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_The Philosopher_, Antonio da Trento, 1530-50 chiaroscuro woodcut, Library of Congress

The Philosopher Antonio da Trento, 1530-50 chiaroscuro woodcut, Library of Congress

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Introduction to Philosophy

Free Will and Determinism: Some Varieties

Abstract: Some of the common philosophical and theological doctrines concerning the extent to which persons have choices are briefly outlined and discussed as a precursor and a background to our study of ethics.

    1. Introduction: Historically the morality of peoples has been, for the most part, been based on cultural structure and religious doctrines. Moral values have differed among various persons and groups of persons, in part, due to different political and religious inculcation.
      1. If there is to be a philosophical basis for how we ought to lead our lives and seek a good life, then this basis cannot be founded on the practices found in different cultures. Morals are based on the ideal behavior practiced among persons in various sociological groups and so is considered a descriptive study of the proper way to think and act. In philosophical ethics, we are interested in the question of how we should act, regardless of how persons actually do behave. Hence, ethics is considered a prescriptive study of the proper way to act. The distinction between prescriptive ethics and descriptive ethics or morals is explained in more detail in the tutorial entitled in the tutorial entitled Morals, Ethics, and Metaethics. The difficulties with moral relativism are explained in more detail in the tutorial entitled Ethical Relativism.
      2. If there is to be a philosophical basis for how we ought to lead our lives and seek a good life, then this basis probably cannot be founded on the existence God either. As we have seen, both á priori and á posteriori proofs for God's existence are subject to substantial philosophical objection—ethical principles cannot be reliably based on such speculation. As well, different religions derive different ethics principles.
      3. Thus, our task in this part of the course is to see how far we can base ethical principles on reason alone. Toward this end, it is important to mention as a starting point that if scientific determinism were true (viz that every event has a cause) and psychology were to be a science with exact predictability, it's quote possible the whole enterprise of ethics would be moot. Without the possibility of some free decisions, alternative courses of decision or action would not be possible.
    2. The philosophical positions on the problem of free will and determinism have been many and various. In these notes, ten basics doctrines will be defined, characterized, and outlined. These doctrines are defined in their basic forms; in practice, philosophies utilizing these views are considerably more sophisticated than the accounts sketched here.
    3. [Notes are being reconstructed from q. v. Some Varieties of Free Will and Determinism]
    Further Internet Reading:
    • Causal Determinism. Carl Hoefer explains different definitions of determinism, whether we can know if the universe is deterministic, and the role of determinism in physics. Probability and the question of choice are also discussed in this article from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
    • “Free Will and Determinism” The philosophical history of the free will debate is traced through Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, the Stoics, Augustine, Aquinas, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Hume, Kant, Bradley, Schlick, and Cambell by Bernard Berofsky in the Dictionary of the History of Ideas maintained by the Electronic Text Center at the University of Virginia Library.
    • “Free Will in Theology” Austin Farrer retraces the history of the free will problem through the Sophists, Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, the Stoics, Augustine, and Kant. The linguistic approach to the free will–determinism issue is also discussed in this entry from the Dictionary of the History of Ideas maintained by the Electronic Text Center at the University of Virginia Library.
    • “Determinism in Theology: Predestination” A summary discussion of the logical problems including the dilemma of the problem of evil in both the Christian and non-Christian traditions is presented by Robert M. Kingdon in the Dictionary of the History of Ideas maintained by the Electronic Text Center at the University of Virginia Library.
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    "We may regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its past and the cause of its future. An intellect which at any given moment knew all of the forces that animate nature and the mutual positions of the beings that compose it, if this intellect were vast enough to submit the data to analysis, could condense into a single formula the movement of the greatest bodies of the universe and that of the lightest atom; for such an intellect nothing could be uncertain and the future just like the past would be present before its eyes." --Laplace, Essai philosophique sur les probabilités

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