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Sunday, October 6, 2013

Strong determinism

I was reading some philosophy on free will because my college-student daughter wanted to discuss it with me. Anyway, I learned some things. A lot of effort goes into arguments over compatibilism and its opposite, in other words, whether free will is compatible with determinism.

Then I got to thinking about determinism. The strongest form would say that, from the time of the big bang (say) it was determined that Kansas would lose a football game on October 5, 2013 by a score of 54-16. The strongest form of determinism, then, is highly counterintuitive, because molecules bumping into each other do not seem to explain events that depend on man-made symbolic processes. For example, the molecules in the paper and ink of an edition of Mein Kampf don't explain why the book is noxious.

Kenneth Burke uses the example of a truck driver: he drives the truck and stops to ask directions from a pedestrian. He then turns the truck around and drives it in another direction. If that message had been different, he would have continued in the original direction instead. So something symbolic, a few little words in this case, has a material effect on several tons of machinery and cargo.

Saying that strong determinism is unsatisfactory is not the same as saying that there really is free will, of course.

But, really, strong determinism is the only kind. If not everything is determined, after all, then some things aren't.

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