a living heaven by comparison. Unfortunately, so many people who pride themselves on their intellect claim to be determinists and simply choose to ignore all its implications. They are the flat earthers and moon-landing deniers of the intellectual world. And, yet, it is they who are deemed respectable.

      • Hi, Prof. Cox,

        Since I want to disprove determinism, I wrote seriously. But I goofed by making your imaginary conversation-partner say he believed deterministically.

        In the past two or three months, I wrote an argument to show that if physicalism and determinism are true, rational thought is impossible. Since I’m exhausted I’m struggling to recall my argument, So I’ll post it when I can because it’ll support yours.

      • Hi, Bill: Yes, you are absolutely right. Determinism precludes rational thought absolutely and no question about it. Any idiot would be able to see that if he were not ideologically committed to his preposterous position. Both Sam Harris and Robot Philosopher take as their examples of rationality simple addition and the like. But philosophers who are perfectly rational disagree with each other all the time. I am in the process of revising some of my own theological ideas, so I will be disagreeing with myself. I would argue that both versions of me are “rational” and perfectly rational people can disagree with each other. Taking 1 + 1 = 2 as your paradigm of “rational” thought, as Sam Harris does, is truly pitiful. I have no idea why some people feel esteem for his intellect.

  4. Hi, Prof. Cocks,

    Thank you so much. I’m happy to hear that you,agree with me because I know you’re an expert.

    In my argument, I suppose that physicalism and determinism are true. On that supposition, a scientist can’t either confirm or falsify a theory because he’ll reason(?) deterministically either way. Deterministic brain events will make him believe what he’ll believe, even when it’s false.

    Since I’m a computer programmer, I doubt it can be genuine. That’s partly why I say “simulated intelligence” instead of “artificial intelligence.” Anyone who runs a chatbot program long enough will know the computer doesn’t understand anything you tell it. When I first tried speech recognition software, I asked my computer whether it liked me. “Why of course,” it replied. But I knew it didn’t use those words. It mentioned them because it didn’t attach any meaning to them.

    I need to learn more about Dr. Harris to know why anyone respects his intellect. But I suspect many admire him because they believe in scientism, too. If You watched Prof. Dawkins’s “What if you’re wrong?” speech on YouTube, you heard his adoring fans cheer when he committed the most obvious example of the genetic fallacy I’ve ever heard. That may even have humiliated the woman who asked politely, “What if you’re wrong?”

    Maybe you watched the debate where Prof. Krauss told Dr. William Lane Craig that he, Krauss, didn’t believe anything only to hear Craig answer, “Do you believe that?” So the conversation reminded me of what Scrooge did when he woke up on Christmas morning in Alasdair Sim’s version of the story. Scrooge sang, “I don’t know anything, I never did know anything. But now I know that I don’t know all on a Christmas morning.”

      • Determinism precludes rational thought absolutely and no question about it.”

        This was at the heart of the famous Anscombe-Lewis debate.

        Lewis’s reasoning is based on the concept of “internal mental states and processes.” Once we start thinking of inner and outer as two distinct, parallel realms, we are tempted to think that the kinds of understanding we have about the outer (physical) world should apply similarly to our inner lives. There must be inner states and processes about which we can have knowledge (or fail to have knowledge), and this knowledge must be based on some sort of data, and so on.

        I am sure Miss Anscombe was aware of Wittgenstein’s treatment of this in the Philosophical Investigations:

        “308. How does the philosophical problem about mental processes and states and about behaviourism arise?——The first step is the one that altogether escapes notice. We talk of processes and states and leave their nature undecided. Sometime perhaps we shall know more about them—we think. But that is just what commits us to a particular way of looking at the matter. For we have a definite concept of what it means to learn to know a process better. (The decisive movement in the conjuring trick has been made, and it was the very one that we thought quite innocent.)—And now the analogy which was to make us understand our thoughts falls to pieces. So we have to deny the yet uncomprehended process in the yet unexplored medium. And now it looks as if we had denied mental processes. And naturally we don’t want to deny them.”

        I add two (necessarily long) quotations from the debate.

