Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Kane's Technical Definition vs. Paul Manata

Kane defines choice as “the formation of an intention or purpose to do something. It resolves uncertainty and indecision in the mind about what to do” (Robert Kane, “Libertarian Perspectives on Free Agency and Free Will.” Oxford Handbook of Free Will, p.423). The American Heritage College Dictionary (3rd edition) defines choose as: to select from a number of possible alternatives. Paul seems ready to grant that the dictionary definition rules out determinism, but holds that Kane’s definition is perfectly valid and does not rule out determinism. In our debate, I took the position that Kane’s definition was technical and philosophical and therefore inappropriate for understanding scriptural usage of the word “choose’. In Paul’s recent rejoinder, he support’s Kane’s definition by citing numerous libertarian “big guns” (Plantinga, Hasker, Timpe and arguably O’Conner) who agree with Kane. Paul didn’t provide another definition of ‘choose’, but he cited studies showing large percentages of the population hold deterministic notions to oppose my claim that ‘the common man’ uses the dictionary definition of choose and undermines determinism. From this, it seems Paul implicitly claims that Kane’s definition (or something like it) is used by a substantial percentage of the English speakers.

Kane’s definition of choice is technical and a restricted sense and distinct from to the common parlance notion of choice. It carves out some things at are obviously choices and embraces some things that are not choices. So Paul’s major mistake is to try to put it on equal footing with the dictionary definition of choice and insert it into the mouth of the common man.

Kane makes it very clear that his sense of choice is restricted and there are other valid common uses of choice. “First, when it is said that choice or decision is by definition the formation of intention or purpose, the terms “choice” and “decision” are being used in a specific sense. One is talking about choosing or deciding “to do” something or other. The terms “decide” or “choose” have other uses. For example, one can decide “that” something ought to be done (is the best thing to do, etc.). In the case of choose, one can speak of choosing or selecting an object from a set”. (Kane. Free Will and Values. p.17-18)

Kane gives many warning flags about how he is restricting his sense of ‘choice’. Kane states his sense of ‘choice’ excludes ‘choices’ regarding:
  • What is to be believed (as opposed to what is to be done) (p. 16)
  • What we ought to do (as opposed to what we will do) (p. 16)
  • Things (as opposed to acts to be done) (p. 18)
  • A pear vs. an apple on a tray of fruit (p. 18)

Yet it’s fundamental to Paul’s case that there be some other definition of ‘choice’ besides the dictionaries, which is common enough to be used by a substantial percentage of English speakers. Kane himself tells us that people talk about choosing pears over apples. So clearly Kane’s restricted sense of choice won’t do; even for the “deterministic common man”. You can’t live your life with Kane’s definition of choice; but you can have a technical philosophical discussion.

On the one hand Kane’s definition is too technical to compete with the dictionary, but on the other hand, even with Kane's technical definition, normal cases of choice do rule out determinism.

Kane’s understanding of choice is somewhat broader than my own spanning both self-forming actions (SFAs) and impulsive decisions. 1 For Kane, SFAs are the main event satisfying the “common parlance claim that the agents can choose either way ‘at will’”. (Oxford Handbook of Free Will. p. 420) SFAs cannot be causally determined; “the agents have a plurality of real alternatives from which to choose, she has the capacity to make either choice by making an effort to do so.” (Oxford Handbook of Free Will. p. 428) So regarding these basic attributes of SFAs, Kane and I are in agreement. Clearly, when Kane speaks of predetermined choices, he isn’t talking about SFAs because SFAs rule out determinism. However, Kane doesn’t limit choice to SFAs so let’s look at what Kane has to say about impulsive decisions.

We shall assume that choices or decisions (to do) as described in 2.2 always terminate some process of reasoning, however brief. But such a process need not always be called “deliberation” in the ordinary sense of that term. There are such things as impulsive, spur of the moment, or snap, decisions. … What is lacking in such impulsive or spur of the moment decisions is reflection upon and debate over alternatives to the option chosen. Since we ordinarily think of deliberation as involving such a debate over alternatives in foro interno, we should qualify our earlier statement and say that choices or decisions to do normally terminate deliberations in the ordinary sense involving consideration of, and reflection upon , more than one option. But in certain cases of impulsive or spur of the moment decisions, they may terminate minimal processes of practical reasoning in which only one option is considered and assessed. Though spur of the moment or snap decisions occur, we ordinarily think of ourselves as being more free in the normal cases in which choices or decision terminate deliberation, because in such cases we are more likely to feel that we ‘could have chosen otherwise’.“ (Kane. Free Will and Values. p.19)

So for Kane, normal choices (choices following deliberation) rule out determinism. Kane reasons “if one form or another of determinism were true, it seems that it would not be “up to us” what we chose from an array of alternative possibilities, since only one alternative would be possible and so we could not have done otherwise.” (Kane. Free Will. Introduction.)That’s my argument; a predetermined choice entails the contradiction of an “impossible possibility” or “one possibilities” or “a singular plural” or “1 =2”.

But on the other hand, Kane and I do have a minor disagreement in nomenclature (not in concept) about “impulsive decisions” or “decisions without deliberation”. Kane calls them choices, but I (following Aristotle) would call them volition but not a choice. Aristotle said: "Choice is manifestly a voluntary act. But the two terms are not synonymous, the latter being the wider. Children and the lower animals as well as men are capable of voluntary action, but not of choice. Also sudden acts may be termed voluntary, but they cannot be said to be done by choice." (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics (ed. H. Rackham) II.3)

So while for Kane choice doesn’t rule out determinism, normal choice (choice plus deliberation) does. Thus passages of scripture saying things like “consider what you should do” (Judges 18:13-15) rule out determinism in even Kane’s sense.

1In fairness to Paul, Kane may hold to a third category of choice besides SFAs and impulsive decisions - discovering purposes formed by prior SFAs. “Choices or decisions are will-setting when they do not result from the agents’ merely discovering during deliberation what they already favored, but when the agents make the reasons for preferring one option prevail at the moment of choice by choosing or deciding.” (Oxford Handbook. p. 412) Still, the same reasoning will apply and these can be treated like impulsive decisions.


bossmanham said...

Only a delusion could cause someone to think that the Hebrew writers of the Bible, Old or New Testament, had any of these silly fatalistic philosophical notions at all. When the writer of Deuteronomy wrote, "I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live," there is no possible way the writer could have ever had in mind determinism.

It's just one more reason I will never become a Calvinist.

bossmanham said...

PS I'm glad there's someone out there with enough patience to deal with the hacks over at Triablogue.

Bob Brewer said...

I went and read Paul's blog and I must commend you for solidly and respectfully arguing your point. Paul resorts to a very low and arrogant tactic. He opens up his rebuttal to you by in essence stating that he has won the case and for you or anyone not to see this is equivalent to being either stubborn or stupid.

For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. (Galatians 5:14-15 ESV)

I believe you are doing a great job standing for the truth of scripture while at the same time avoiding the temptation to bite and devour your brothers with whom you disagree. I realize that the letter to the Galatians is written to a local church but I believe it has application to the church at large. Stand firm yet gentle my good man.

Godismyjudge said...

Thanks Brennon, I agree it's far fetched.

God be with you,

Godismyjudge said...

Thanks for the encouragement and advice Bob!

God be with you,