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Searle-Reith Lectures6

Searle-Reith Lectures6

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Published by Nadeem Graham
Searle-Reith Lectures6
Searle-Reith Lectures6

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Published by: Nadeem Graham on Nov 07, 2012
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REITH LECTURES 1984: Minds, Brains and ScienceJohn SearleLecture 6: The Freedom of the WillTRANSMISSION: 12 December 1984 – Radio 4
In these lectures I have tried to answer what are to me some of the most worrisomequestions about how we as human beings fit into the rest of the universe. Ourconception of ourselves as free agents is fundamental to our overall self-conception.Now, ideally, I would like to be able to keep both my commonsense conceptions andmy scientific beliefs. In the case of the relation between mind and body, for example,1 was able to do that. But when it comes to the question of freedom and determinism,I am—like a lot of other philosophers—unable to reconcile the two.One would think that after over 2,000 years of worrying about it, the problem of thefreedom of the will would by now have been finally solved. Well, actually, mostphilosophers think it has been solved. They think it was solved by Thomas Hobbesand David Hume and various other empirically-minded philosophers whose solutionshave been repeated and improved right into the 20th century. I think it has not beensolved. In this lecture I want to give you an account of what the problem is, and whythe contemporary solution is not a solution, and then conclude by trying to explainwhy the problem is likely to stay with us.On the one hand we’re inclined to say that since nature consists of particles and theirrelations with each other, and since everything can be accounted for in terms of thoseparticles and their relations, there is simply no room for freedom of the will. As far ashuman freedom is concerned, it doesn’t matter whether physics is deterministic, asNewtonian physics was, or whether it allows for randomness or indeterminacy at thelevel of particle physics, as contemporary quantum mechanics does. Indeterminism atthe level of particles in physics is really no support at all to any doctrine of thefreedom of the will; because, first, the statistical indeterminacy at the level of particlesdoes not show any indeterminacy at the level of the objects that matter to us, humanbodies, for example. And secondly, even if there is an element of indeterminacy in thebehaviour of physical particles—even if they are only statistically predictable—still,that by itself gives no scope for human freedom of the will, it doesn’t follow from thefact that particles are only statistically determined that the human mind can force thestatistically determined particles to swerve from their paths.The strongest image for conveying this conception of determinism is still thatformulated by Laplace: if an ideal observer knew the positions of all the particles at agiven instant and knew all the laws governing their movements, he could predict andretrodict the entire history of the universe. Some of the predictions of a contemporaryquantum mechanical Laplace might be statistical, but they would still allow no roomfor freedom of the will.So much for the appeal of determinism. Now let’s turn to the argument for thefreedom of the will.
2As many philosophers have pointed out, if there is any fact of experience that we areall familiar with, it’s the simple fact that our own choices, decisions, reasonings andcogitations seem to make a difference to our actual behaviour. There are all sorts of experiences that we have in life where it seems just a fact of our experience that,though we did one thing, we know, or at least think we know, perfectly well that wecould have done something else. We know we could have done something elsebecause we chose one thing for certain reasons. But we were aware that there werealso reasons for choosing something else and, indeed, we might have acted on thosereasons and chosen that something else.Another way to put this point is to say: it’s just a plain empirical fact about ourbehaviour that it isn’t predictable in the way that the behaviour of objects rollingdown an inclined plane is predictable. And the reason it isn’t predictable in that way isthat we could often do otherwise than we in fact did. Human freedom is just a fact of experience. And if we want some empirical proof of this fact, we can simply point tothe further fact that it’s always up to us to falsify any predictions that anybody mightcare to make about our behaviour. If somebody predicts that I’m going to dosomething, I might just damn well do something else. Now, that sort of option issimply not open to glaciers moving down mountainsides or balls rolling downinclined planes or the planets moving in their elliptical orbits.This is a characteristic philosophical conundrum. On the one hand, a set of verypowerful arguments force us to the conclusion that free will has no place in theuniverse. On the other hand, a series of powerful arguments based on facts of our ownexperience inclines us to the conclusion that there must