        Miss Anscombe argued that physical determinism does not touch the question: “You say that on this hypothesis there would be no difference between the conclusions of the finest scientific reasoning and the thoughts a man has because a bit of bone is pressing on his brain. In one way, this is true. Suppose that the kind of account which the “naturalist” imagines, were actually given in the two cases. We should have two accounts of processes in the human organism. “Valid,” “true,” “false” would not come into either of the accounts. That shows, you say, that the conclusions of the scientist would be just as irrational as those of the other man. But that does not follow at all. Whether his conclusions are rational or irrational is settled by considering the chain of reasoning that he gives and whether his conclusions follow from it. When we are giving a causal account of this thought, e.g. an account of the physiological processes which issue in the utterance of his reasoning, we are not considering his utterances from the point of view of evidence, reasoning, valid argument, truth, at all; we are considering them merely as events. Just because that is how we are considering them, our description has in itself no bearing on the question of “valid”, invalid”, “rational”, “irrational”, and so on.”

        Likewise psychological determinism: “The naturalistic hypothesis is that causal laws could be discovered which could be successfully applied to all human behaviour, including thought. If such laws were discovered they would not show that a man’s reasons were not his reasons; for a man who is explaining his reasons is not giving a causal account at all. “Causes,” in the scientific sense in which this word is used when we speak of causal laws, is to be explained in terms of observed regularities: but the declaration of one’s reasons or motives is not founded on observation of regularities. ‘Reasons’ and ‘motives’ are what is elicited from someone whom we ask to explain himself. Of course we may doubt that a man has told, or even made clear to himself, his real reasons and motives; but what we are asking for if we say so is a more searching consideration, not an investigation into such a question as: “Is this really an instance of the causal law which I have applied to it?” – and that is true even though, as is possible, we doubt him on grounds of empirical generalizations which we have made about people’s motives and reasons for the action or opinion in question. Such generalizations are possible, and hence one can imagine a psychological naturalism which believes in the possibility of a complete scientific system of psychological causal laws of human behaviour. It is important to realize that such a notion of psychological causality (which would arise from observing regularities in people’s motives and mental processes) should be distinguished from the use of “because” in the expression of motives and mental processes.”

      • Miss Anscombe on physical determinism. Analytic philosophy routinely ignores the reflexive implications of its theories. If minds are generated by brains and brains are governed absolutely by inexorable physical causes described by physical laws then this “considering the chain of reasoning” is an illusion reflecting nothing more than a series of events. To do such a thing, we must follow the rules of logic, and not the rules of physics. Unfortunately, the rules of physics are governing the thing I’m using to do my assessment, not the rules of logic. If I could step outside the laws of physics for a moment, I could assess validity using mental items like “reasons” (premises used in support of a conclusion). But, since my mind is determined by physical forces that follow non-mental physical laws, I cannot. There is no “outside” in physical determinism. If you say that it is question begging to say that purely physical processes are mindless, then you are attributing mental properties to matter and we have entered the realm of idealism. Mental categories would be governing physical forces and matter would be merely mind’s way of expressing itself – matter as in intermediary between mind and mind. If the transmission theory of consciousness is true, then this is actually what is going on. My ‘soul’ is using my brain to communicate with your soul via your brain.

        Anscombe’s psychological determinism: ““Causes,” in the scientific sense in which this word is used when we speak of causal laws, is to be explained in terms of observed regularities: but the declaration of one’s reasons or motives is not founded on observation of regularities.” Yes. Causes are not reasons. I can cause you to go to Canada by some kind of manipulation, like brainwashing, or I can give you reasons to go to Canada. e.g., drug prices are cheaper. Reasons are mental items getting me to behave in a certain way. (Although, Anscombe seems to be pretty skeptical about the value of these “reasons.”) Brainwashing is purely mechanical and I am behaving more in the manner of a mindless robot. It would be like the difference between getting someone upset by insulting his mother and by giving him a shot of adrenaline.

        It’s interesting that she is thinking only of reasons as something given after the fact where someone is being asked to explain his motives retrospectively. That introduces the possibility of skepticism because one might be mistaken. If it is prospective, and I am going to Canada because you have given me good reason to go, rather than following hypnotic suggestion, then skepticism doesn’t come into it. If you then say I know the “real” reason you are going and it has nothing to do with the premises of an argument, and we adopt a general skepticism about all this “reason” business, then the reason for your skepticism is being generated by an entirely questionable and unreliable process. Your ability to speak, think, and act on the basis of reasons is just as questionable as mine. Again, it is the failure to think about the reflexive implications of one’s own argument. You give me all sorts of reasons to be skeptical of my ability to give reasons and this skepticism applies to your reasons for skepticism!

