Binary powers that come in degrees?

I think there are at least two models for views that accept the following claims:

(i)                  Freedom is identified with a binary power and

(ii)               Freedom comes in degrees.

Reid and Kant hold views which claim (i) and (ii).

The first:        Suppose we have a switch with two values, OFF and ON. Now suppose that to get from OFF position to ON position and vice versa, we must go through some intermediate area. If the switch is really binary, it is not the case that position in this intermediate area corresponds to any sense in which the switch is more or less OFF or ON except in the sense that there are exactly two degrees, 0 and 1, and position in the intermediate area correlates with the switch’s being closer to one of these positions. The switch is always either OFF or ON, 0 or 1. Likewise, if freedom consists in the power to will to Φ or will not to Φ and that power is binary, it is not the case that it can admit of degrees besides 0 and 1 in any interesting sense besides being closer to farther away from being free or unfree.

The second model:   Suppose the switch is a dimmer switch. There is a point on such a switch where the light changes from off to on, and from that point on, moving the switch makes more light. In this analogy, what “more light” consists in is more freedom: being more responsive to the moral law or eschewing animal natures or whatever. This seems like a perfectly coherent possibility. And it seems to be this model, rather than the binary switch model, that Jennifer attributes to Reid.

It strikes me that (i) and (ii) on the first model is conceptually incoherent.

I want to suggest that any picture of freedom on which the following is true faces difficulties:

(i)                 Freedom is identified with a binary power and

(ii)               Freedom comes in degrees.

On such pictures, what we need in order to make sense of freedom’s being an all-or-nothing affair and nevertheless coming in degrees is a notion of a binary power that admits of degrees. I want to tentatively suggest that this is conceptually confused. If that is right, then Jennifer is too sanguine about the possibility of making sense of Reid.

Suppose we have a binary switch with two values, OFF and ON. Now suppose that to get from OFF position to ON position and vice versa, we must go through some intermediate area. If the switch is really binary, it is not the case that position in this intermediate area corresponds to any sense in which the switch is more or less OFF or ON except in the sense that there are exactly two degrees, 0 and 1, and position in the intermediate area correlates with the switch’s being closer to one of these positions. The switch is always either OFF or ON, 0 or 1. Likewise, if freedom consists in the power to will to Φ or will not to Φ and that power is binary, it is not the case that it can admit of degrees besides 0 and 1.

So Reid should either give up one of (i) or (ii) or respond to the charge of conceptual confusion. Perhaps it isn’t conceptually confused and I’m just not seeing things correctly.

But, I do think that Reid can move to the second picture and hold (i) and (ii) on it.

Could the noumenal be a 4D manifold?

I take the mysterious connection between the noumenal and the phenomenal to be a prima facie strike against Kant’s account of free will. I wonder if it is possible for someone to remove some of the mystery by adopting a Kantian view about free will with a commitment to substantivalism about space-time.

One might argue that the noumenal is the 4D manifold of space-time, the entirety of which we do no have empirical access to. However, given our experience, the phenomenal world is a 3-dimensional one governed by laws of causation. Though events in the phenomenal world are explained such laws, they are in the noumenal realm the structure of space-time. There is no causing going on in the noumenal realm as the manifold is a timeless entity. One could go on to say that our noumenal selves timelessly determine the structure of space-time where our 4D worm is located. Our phenomenal selves experience our existence as traveling through the worm where all events, including our own actions, are determined.

I am not sure if anyone would be motivated to take such a position. I see at least two worries for adopting such a view. The first is whether or not it actually does make the distinction less mysterious. I think one would have to argue that, in so far as we have good reason to think the universe is a 4-dimensional object, it explains one mystery in terms of another. Whatever would explain why we experience the world as advancing in time when in fact it is a 4D object serves to explain the mystery of the noumenal/phenomenal distinction. Secondly, one might worry that it makes the noumenal realm too accessible for it to be a Kantian picture. We do know some things about space-time, like the fact that it is curved. This may be seen as too much epistemic access to qualify as a Kantian view. I take it that both of these considerations are tension. It seems that the more one makes the noumenal/phenomenal  understandable, the more epistemic access we have to the noumenal.

