Oracle: What’s really going to bake your noodle later on is, would you still have broken it if I hadn’t said anything?

The Matrix

Wherefore, the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself. Wherefore, man could not act for himself save it should be that he was enticed by the one or the other.

2 Nephi 2:16

This popped up on my Facebook feed today.  While empiricial means are, by their very nature, insufficient to answer the question of free will, I am somewhat interested in hearing the philosophical arguments to see if there’s any wisdom to be gleaned.  As I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, I wasn’t impressed by what I found here.

GS: Right—now the deeper point cuts in. For suppose you do want to acquire a want you haven’t got. The question is, where did the first want—the want for a want—come from? It seems it was just there, just a given, not something you chose or engineered. It was just there, like most of your preferences in food, music, footwear, sex, interior lighting and so on.

I suppose it’s possible that you might have acquired the first want, that’s the want for a want, because you wanted to! It’s theoretically possible that you had a want to have a want to have a want. But this is very hard to imagine, and the question just re-arises: Where did that want come from? You certainly can’t go on like this forever. At some point your wants must be just given. They will be products of your genetic inheritance and upbringing that you had no say in. In other words, there’s a fundamental sense in which you did not and cannot make yourself the way you are.

The fundamental problem with this entire argument is actually that it’s just a long-winded exercise in question-begging.  It only works if you assume that decisions are determined simply based on desire.  I can see why people consider that a reasonable assumption, but it’s still merely an assumption, and more importantly it is, at the root, merely a rewording of the statement “people behave deterministically”.  It’s just the same old circular materialist assertion, with nothing that’s actually new or enlightening.

Things however take a turn for the predictably bizarre later on:

BLVR: Let’s talk about the objective attitude for a moment. In 1962 your father, P.F. Strawson, wrote a famous paper that continues to haunts anyone working on free will today. In the paper he claims that when you adopt the objective attitude towards another human being, you lose some essential features of interpersonal relationships. You’ll start to see this person as an object of social policy, a subject for “treatment”—some Orwellian scenarios come to mind—but you can no longer see them fully as a person. But if we’re going to accept the belief that there is no free will, no DMR, it seems we’ll have to take the objective attitude towards all people, including those closest to us. Are the implications of this as cold and bleak as your father suggests?

GS: No, I don’t think so. I disagree that regularly taking the objective attitude to someone means giving up on treating them fully as a person. In fact I think it’s essential to the closest human relations. I think that it is rather a beautiful capability that we have. It is deeply involved in compassion and love. I don’t think love is blind. I think love sees all the faults and doesn’t mind. It brings the point of view of the universe into our lives, where it is (as far as I can see) welcome. The point of view of the universe can be part of care, caring.

This is a completely nonsensical answer.  Whether treating someone fully as a person is essential to human relationships tells you nothing about whether taking the objective attitude means giving up on that treatment.  Nothing he says actually answers the charge, it’s all platitudes and hand-waving.  This approach is typical to everything I’ve ever seen on the “illusion” of consciousness.  “It’s not real, but it’s really, really important, honest!”  I just can’t take it seriously.

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