        Anscombe imagines “a psychological naturalism which believes in the possibility of a complete scientific system of psychological causal laws of human behaviour.” Such pipe dreams are typical of analytic philosophers who introduce such grotesque fantasies just as a matter of course as though all reasonable people ought to find it eminently plausible when in fact it has never happened and never will happen. To appeal to the likelihood and plausibility of such a thing so flippantly is really quite extraordinary and suggests she has a slim grasp of reality or what is scientifically feasible. Behaviorism attempted such a thing for 50 years until finally crying uncle and cognitive psychology largely took over. No laws were discovered by behaviorists precisely because they had to exclude mind from the proceedings since it is not amenable to third person analysis but it was mind that kept screwing up their attempts to systematically connect stimuli with responses. It is exactly the same situation with regarding the replacement of “folk psychology.” The materialist provides an uncashable IOU in the entire formulation of “folk psychology” and uses this IOU as an element in his argument even though it has never happened and will never happen. I always found the condescending attitude, “Oh, you benighted fool and believer in what I am going to call in a derogatory fashion “folk” psychology, just to make sure you can see what an illiterate, superstitious, peasant you are. Never mind that I cannot for one moment provide any evidence that any superior alternative to folk psychology exists. We all know that it is only a matter of time. Hence, I will continue to look down my nose at you.” If you are going to act superior, for God’s sake, cough up the evidence before you continue!

        I would go so far as to say that in this little fantasy, Anscombe resembles a member of a cult whose members have been persuaded that their leader is uniquely godlike and has ceased to be aware how odd outsiders might find their misguided devotion and faith.

        I too can imagine “a psychological naturalism which believes in the possibility of a complete scientific system of psychological causal laws of human behaviour” partly because I have a low opinion of naturalism. I cannot, however, imagine this ever happening. If it ever did happen I would be prepared to eat my words and slink off home and kill myself since my existence would have been rendered meaningless. If all human behavior became predictable in the imagined manner life would be intolerable. Philosophy begins and ends in wonder and wonder requires mystery and the depths of the human soul is one of the more interesting mysteries. This is not an argument on my part. I am just saying that if it did come into existence, I would concede the floor to Ms Anscombe and all others like her. The fact of a completed psychology would end human existence as we know it.

        It is part of my worldview that “a complete scientific system of psychological causal laws of human behaviour” has never and will never be possible. One can see that a belief in such a possibility and the apparent esteem Anscombe has for people who find this plausible would have quite an effect on her ability to entertain determinism and to find it likewise plausible. I too would find determinism plausible if a completed psychology, as Dostoevsky puts it in “Notes From Underground,” ever happened. And like the Underground Man I would attempt to do the opposite of whatever this completed psychology predicted I would do just to assert my own freedom.

        When she says “such generalizations are possible” I am unaware of what she has in mind. A nicely placed example would have been very helpful at that point in her argument.

        Anscombe adopts a superior and condescending God’s eye of view of the proceedings. YOU, you pitiful mortal, think you have reasons for your opinions. I, however, have access to empirical generalizations proving you are mistaken. Thus, she is skeptical about our ability to give reasons for our actions and opinions, and this skepticism is plausible (though not when applied to our attempts to justify ourselves). However, this skepticism applies to her ability to find reasons to doubt our ability to give reasons for our opinions and action. She is not, in fact, God, and her skepticism applies just as well to her as to the poor sucker she imagines the rest of us are as we attempt to explain ourselves in terms of motives and reasons.

        This lack of reflexivity and over-confidence in our abilities is typical of the operation of the left hemispheres of our brains. It is possible to ask people the same questions while deactivating first one hemisphere and then the other. When the right hemisphere is deactivated the following syllogism is accepted:
        All monkeys climb trees
        Porcupines are monkeys
        Therefore, porcupines climb trees
        When asked about the second premise, the person just says, “Well, it says here…”
        When the same person is asked to assess the syllogism with his RH, he rejects it on the grounds that the second premise is false.

        The LH dominated person assesses written arguments for validity and the like, but never steps outside it to consider truth, which can only be ascertained in relation to the real world.

  5. Prof Cocks

    You say, “It’s interesting that she is thinking only of reasons as something given after the fact where someone is being asked to explain his motives retrospectively.”

    In the same exchange, she says, “Giving one’s reasons for thinking something is like giving one’s motives for doing something. You might ask me: “why did you half-turn towards the door?” and I explain that I thought I saw a friend coming in, and then realized it was someone else. This may be the explanation although I did not at the time say to myself “Hello! There’s so-and-so; I’ll go and speak to him; oh no, it’s someone else.” So when I give the explanation it is not by way of observing two events and the causal relation between them.”