be some freedom of the willbecause we all experience it all the time.There’s a standard solution to this philosophical conundrum. According to thissolution, free will and determinism are perfectly compatible with each other. Of course, according to this solution, everything in the world is determined, but someactions are none the less free. To say that they are free is not to deny that they aredetermined; it’s just to say that they are not constrained. We’re not forced to do them.So, for example, if a man is forced to do something at gunpoint, or if he is sufferingfrom some psychological compulsion, then his behaviour is genuinely unfree. But if,on the other hand, he freely acts, if he acts as we say, of his own free will, then hisbehaviour is free. Of course, it’s also completely determined, since every aspect of hisbehaviour is determined by the physical forces operating on the particles that composehis body, as they operate on all of the bodies in the universe. So, according to thisview, free behaviour exists, but it’s just a small corner of the determined world—it’sthat corner of determined behaviour where certain kinds of force and compulsion areabsent.Now, because this view asserts the compatibility of free will and determinism, it’susually called simply ‘compatibilism’. I think it’s inadequate as a solution to theproblem, and here’s why.The problem about the freedom of the will is not about whether or not there are innerpsychological reasons that cause us to do things as well as external physical causesand inner compulsions. Rather, it’s about whether or not the causes of our behaviour,whatever they are, are sufficient to determine the behaviour so that things have to
3happen the way they do happen. And there’s another way to put this problem. is itever true to say of a person that he could have done otherwise, all other conditionsremaining the same? For example, given that a person chose to vote for the Tories,could be have chosen to vote for one of the other parties, all other conditionsremaining the same?Now, compatibilism doesn’t really answer that question in a way that allows anyscope for the ordinary notion of the freedom of the will. What it says is that allbehaviour is determined in such a way that it couldn’t have occurred otherwise, allother conditions remaining the same. Everything that happened was indeeddetermined. It’s just that some things were determined by certain sorts of innerpsychological causes (those which we call our ‘reasons for acting’) and not byexternal forces or psychological compulsions. So, we’re still left with a problem. Is itever true to say of a human being that he could have done otherwise? Compatibilism,in short, denies the substance of free will while maintaining its verbal shell.Well, then, let’s try to make a fresh start. I said that we have a conviction of our ownfree will simply based on the facts of human experience. But perhaps our belief thatsuch experiences support the doctrine of human freedom is illusory. Consider this sortof example. A typical hypnosis experiment has the following form. Under hypnosisthe patient is given a posthypnotic suggestion. You can tell him, for example, to dosome fairly trivial, harmless thing, such as, let’s say, crawl around on the floor. Now,after the patient comes out of hypnosis, he might be engaging in conversation, sitting,drinking coffee, when suddenly he says so me thing like ‘What a fascinating floor inthis room!’ or ‘I want to check out this rug’ or ‘I’m thinking of investing in floorcoverings and I’d like to investigate the coverings on this floor’. And he thenproceeds to crawl around on the floor.The interest of these cases is that the patient always gives some more or less adequatereason for doing what he does. That is, be seems to himself to be behaving freely. We,on the other hand, have good reasons to believe that his behaviour isn’t free at all, thatthe reasons he gives for his apparent decision to crawl around on the floor areirrelevant, that his behaviour was determined in advance, that he is, in short, in thegrip of a post-hypnotic suggestion. Now, one way to pose the problem of determinism, or at least one important aspect of the problem of determinism, is: ‘Is allhuman behaviour like that?’But if we take that example seriously, it looks as if it proves to be an argument for thefreedom of the will and not against it. The agent thought he was acting freely, thoughin fact his behaviour was determined. But it seems empirically very unlikely that allhuman behaviour is like that. Sometimes people are indeed suffering from the effectsof hypnosis, and sometimes we know that they’re in the grip of unconscious urgeswhich they cannot control. But are they always like that? Is all human behaviourdetermined by such psychological compulsions?The thesis of psychological determinism is that prior psychological causes determineall of our behaviour in the way that they determine the behaviour of the hypnosissubject or the heroin addict. On this view, all behaviour, in one way or another, ispsychologically compulsive. But the available evidence suggests that such a thesis isfalse.

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