Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Respond to John Byle's luck objection

The issue is whether the circumstances and constitution of the self fully determine its decisions. Will the same self, under the same conditions, always make the same decision? Libertarians answer ‘no’. But then we must ask: what is the decisive factor in making a choice, if not the internal constitution of the self and its external circumstances? What other cause can there be? The inevitable implication of libertarianism is that the self’s decisions are, at least to some extent, uncaused….

How can I make any practical plans, if I do not have control over my choices? Imagine that I set out to fly an aircraft from London to Vancouver. Keeping the aircraft safely aloft and on course will keep me very busy. It will require many quick decisions. How can I hope to arrive at my planned destination, if all my actions involve an element of chance? In that case I cannot predict how I shall act. I may do things that will astonish, not only my passengers, but even myself. (link)

The strongest response to the luck objection to freewill is of course the counter-example of God’s freedom. Clearly God’s actions were not predetermined and equally clearly He was in control. I do find it odd that the very source of control and irreducible meaning of control is criticized as being out of control.

However, Dr. Byle makes two other mistakes in analyzing the repeatability and predictability of choices. He says libertarians answer ‘no’ to the question “Will the same self, under the same conditions, always make the same decision?” Answering ‘no’ does make it sound as if man’s actions involve randomness, chance, luck and are generally out of control. But libertarians don’t have to answer ‘no’ to this sort of question although open theists typically do. Byle's question is not about possibilities or what we can do, but rather about counterfactuals of freedom or what we would do. All that is required for libertarian freedom is the idea the same self under the same conditions could choose otherwise, not that we would choose otherwise. Thus we are not like a coin flip coming up heads one time and tails another; rather we might have a great deal of predictability based on past experience.

Dr. Byle’s second mistake, which grew out of his first, involves planning and predictability. Can we plan for and predict our own choices? Sure, we have the ability to project ourselves into various circumstances, think things through and predict what we would do. It’s almost like a pre-choice that we simply activate when the time comes. When I was first learning to drive, I had to actively concentrate on turning: turn signal, rear view, side view, head check turn. Now I just decide to turn and I execute the familiar sequence without much further thought. Voting is another example – I have already decided who to vote for before I enter the booth. Now perhaps just before I vote I receive new information to consider. Perhaps I may change my mind, but that just indicates my prior planning was inadequate, not that I cannot plan at all.


guilderbig said...

In discussing with a compatibilist proponent of the luck objection who is not committed to God's free-will being libertarian (indeed maybe one who holds an argument against it), do you know of any independant argument to support that God's free will is libertarian?
Without such an argument, the luck objection itself is an argument against God's libertarian free will. What then would be the missing argument that commits compatibilists to viewing God's free will as libertarian rather than determined in all things by his necessary and good nature?

Godismyjudge said...

Hi Guilderbig,

Very few Calvinists say determinism applies to God but I suppose it does happen. It seems to have all kinds of theological problems, but my first objection would be based on the passages of scripture that teach God's ultimate sourcehood (i.e. Gen 1:1) and passages teaching His ability to do otherwise (i.e. nothing is impossible for God, God can raise up children of Abraham from stones, Christ could have asked the Father to send Angels).

God be with you,