    Forming an intention does not necessarily involve a sort of internal, mental colloquy (although it may). Consider intentional actions like opening a window, painting a wall yellow. It makes sense to ask “Why are you doing that?” and what is being sought are reasons or motives.

    Take, “Why are you drumming your fingers like that?” “No reason” would be a meaningful answer. Contrast “Was I, I didn’t realise,” which denies intention.

    The notion of intention as involving “thinking,” (in the sense of “saying to oneself”) is surely disposed of by considering the way we use intentional language of animals. Thus, Wittgenstein bids us “Look at a cat when it stalks a bird; or a beast when it wants to escape.” (PI 647) Now “stalks” is a description of intention.

    The cat slinking and crouching and pouncing (which are all part of “stalking”) is aiming at something (catching the bird) and we speak of her as “missing” (which implies an aim). This is so, even though the cat cannot utter her thoughts (supposing she has thoughts to utter), cannot give expression to any knowledge of her own actions, nor of her intentions either.

    Intention (doing something deliberately or on purpose) is implicit in much of our descriptive language: calling, groping, crouching, greeting, signing, signalling, paying, selling, buying, hiring, dismissing. Some descriptions leave the question of intention open: intruding, offending, annoying, and dropping.

    • Mr Paterson-Seymour:

      You say: “Forming an intention does not necessarily involve a sort of internal, mental colloquy.” Absolutely, I would never deny that. Right hemisphere intuitive, embodied, emotional aspects and precognitive left hemisphere skills, are all fine with me.

      I also like the idea that we offer proofs and reasons only when someone is not already in agreement with us. Typically, the proofs don’t work because all proofs require axioms and your interlocutor is unlikely to agree to them.

      But, I will also make a distinction between trying to manipulate someone by giving them a causal smack in the style of a rhetorician and a good faith attempt to defend your choices and hope that the other person concurs. The notion that all is a sequence of events without agency means the two modi operandi cannot be distinguished.

      • ” The notion that all is a sequence of events without agency means the two modi operandi cannot be distinguished.”

        Sometimes, we do all offer a causal explanation for our own actions, “reasons,” rather than motives:

        “Why did you spill your coffee?”
        “I thought I saw a face at the window and it frightened me.”

        More often, we so so to dismiss someone else’s explanation: in the Anscombe-Lewis debate, Miss Anscombe points to “such things as passion, self-interest, wishing only to see the agreeable or disagreeable, obstinate and prejudicial adherence to the views of a party or school with which one is connected, and so on.” She adds an important qualification: “Suppose one mentions such things, and then someone says: ‘There are also tumours on the brain, tuberculosis, jaundice, arthritis and similar things,’ one would rightly object that these do not belong in the same list as the others. They are not ‘irrational causes,’ they are conditions which we know to go with irrational beliefs or attitudes with sufficient regularity for us to call them their causes.” This is quite close to Hume, whom Miss Anscombe once described as “a very profound and great philosopher, in spite of his sophistry.”

        (Words like jaundiced, choleric, sanguine, melancholic derive from the old theory of “humours,” just as jovial and saturnine come from astrology. The Marxist and the Freudian have their own compendium of temperamental and dispositional factors)

      • That is all fine by me. I don’t have any requirement that all human actions be conscious or described a certain way.

        You’re right. Sometimes, a causal explanation is appropriate for describing and sometimes we have reasons. E.g., I went for the plainer wallpaper after someone pointed out the other one was too busy. I’m not aware that we are disagreeing about anything except I would be careful not to conflate causal explanations with reasons.

        That’s fine in ordinary talk, but misleading if the topic is determinism.

        We mustn’t forget our old friend performative contradictions. If you don’t have reasons for your views about determinism but have merely been caused to have them, then they don’t amount to a hill of beans.

  6. Prof Cocks wrote, “I would be careful not to conflate causal explanations with reasons.”

    The word “because” is ambiguous.

    “I felt squeamish this morning because I had too much to drink last night” (Cause/Effect)

    “I must have had too much to drink last night, because I felt squeamish this morning” (Ground/Consequence)

    It was Miss Anscombe’s point (contra Lewis) that the two kinds of explanation (C/E and G/C) are quite independent of each other, the one having no bearing on the other.

