Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course

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Somewhat-not-really-like -15%-Eureka moment By Ashlee

Going into my “Phil’s Day Off”, a lot of my questions such as, “Do all our decisions rely on determination?” or “does free will exist?” (Basically any sentences that ended with a question mark in my first metaphysics post) were still left unanswered. However, one of the major questions I decided to orbit around was, “Is it at all possible to go against determinism, if that is the superior state?”

I’m desperately hoping that I am not the only one going into Phil’s Day Off blindly lost as to how I could prove anything. It’s not a huge surprise that the question still applies, but on the bright side, I can now (sort of) say with confidence that I know where I stand in the argument of determinism vs. free will (around 65% sure!). Instead of using my time on Phil’s Day off to have quiet time to myself, I came up with an experience that would guide me in proving the topic I was striving to understand, which eventually lead me in thinking for hours.I decided to rely most of my decisions for the first half of my Phil’s Day Off on a coin flip. I would ask questions I would usually leave myself to answer on the coin; I believed that this act would result in me being solely dependent on an external factor. This would mean that I am going completely against what I was determined to do by making the most random choice…but did it?

I spent the whole day making decisions mostly dependent on my coin. I use the word, “dependent” here as there were many inquiries that arose on way.  Some examples of the questions I made through my coin:

  • Should I go get ice-cream?
  • Should I continue studying for my law test, or take a 30 minute break?
  • Should I take a bath?
  • Should I floss tonight?
  • Should I go to work, or call in sick (I was pretty sick)
  • Should I go to McDonald’s with my friend at 2 AM?

After a couple of rounds of asking the coin a question, I decided that there was a huge flaw in such hypothesis; was I really asking the coin, or was this whole experiment a hoax in disguise? This experiment wasn’t proving much and here is why:

  • I still held authority to the questions being asked. For instance, I wouldn’t casually ask, “Should I commit genocide?” and even if I did, I would never carry out such act, no matter what the coin said
  • My answers may have been dependent on the coin, but it was ultimately me who chose to do a coin flip in the first place
  • For some questions, I flipped until the answer was something I wanted it to be, for instance, for “should I go get McDonald’s with my friend at 2 AM” (because she was nagging me), I flipped until I got a, “no” because I was tired. This means that even the coin flip, which seems like the most random and dependent source of decision, has room for personal input

The second inquiry I obtained during my confusing journey of metaphysics was what lead me to solidify previous thoughts. I still believed to have the ability to influence my decisions greatly; so what was controlling my decisions that I could prove? From where I stand today, the most I could validate, were my morals and emotions.

The single strongest reason holding me back from supporting the theory of determinism was my value towards morality. Believing that human impulses reply on the world, where all decisions are determined would instantly abolish any form of responsibility anyone has for their actions (or words). To make this more clear, even a murderer would technically be able to justify their crime by saying that they were determined to do so with the power of the universe. Determinism would have to mean that the universe holds no distinction between what we label to be, “evil” or “good”, but everything is solely dependant on fate. By supporting such theory I would automatically disapprove all existing morals of mine; I could no longer be authoritative over my own values.

There also exists that my feeling of freedom was too strong to be unnoticed; the science aspect of myself believes that my brain receives signals to control my muscles into carrying out physical actions, but the feeling of my mind overpowering my entire self is superior over the thought of something else possibly being in charge of it.

There were many situations and ideas that simply stumped me, including my friend Ben (second shout out!) asking, “If a child was raised, being brainwashed by his/her parents, and that specific environment caused him/her to make certain decisions, would such situation still be accountable for the concept of free will?” This one still makes me think, and I’m sure there are still many questions out there that will cause me to ponder. My answer to this very question is that, being brainwashed by an environment in adolescent years are minimising the amount of choices available, and there are still room for personal input (in most examples I am imagining now, may not be the case for all). As this can lead to a sensitive area for many with such ease, I won’t extend it, but my answer is that with the amount of situations that can exist, there are also an infinite amount of probabilities.

Going back to my original question of the possibility of contradicting to determinism, is impossible to answer objectively. Although I can now prove that my hope for the existence of free will derives from my morals; they are both justifications for each other’s existence. My morals could not exist without true ownership, which also cannot exist without my personal authority into thinking so. My Phil’s Day Off wasn’t consisted with a continuous chain of epiphanies, but it did lead me into having a solid opinion on my own beliefs of our freedom.

p.s. Apparently I can’t attach a photo of my special coin because the file is too big?