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.

Inclinations and Freedom

Kant seems to be concerned that if an agent’s actions are not necessary, then there is no way to tie them to the agent in a way such that they aren’t completely random.  For instance, in the “Antimony of Third Reason,” arguing for the antithesis, he says, “freedom (liberation) from the laws of nature is indeed a liberation from coercion, but also from the guidance of all rules… The mirage of freedom…breaks away from those rules by which alone a thoroughly connected experience is possible (487).  The concern seems to be that if the agent is an uncaused cause of some sort, then there will be nothing that makes her more likely to act in one way rather than another—there is no room for inclinations.  I share this concern, along with a further one that even if Kant is wrong, whatever solution may be available will be troublesome for a libertarian.

It would be devastating if libertarians were committed to free actions being completely unhinged in the way that Kant alleges they may be.  If this were the case, then any possible action that I could take would have an equal probability of occurring.  Not only is this not freedom, but it also fails to make sense of how people actually act.  Given the 20-ish seats in the classroom, and the freedom that we all have regarding which to sit in, it would be an astounding coincidence if we all always sat in the same seats (which most of us have) over the last 12 weeks, if the probability of our choosing to sit in one seat was equal to the probability of sitting in any other.  As such, it seems obvious that the libertarian needs to say something to account for inclinations, or their position has no hope whatsoever.

I’m not sure what libertarians might say in response to this, but they need to have some account of why Kant’s concern is misguided.  My worry is that however they structure their response, they are going to end up needing to bite a bullet somewhere.  The most plausible options seem to be saying either that our freedom comes in degrees that parallel our inclinations (e.g. I am more free to choose to sit in Juan’s seat than to hit him, as I am much less inclined to do the latter), or that we are equally free so long as there is some chance of acting otherwise, but that the final jump to necessity eliminates freedom entirely (e.g. I am free to hit Juan despite there being a 99.999% chance that I won’t, but if I liked him just a little bit more, such that it was psychologically impossible, then my freedom would vanish).

The first of these options, that our freedom comes in degrees, doesn’t seem to map onto our experience of freedom, which I take it is a big libertarian selling point.  In general (there are exceptions), we seem to either feel free or not; we don’t experience the feeling of being “mostly free” or anything like that.  As I enter class, I feel no “more free” to sit in Juan’s seat than to hit him, even though the latter is so much less probable.  As noted, there appear to be exceptions to this—for instance sometimes it feels difficult to do the right thing.  Could this be construed as a case of a difference in degrees of freedom?  Perhaps (though I doubt it), but given how often we don’t have this feeling, even in cases of improbable actions, it doesn’t seem to offer libertarians much of a leg to stand on.

The second option seems implausible too, though.  This suggestion is that we are equally free to take any action that is not ruled out by necessity, but that as soon as necessity enters the picture, freedom is eliminated.  This reminds me of an argument against the identity of indiscernibles (IoI) (perhaps from Robert Adams?): imagine I have two ball bearings with identical properties except that one has a mass of 1 gram, the other of 2.  I can change the mass of the second ball bearing to 1.5 grams, 3 grams, etc. for almost any mass, and the two balls remain unidentical objects.  However, if IoI holds, then if I change it’s mass to exactly 1 gram, then suddenly the two ball bearings become identical.  It seems very odd that I can change its mass to so many different values, but there is just that one sweet spot at which there is a dramatic change.  A similar thought strikes me with respect to this response to freedom: the difference between there being a miniscule probability of my hitting Juan and it being psychologically impossible for me to hit Juan is not significant enough to make sense of a difference between my being free with respect to hitting him.

These two options seem, to me, the most plausible for how a libertarian would structure an account of inclinations.  Are there other, more plausible ways of going about this, or is one of the above more promising than I give it credit for?