    • I don’t find the C/E and G/C distinction helpful or illuminating and I have no philosophical interest in G/C if that’s all it is supposed to be. Probably Lewis made a mistake in introducing the notion.

      If Miss Anscombe plans on writing a critique then there better be more to this world than those two categories.

      Her fantasy of a completed psychology does not bode well for her grasp of reality.

      Before anything other than C/E can exist there must be Freedom/Ungrund, the causeless cause. She seems unaware of this fact. Your examples of squeamishness and coffee remind me of my analytic philosophy days where distinctions without an interesting difference are made. I don’t care about either one. I am only interested in “Can I sometimes do something because I have been persuaded to by reasons or not?” If it is Anscombe’s position that I cannot, because of a general skepticism concerning motives and reasons, then she is not arguing with Lewis because she has her reasons, but because of a bone pressing on her skull and neither of us should be paying attention to her.

      • Anscombe opposed determinism. In fact, she accused Lewis (and Haldane by implication) of being determinists:

        “Lewis’s philosophical education had imbued him with such a conviction of determinism about events that he says he can’t believe that modern physicists believe what they say – I think he’s talking about indeterministic physics – he can’t believe that they believe what they say. He can hardly believe it.
        Now, he’s wrong about determinism and all causes necessitating their effects.”

        A couple of paragraphs later, she insists, “it is false that all causes necessitate their effects.”

        Of course, effects are derived from their causes, but it by no means follows they do so “necessarily” or “universally” or that necessary (as opposed to sufficient) causes can be found for every event.

        Hence her famous aphorism: “The laws of Nature are like the laws of chess.” The laws of chess specify what moves a piece may make, given a certain configuration of pieces, but a move is seldom determined. They constrain, indeed, but they do not determine. This is rather like Aristotle’s idea of “natures” and their properties.

        Statistical regularities between between antecedents and consequents are not “causal laws,” however uniform, so behaviour may be at once free and predictable.

      • That all sounds good. I like the idea of the laws of nature being like the rules of chess. The only thing I would dispute is the idea that something can be free and predictable at the same, barring certain exceptions. In fact, it contradicts her chess analogy. Knowing the rules of chess does not allow predicting how someone will play the game.

  7. “The only thing I would dispute is the idea that something can be free and predictable at the same time, barring certain exceptions”

    But the exceptions make up most of our decisions. Indeed, did not habit and routine, taste and temperament direct most of our everyday actions, individual and social life would become all but impossible.

    • Yes. That’s fine with me. Since aspects of the world remain unpredictable, so too will aspects of someone’s reaction to it be, both for internal and external reasons.

      • At the risk of a tangent, I cannot forebear quoting St John Henry Newman’s Grammar of Assent, a work sadly neglected by philosophers, but half-a-century in advance of its time.

        “I call the characteristics of an individual accidents, in spite of the universal reign of law, because they are severally the coincident of many laws, and there are no laws as yet discovered of such coincidence. A man who is run over in the street and killed, in one sense suffers according to rule or law; he was crossing, he was short-sighted or preoccupied in mind, or he was looking another way; he was deaf, lame, or flurried; and the cab came up at a great pace. If all this was so, it was by a necessity that he was run over; it would have been a miracle if he had escaped. So far is clear; but what is not clear is how all these various conditions met together in the particular case, how it was that a man, short-sighted, hard of hearing, deficient in presence of mind, happened to get in the way of a cab hurrying along to catch a train. This concrete fact does not come under any law of sudden deaths, but, like the earth’s yearly path which I spoke of above, is the accident of the individual.

        It does not meet the case to refer to the law of averages, for such laws deal with percentages, not with individuals, and it is about individuals that I am speaking. That this particular man out of the three millions congregated in the metropolis, was to have the experience of this catastrophe, and to be the select victim to appease that law of averages, no statistical tables could foretell, even though they could determine that it was in the fates that in that week or day some four persons in the length and breadth of London should be run over. And in like manner that this or that person should have the particular experiences necessary for real assent on any point, that that the Deist should become a Theist, the Erastian a Catholic, the Protectionist a Free-trader, the Conservative a Legitimist, the high Tory an out-and-out Democrat, are facts, each of which may be the result of a multitude of coincidences in one and the same individual, coincidences which we have no means of determining, and which, therefore, we may call accidents.”

        [I had no difficulty finding that passage on-line, for who could forget to be the select victim to appease that law of averages? Real Attic salt]


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