 

 

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“Do you believe in destiny?” by Ashlee

A conversation I had with a friend, he asked, “you guys seem to be perfect for each other, do you believe in destiny?” I recall debating the question and factoring out all probabilities before answering, “Yes”; but does that lead to a conclusion that humans aren’t free? Are we not capable of truly making our own decisions? Are even the most impulsive or random choices destined to be? If we don’t have free will, why are we here? After pondering those issues, I decided that in order to justify my existence and purpose, I should believe in free will, but does that mean I am just being cowardly of the potential existence of determinism?

So, what is determinism? Determinism, a noun, the principle that all events, including human action, are in the end, determined by causes external to the will. Some philosophers have even gone to the extent of taking determinism to imply that human beings have no free will, therefore, cannot be held morally responsible for their actions. Such definition that the concept of determinism concludes to the idea of humans living with an absence of freedom, or that they can’t be hold accountable for their actions leads me to ponder the question: “Are humans ever free?”

The Libertarian free will is the conviction of human actions being freely chosen, and truly free actions will necessitate options so that there are other potential chances of probability. The belief concludes that decisions aren’t necessarily caused by anything that happened before it, but solely is the result of non-physical events. This means that all our choices are based on our impulses and there is no external factor or a prophecy that can factor into that.  After looking more into a libertarian’s views on free will, they validate their point with the distinction between event causation and agent causation. Event causation is the argument that no physical event can occur without being caused by a prior event, while agent causation is the belief of a being starting a whole chain of causality, with no other causes.

On the other hand, I perceive determinism to be linked with reductionism greatly; reductionism is the view that all parts of the world, and of our own experience, can be traced back/reduced down to one singular thing. If this is the case, then moving backwards, it could define that everything is the inevitable result of what came before including our actions.

The main reasons drawing me back from hopping onto the idea of determinism completely, is that the concept of determinism would validate any actions committed, including those classified to be wrongful. Can a murder argue that they were determined to kill the victim and that the universe disregards the good and evil, and that such action was meant to be? Another reasoning that many libertarians seem to argue is that it’s nearly impossible to disregard the feeling of freedom entirely; if we feel free, we should consider the likelihood that we are. So are decisions and circumstances purely a result of belief, desire and temperament leading to an action, or is it just, “meant to be”?

 

Still being unsure whether I hold any authority to my decisions, it’s hard to ignore the concept of determinism if it attacks the purpose of my existence. I still cannot answer any questions I have asked above, nor do I know why we are here. Although after doing much research, it’s evident that my morals are what’s drawing me away from determinism, and that deep down it generates fear of my existence being upon something or someone else’s superiority.

 

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Metaphysics: Free Will Pt.2

Robert Kane, one of the leading contemporary philosophers on free will, advocates for what is known as “libertarian freedom”, which holds the position that free will exists and determinism is false.

Kane’s argument states that “alternative possibilities (or the agent’s power to do otherwise)” are a necessary condition for the ability to act freely, but that alone is not enough. His argument is based around what he refers to as “ultimate responsibility” (UR)

“UR: An agent is ultimately responsible for some (event or state) E’s occurring only if (R) the agent is personally responsible for E’s occurring in a sense which entails that something the agent voluntarily (or willingly) did or omitted either was, or causally contributed to, E’s occurrence and made a difference to whether or not E occurred; and (U) for every X and Y (where X and Y represent occurrences of events and/or states) if the agent is personally responsible for X and if Y is an arche (sufficient condition, cause or motive) for X, then the agent must also be personally responsible for Y.”

Or in more simple phrasing:
“an agent must be responsible for anything that is a sufficient reason (condition, cause or motive) for the action’s occurring.”

Kane also talks about what he refers to as “self-forming actions” or SFAs. SFAs being those moments of indecision during which people experience conflicting wills. If a person has had the opportunity to make a character-forming decision (SFA), he is responsible for the actions that are a result of his character.

