The Relation Between the Noumenal and the Phenomenal

At first I liked the idea of that the noumenal self is free while the phenomenal self is determined by causal laws.  It seemed to successfully achieve its goal of presenting a compatible theory of nature and freedom.  Yet, after considering the two selves for a while, I am not sure how I feel about the self being divided in this way.  It seems that this view depends heavily on the relationship between the two, and I do not think that this has been clearly defined.

Suppose that my noumenal self forms the will to have ice cream.  If I walk to the store and get ice cream, does my noumenal self fulfill its will?  The answer here is not clear.  My noumenal self may have formed the will to get ice cream, but since ice cream exists in space and time, it is my phenomenal self that had the ice cream.  It seems like this problem would generalize to most cases, and it would also affect interactions between agents.

If my noumenal self wills to interact with someone else, it seems that my noumenal self will never be able to do so.  Further, I can never interact with the other agent’s noumenal self.  Our phenomenal selves can interact with one another, but that does not seem to arrive at the will I had created in the noumenal self.

With these ideas in mind, how does punishment play out?  If the noumenal self forms the will to kill someone.  It seems that the legal system is only able to punish the phenomenal self for the noumenal self’s wills.  Perhaps this is not a problem because the phenomenal self would have had to be the one that carries out the “kill someone” action.  Yet the phenomenal self is determined.  The one that is blameworthy is the noumenal self, and there is no way of punishing that self.

Perhaps these issues go away once there is a more defined story of the relation between the noumenal and the phenomenal, but it does not seem that this story is actually definable.  Kant says we can’t have knowledge of the noumenal world, so we cannot have knowledge of its relation to the phenomenal.  So are the problems I presented unsolvable?


Too Weak to be a Theory

In regards to free will, Kant’s goal is to “remove the apparent contradiction between the mechanism of nature and freedom,” in hopes of showing that “causality from freedom at least does not contradict nature” (A537/B565).  Here Kant is trying to find a compatabilist view, and at first, I liked his idea that we may be free yet causally determined because we belong simultaneously to the noumenal world and the phenomenal world.  We are fully determined according to space, time, and causal connectedness in the phenomenal world.  At the same time, we are free because our noumenal self is not subject to space, time, nor the causal connectedness of the phenomenal world.

Yet, at the end of the theory, Kant does a lot of backpeddling by saying that “it should be noted that here we have not been trying to establish the reality of freedom … we have not even tried to prove the possibility of freedom …”.  The ideas presented have only attempted to show that “nature at least does not conflict with causality through freedom” (A558/B586).

It was at this point that I was thoroughly disappointed with the view.  Kant’s ideas here are simply “let me show you that there is no necessary conflict by showing you a sample theory where this contradiction does not arise.”  This is certainly an acceptable method of proving the point that there is no necessary conflict.  It is not, however, an acceptable method for showing that anyone should accept the sample theory as an actual theory.  The modality is far too weak to account for a theory.

I thus want to say that by presenting the theory in this manner, Kant has not actually presented a theory.  I am hoping that the sections we read next week present the view in a way that make me feel more comfortable in calling it a theory.

The Object of Willing

In Essays on the Active Powers of Man II, Reid briefly defines the will as “the determination of the mind to do, or not to do something which we conceive to be in our power.”  With that definition in mind, I was a little confused about his statement that “every act of will must have an object.  He that wills must will something; and that which he wills is called the object of his volition.”

My confusion hinges on how we define “object”.  It seems apparent that these objects must be abstract, because thinking of the object of the will only as something tangible limits the human capacity to will significantly.  I am comfortable agreeing with Reid by saying that when I will, I will something.  I also understand calling that something the “object of my volition.”  When I will to go to the movies, the object of my will is that of going to the movies.  I am a little unsure, however, how this translates to cases where I will not to do something.  Can an object of my will be negative?  For example, if I will not to go to the movies, is the object of my will “not going to the movies”?  On the other hand, would the object of my will be the same in both cases except in the latter case I am choosing not to will that object.  So, for both willing to go to the movies and willing not to go to the movies, the object of my will would be “going to the movies.”  In the former case I will the object whereas in the second case I do not will the object.

I am unsure how Reid wants to consider the will in cases where the agent wills not to do something.

Any thoughts?

One More Link in the Chain

An act of will is “determined” in Descartes’ sense just in cases where an external force directly determined the act of the will.  If the act of the will is determined by internal forces then the act, according to Descartes, is not determined.  When I first read this, it struck me as a bit strange, but I was not able to figure out what it was that was unusual.  Ragland’s diagram on page 386 of “Descartes on the Principle of Alternative Possibilities” made me realize that acts of will determined by internal forces are often no less determined than acts of the will directly determined by external forces.  Including internal forces does nothing more than add one more link to the chain.