But Robert Kane doesn’t seem to take in to account WHY someone makes the choice that they do, for him, merely having the ability to do otherwise is enough for free will to exist, but can we really say that they had the ability to choose otherwise? Sure on the surface, if we were to decide between two options, such as choosing between cake or ice cream, it would seem clear that we have the ability to choose either, but if every factor, no matter how minute is taken into account, from the temperature in the room to the chemicals in our brain, to the very nature of the choice that we are given with that all contribute to the circumstances of the situation, do we really have the ability to choose otherwise? Sure we may have full motor function, we might be capable of picking up the ice cream instead of the cake, but there is more to a choice than merely physical limitations. If the agent in question dislikes ice cream but loves cake and hasn’t eaten in quite a while, they may have the physical ability to pick up the ice cream and ingest it but they don’t truly have the ability to choose the ice cream. Why we do something contributes just as much if not more to our ability to do something than our physical capability. If there is no reason to choose the ice cream and several reasons to choose the cake, then the agent in question will choose the cake. If there is a reason to choose the ice cream and that reason is more important to the agent than the pleasure gained from eating the cake, then they will choose the ice cream. If there is no reason to choose either, then the agent will attempt to choose randomly, but by choosing randomly the choice is not theirs, it is also still directly caused by the agents actions. For example If they decide to spin a bottle and whichever it is most closely pointing too will be chosen, the outcome will be a direct result of several factors such as how hard the bottle is spun, how much it weighs, where in relation to the bottle the two choices are placed.

To say that one has the ability to choose otherwise is absurd as there are countless factors influencing the choice and if the situation were to be recreated with all the factors exactly the same, then the outcome will be exactly the same. How then can we say one has the ability to choose otherwise if the other choice is never made, And how can we say that the agent is responsible for the choice when there are so many other factors influencing the outcome that are independent of the agents consciousness?

I retain my personal stance that free will cannot possibly exist, but much like with solipsism, does it really matter? Realism is far more convenient. If there is only one possible outcome but we can’t know what that outcome will be, then we still must act as though we are in control of determining that outcome ourselves. Even if the universe is deterministic, we have no way of knowing what that determined plan is, thus it doesn’t really have any bearing on how we act.

 

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Change Can be Normal right?

“Can normal exist?” is the question I asked in my last blog post. At the time I had come to the conclusion that nothing can ever be normal for nothing can ever be exactly the same. After discussing my topic with a few people and doing some research on Typs_of_nrml_sDeterminism I began to question my own post. What is philosophy without questions? Perhaps I was taking the definition too literally, perhaps I should have considered that normal exists on smaller scales. Sure, one normal culture cannot exist because there are so many and they are all commonly practiced but there are, however, things in a society that can be normal. If we look to the smaller scale gender roles in society can influence whats normal, societies morals can influence what is abnormal and the way people are isolated when they behave in unconventional ways can show what is normal. Why do we as a society prefer to have behavior that is classified as normal? Is it a conscious decision chosen by free will or does “normal” derive from the beliefs of hard determinism?

Different regions have different ideas of normal behavior. In North America, gender roles effect what we deem to be abnormal behavior. For example, tom boys are not the social norm but they do exist. A tom boy is, as Sarah Showfety describes, a

“female who engages in activities long considered primarily the domain of males. As young girls, tomboys shun Barbiedolls in favor of games that emphasize physicality and competition. They resist conventional feminine standards—avoiding pink clothes, lipstick, and nail polish—and often excel in sports. While “tomboy” is largely a term applied to prepubescent girls who prefer Tonka trucks to tea parties, some women retain tomboy characteristics into adulthood, gamely coaching the company softball team and downing brews with the guys.”

The standard of how boys and girls are expected to act lead to the creation of terms such as this. It brings to question weather we as a society have the right to put labels on people and judge them for their behavior.
This labeling, as it would seem, is normal. As a society we are constantly placing people into categories and are amazed when they behave differently from what we expected. It would be abnormal for a person to act out of the traits of their category for they would be going against what is expected of them. It’s in this way that normal can exist. Why do we create these labels, can we get past them? should we even try to? Perhaps the fear of the unknown is society’s number one motivator. We question everything and label everything because we have the innate desire to know everything. I guess that’s normal too.

These constraints that society makes can lead to rebellious behavior. People often wish to do as they please, they do not want to be held back by other peoples expectations. The desire to not be “mainstream” has become a mainstream concept. We often desire to be1316010803312_3639356 different, to stand out of the crowd and to not conform to societies norms, but that desire makes us quite similar to others. For example the hipster culture started as a life style to avoid being “mainstream” (this being the ideas, attitudes, or activities that are regarded as normal or conventional; the dominant trend in opinion, fashion, or the arts.) As time went on the hipster culture, ironically, became normal. This life style became popular and is now accepted (although not without humor) as a societal label.

We have people in society who wish to be different and we have those who wish to fit in better. We are constantly attempting to find our place in society be it through rebellion or through attempts to be “cooler”. At one point in every human’s life they have thought about where they ‘fit into’ the scheme of the world. Are they normal?  Do they want to be? Through media and the responses to it we can see that people behave in similar ways. A song about ‘fitting in’ received  millions of views on YouTube and became extremely popular because it is something that the majority of people have been able to relate to in some way or another.The definition of normal is the usual, average, or typical state or condition. Wanting to be normal is an average, or typical state or condition when we look at songs like the one linked below.

 

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Hard Determinism

Is the act of being normal an act of free will? Do we have 100% control over how we choose to behave or is free will an illusion formed for you, not by you? The idea that forces and conditions that were active before one develops the ability to comprehend things, make choices or exercise ones will is the theory of hard determinism. Does free will exist in the sense that we control our own behavior and personalities or do outside forces form it for us? Which of these relates to why humans choose to be normal? Some could argue that normality stems from hard determinism, that we have no real choice in the way that we live and think, thus creating a standard of normal. The forces that determine this lack of conscious free will include your childhood, education, social conditioning, exposure to external events all  and more. If we truly do not have free will, perhaps this is where the concept of normal comes from.

However existentialists, like Sartre, argued that its up to human beings to define themselves because no blue prints, no moral absolutes and no divine commandments and given values exist to guide peoples decisions on how to live. This lack of guidance, he argues, can lead to moments of existential angst or anxiety. Could then conforming to a societal norm be the result of fear? Do the people who feel “condemned” to be free (as Sartre worded it) conform more easily to the labels of normal because they are more desperate for it? Would Sartre agree that people who do not feel condemned by their freedom are more likely be viewed as abnormal by society? Or would he simply say that people have the free will to choose to behave however they wish and thus normal does not exist?

 

 

 

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A Man of Our Time

Ted Honderich is not one of those larger-than-life philosophers we can only read about in books. He is a man of the modern era, born in 1933 in a small Ontario village. Raised by devoutly religious Mennonite and Calvinist parents, the questions of existence – why are we here and what does it mean to be here? – plagued him, setting him on philosophy as his life’s path.

Still, not being of Ancient Greece or Imperial Germany doesn’t mean he isn’t a real philosopher. Honderich has attempted to provide answers to some of the most deeply rooted questions of all Western philosophy, theorizing on determinism and free will, the nature of consciousness, and the morality of terrorism. It is this last idea that has gotten Honderich in so much trouble. In face of Neo-Zionist Israeli expansionism and ethnic cleansing since 1968 war, Honderich claims, Palestinians had a moral right to resist with international terrorism. That assertion by Honderich – who married a Jewish woman, has Jewish children, and publicly supports  Israel’s right to exist – has earned him plentiful accusations of anti-semitism, leading to some of his lectures being well-attended by riot police to head off any potential violence. And who says philosophy can’t be interesting?

Honderich in the flesh

Still, his ideas on politics notwithstanding, what interests me most are his ideas on metaphysics; specifically, determinism. While I will go into more depth during our presentation, what it essentially boils down to is this: traditionally, deterministic philosophers divide into two camps, those who believe determinism is reconcilable with free will, and those who do not.  Honderich favoured a third way – while, I’ll admit, I don’t really understand what it is in the slightest. It focuses less on the explicit meaning of determinism than on its consequences; that is, it seeks to avoid the state of dismay we feel if we truly accept determinism, by combining the idea that everything is predetermined by past events with the idea that we can shape our own future when we have an idea of what we want that future to look like. Or something.

As you might have realized, I’m not quite sure what Honderich is trying to say, but I hope I eventually do – I’ve long been fascinated by determinism(though without realizing that was what it was), and the idea that events are in fact totally caused by those that have come before – and that, by extension, a being with complete omniscience could entirely reasonably be able to predict everything about tomorrow simply by virtue of knowing everything about today. It plays into our common cultural notion of fate – the idea that something, be it love, a chance meeting, or some tragedy is simply ‘the way it was meant to be’. Whether or not this is true, and the implications of that answer, play into the very meaning of what it is to live.

Even if I can’t quite make out what Honderich’s philosophy is trying to say – yet – he is a modern philosopher well worth studying – if not for the philosophy, then for the controversy, for the riot police, and for his scandal plagued past(think university professor and undergraduates). Stay tuned!

Follow me on Twitter: @LiamTheSaint

 
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