If a person’s internal forces are entirely determined by some external force, then the resulting act of will could end up being exactly the same as an act of will determined directly by some external force.  In many cases, adding a link between the external forces and the act of will does not seem to change the causal story enough to warrant saying that act of will is now not determined by the external forces indirectly acting upon it.

Let us suppose that internal force (I) brings about act of will (A).  (A) is determined entirely by (I) and (I) is determined entirely by external force (E).  Does this truly bring about a different picture than if (E) had directly brought about (A)?  In the scenario I just presented, the act of will is the same when it is directly brought about by (E) as when it is indirectly brought about by (E).  Furthermore, since (I) was determined entirely by (E), there is nothing that (I) brought to the table that may even hint at changing the deterministic story.

Of course there will be cases where (E) influences (I) and (I) brings something new to the table before it brings about the act of will (A), but this does not always have to be the case.  It seems that when it is not the case that (I) brings about its own new influence, that adding the extra link does not change anything in regard to the causal story.  Yet, Descartes did not make any of these clarifications or differentiations.  He was completely fine with saying that as long as there is an indirect relation between (E) and (A), (A) is not determined, and I have a real problem with saying that.

An Internal or External God?

**Disclaimer** I have been wanting to write this blog post for about two weeks now, but I was not sure how to formulate everything I wanted to say.  I was halfway through writing this post when we ended up discussing many of these points in class.  Nevertheless, I think I have a few thoughts that we did not discuss in class.  All that being said, I will do my best to articulate myself, and I hope that your comments will help me to clarify my thoughts. **

I wish to bring forth the issue of whether or not God is external or internal to the will and how the answer to that affects our story of free will.

Descartes wants to say that actions are free so long as they are “not determined by any external force” (Meditations 40).  Ragland clarifies this point stating that an act is “‘determined’ only if it would have occurred no mater what the will’s inclinations were.”  With Ragland’s interpretation in mind, free actions can be sufficiently caused by internal forces, even if those internal forces are causally determined by external forces from a previous time.  In other words, when external forces directly impact the will, the will cannot be said to be free.  On the other hand, if external forces only indirectly influence the will, the will can be said to be free.

The question becomes first and foremost, is God internal or external to the will?  A follow-up question then becomes: if God is external, does he directly or indirectly determine the will?  Descartes seems to be unclear on both of the answers to both of these questions.

It seems that we can claim that, according to Descartes view, God is external to the will in that sense that “everything was preordained by God” and “the slightest thought could not enter into a person’s mind without God’s willing, and having willed from all eternity, that it should so enter” (Principles of Philosophy 206 & Excerpts from Letters to Elizabeth 272).  It seems clear that God affects the external world to such an extent that it affects the thoughts entering the individual’s mind.  This seems akin to the account of free actions that Raglund interprets of Descartes.  God externally influences the internal thoughts and forces of the individual, and these, in turn, influence the will.  However, if you believe (as Descartes seems to) that God has a direct impact on literally everything (everything being preordained by God), then you might argue that Descartes commits himself to the view that God has a direct impact on the will itself.  If you accept this as Descartes’ view, then it cannot be said that the will is free.  Yet Descartes presents the will as being free.  Therefore, a charitable reading of Descartes could simply claim that, as an external force, God only indirectly impacts a person’s will and any reading of Descartes that seems to violate this is mistaken.  In class we argued that perhaps this can be cashed out as Descartes advocating a specific kind of independence in humans that is distinct from their dependence on God.  How this independence and dependence works or is specifically explicated is beyond the scope of our understanding.  I, on the other hand, wish to look at this dilemma from a different perspective.

Though we spent a lot of time discussing whether or not the external God directly or indirectly impacts the will, we did not spend time discussing whether or not God is internal to the will.  It may be that we did not discuss this because we (as a class) silently endorsed the supposition that “if God is external, then he cannot also be internal,” but I think that this is misguided.  I accept that God is external to the will, but I wish to advocate the view that he may also be internal.  The Christian vernacular commonly includes the claim that God lives within you and me.  At first glance it may seem strange to argue that God could potentially be an internal entity, and one might argue that Descartes wants to make the self distinct from God in a sense that forces God to be external, but this does not have to be the case.  Descartes purports that God is an all powerful omnipotent entity that has the ability to make anything the way he (God) sees fit.  As an all powerful entity, God should be able to exist anywhere, including in the mind/will, and there are many who make such a claim stating that God speaks to them via their internal conscious.  My overall point is this: we should not necessarily rule out the idea that God can be an internal entity.  Though Descartes does not take this move (at least not that I can remember) this idea is not at odds with any of Descartes’ writing.  Could we then say that it is the internal God, living within our volitions, that directly impacts our will?  We could also argue, if we wanted, that the external God impacts our internal forces, and the internal God (as part of our internal forces) impacts our will.  This allows us to preserve the idea that (A) God has a direct impact on everything and that (B) everything is preordained by him.  At the same time, however, we do not have any external forces directly impacting the will.  We can thus maintain that human will is free because it is not directly influenced by any external force.

One might argue that arguing for an internal God still takes away human freedom, but it just does so in a different way.  If God is internal, then my free will does not come wholly from myself, and thus free will is compromised.  This may be true, but I simply wanted to see how the picture changes if we include the idea of an internal God.

Concerns about the Will

In Section 27 of “Of Liberty and Necessity”, Hobbes states that he conceives “that in all deliberations, that is to say, in all alternate succession of contrary appetites, the last is that which we call the will, and is immediately next before the doing of the action, or next before the doing of it become impossible.”  Since Hobbes has classified the will as an appetite, it makes sense that he believes it comes and goes.  An appetite for food is only occurrent when a person is hungry.  Yet to say that the will is only occurrent when a person is deliberating is rather unsettling, and I am concerned by this notion for three reasons.

My first concern regarding Hobbes’ account of the will is that he seems to present an individual as having multiple wills instead of just one.  Suppose that person X is deliberating about making herself lunch.  She thinks about how hungry she is and how making herself lunch would solve that issue.  She then considers the fact that making herself lunch takes some effort (she would have to get off the couch, and she is feeling particularly lazy).  Ultimately, her hunger wins out and she decides to head into the kitchen to make herself lunch.  Hobbes would argue that person X had the will to make lunch since “making lunch” was the appetite she decided to act upon.  Later that same day, person X is engaged in a new deliberation.  This time she is deliberating going for a walk or going for a bike ride.  She weighs her options and decides to take a walk.  In this instance, Hobbes would claim that person X had the will to go for a walk.  The will to make lunch and the will to take a walk are completely distinct, and a person will have as many wills as they have results of deliberation.  This picture of the will is a drastic reduction from the more standard view of the will as the faculty that determines an individual’s course of action.  It may be the case that this is only unsettling because I am used to discussing the will in the more standard way, but it seems wrong to talk about a person having multiple wills.  We typically think of the will of the individual propelling them to do X or Y instead of “will X endorsed action X” and “will Y endorsed action Y.”  I think I have trouble with the latter picture because I associate the will as a part of a person’s character, and separating the will into multiple smaller wills seems to completely change that idea.  Instead of talking about a person’s strength of will, you would have to discuss each individual will in part which allows you to look at pieces as distinct entities instead of a whole.

My second concern regarding Hobbes’ account of the will is that claiming that the will is the result of a deliberation implies that a person is devoid of a will when he or she is not deliberating.  The standard view of the will is that it is the faculty that chooses a course of action and, as a faculty, the will sits idly by when not actively choosing a course of action, but it does not fade away.  Does a person sitting on the couch inactive have a will?  Do I have a will while I am asleep?  Hobbes seems to think that the answer here is “no.”  I am honestly not sure if I have a problem with this idea.  Again, the notion is unsettling, but it might only be unsettling because it is not the standard view I am used to hearing.

My third concern regarding Hobbes’ account of the will considers the person who decides not to act.  If the will is the appetite that happens right before an action is taken or right before an action becomes impossible, is there a will if the person decides not to act?  Let us look again to person X as she deliberates whether or not to make lunch.  Let us suppose that this time she decides that getting off the couch is an arduous task and she would rather be a bit hungry.  This time, person X has decided NOT to make lunch.  She chooses not to act.  Did she have a will not to act?  Do we want to say that she choose the action “staying on the couch”?  That does not seem to be what she was deliberating, however.  The initial prompt did not have her debating between “stay on couch” and “make lunch.”  She was debating between “make lunch” and “not make lunch.”  The fact that “not make lunch” entails “stay on couch” does not make the two the same.  To make the point more easily understood, let us have person X choosing whether to phi or not phi.  Let us suppose that “not phi” is not an action at all (it is simply not partaking in the action phi).  If the deliberating person decides “not phi,” do we say that this person has a will?  Hobbes claims the will is the appetite immediately before the doing of the action.  Since there is no action, there is no decision that occurs immediately before the doing of the action.  Hobbes also states that the will can be that which occurs right before the doing of the action becomes impossible.  Let us suppose that doing phi is not impossible, but rather the deliberator simply decided not to engage in phi.  In this scenario, we cannot say that the decision happened before the action became impossible.  It seems that Hobbes would have to say that “not doing phi” is an action, and it is the action of “not partaking in phi,” but this does not seem to be exactly the same picture he presented when he claimed that the will is that which “is immediately next before the doing of the action.”  Is it?