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Free Will in theodicy
Posted: 02 October 2007 10:11 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 31 ]
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George - 02 October 2007 07:33 PM

¡Ay dios mío! Call me a crazy but this sounds like determinism to me. I am still going to imagine being the ball and being on the path to sink in the hole. I didn’t choose to move in this direction — no, I don’t believe we are like little gods — but it just happens that at the time I am approaching the hole “desire” and “belief” light up in my brain. I am happy, I feel I am free because I desired this path. Now, another ball comes in front of me and prevents me from accomplishing from what I had thought I desired. I don’t feel free anymore. But, THERE IS NOTHING I CAN DO ABOUT THIS. How is this different from determinism?

George, for all intents and purposes it is determinism; that is, a deterministic system at scales larger than the quantum level. So what?

As for the case you suggest, if you raise your hand for a taxi and the taxi fails to materialize, you won’t get what you wanted. But your act was in raising your hand. That’s what you did freely.

BTW, this thread is now repeating the material of about THREE prior threads we have in the philosophy folder. I suggest we move the topic back to the question of theodicy. Questions about free will and determinism already have their own threads.

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Posted: 03 October 2007 03:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 32 ]
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Mriana - 02 October 2007 07:51 PM
StephenLawrence - 02 October 2007 04:44 PM

On this forum alone it is what Mriana appears to believe in and George, Brennan and Narwhol.

I believe we are in control of our actions (barring some illness like Schizophrenia) and we are responsible for those actions.  If that is libertarian free will…  Now there are times in which things are out of our control.  Like company lay offs, putting in several job apps., family obligations, etc etc.  I can’t be at work or in class and at the same time keep my 16 y.o. from doing something he shouldn’t at school, in which the school calls me to come in and talk to them about it, ASAP.  One can’t keep a company from laying people off nor can they make one of the employers hire them.  We just have to keep trying to reach our goal- like convincing our child to behave at school, putting our best foot forward, and alike.  I’m not so sure that is libertarianism though.

Well to answer, the key sentence to look at is “I believe we are in control of our actions”. The first question is what is this we or this I? The brain? Or the useful fiction we create of a seperate self?

I actually don’t think this problem is very important but I thought I’d highlight it anyway.

The second more important question to address is what does control of our actions mean? That we can match them to what we want them to be? Or do you have something more than that in mind? Do you believe in a type of control which makes me to blame for doing what I want? Or do you accept that ultimately it is only our good or bad fortune that we want what we want?

I think if we delve into what control means, we’ll find out if you are a libertarian, if you wish to.

It’s my belief that if you are brought up in this society, it is the default position you start with but we’ll see.

Stephen

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Posted: 03 October 2007 08:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 33 ]
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Again, Stephen, let’s keep this thread to issues of theodicy and freedom. General free will topics can go in other threads we have open. We already have too many.

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Posted: 03 October 2007 09:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 34 ]
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dougsmith - 03 October 2007 08:17 AM

Again, Stephen, let’s keep this thread to issues of theodicy and freedom. General free will topics can go in other threads we have open. We already have too many.

Yes Doug, I saw your suggestion but had already posted a reply to Mriana.

I’ve posted replies to Brennan, George and Wandering on the free will thread.

Stephen

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Posted: 03 October 2007 09:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 35 ]
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In all honesty, I think you’re nitpicking and over analyzing, Stephen.

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“Sometimes in order to see the light, you have to risk the dark.” ~ Iris Hineman (Lois Smith) The Minority Report

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Posted: 03 October 2007 06:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 36 ]
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dougsmith - 02 October 2007 05:08 PM
George - 02 October 2007 04:51 PM

I know you’re probably tired of this by now, but do you think you could give it one more try (please!) and explain compatibilism to me? Use my pool analogy. And pretend you’re talking to your grandmother (who is undoubtedly smarter than me).

So, I am an orange ball #5, I am conscious of my being and my actions, and I see I am about to miss the hole. Will I miss it? Can I change the direction of my path?

You’re getting confused by the whole libertarian free-will mindset, that thinks of actions like little miracles. They aren’t. Think of the balls as bouncing around in your head. When the right “belief” ball and the right “desire” ball both bang together, out shoots the action to get a soda from the vending machine. (Of course, these beliefs and desires are actually instantiated in the complex physical computer of your brain).

The only way you would not have gone to the vending machine is if you hadn’t had the “desire” ball knock you in the right direction, or if you hadn’t had the “belief” ball, or the “perception” ball ... one or another of the balls would have to have knocked you a different way.

Your having a free action is just constituted by having these belief and desire (etc.) balls bang around in your head.

I can’t stress the following enough: it is no part of free will to be able to do differently assuming you had exactly the same beliefs, desires and other mental states! To think it is is just to be seduced by the whole absurd notion that “free action” is miraculous. It’s to think we’re like little Gods. We aren’t.

It is perhaps simplest to get your mind around what free action really is by thinking of yourself doing something freely. What makes you free to do what you do? It’s because you are following the dictates of your beliefs and desires. If you hadn’t been able to do so (if you had been constrained) then you would have been unfree.

Doug, my definition of “free"is something similar to a small miracle.

But what is your definiton? Why do you keep using this word at all?

I digress from the OP. But this is too interesting an issue not to.

[ Edited: 03 October 2007 06:39 PM by wandering ]
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Posted: 03 October 2007 07:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 37 ]
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wandering - 03 October 2007 06:35 PM

Doug, my definition of “free"is something similar to a small miracle.

That’s a bad definition, for a lot of reasons. It’s like defining love as a feeling mediated by God.

wandering - 03 October 2007 06:35 PM

But what is your definiton?

I’m happy with the standard dictionary definitions:

Able to act at will; not hampered; not under compulsion or restraint; etc.

wandering - 03 October 2007 06:35 PM

Why do you keep using this word at all?

Because it is useful. Sometimes we aren’t able to act at will, other times we are. Sometimes we are being compelled to act, other times we are not. Sometimes we are restrained, other times we are not. We need a word to describe these states of being.

That’s all I’m going to say on a non-theodicy question in this thread, however.

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Posted: 24 May 2008 05:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 38 ]
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5/24/2008

In the Books and Ideas Pod-Cast, Episode 12, Ginger Campbell discussed The Myth of Free Will:  essays by 40 leading thinkers edited by Cris Evatt (url:  http://www.crisevatt.com/myth.htm).  Dr. Campbell made the following points:

Point 1:  There are two common interpretations of free will:
a.  freedom from external constraints (e.g. a gun at your head).
b.  freedom from internal constraints (psychological forces).

Point 2:  There are two common beliefs about the source of free will:
a) That free will comes from supernatural sources   (e.g. a soul).
a) That free will arises from natural sources (e.g. within the brain). 

I was disappointed that Dr. Campbell, one of my favorite pod-casters (I particularly like her companion “Brain Science” pod-cast), made what I believe is an illogical leap to the assumption that the absence of free will implies freedom from responsibility, and spent the rest of her discussion talking about the importance of personal responsibility.  Her argument is that if we conclude that free will does not exist, that implies that one is not held responsible for their actions. 

Dr. Campbell believes that many decisions are made in the unconscious part of the brain.  I agree that an emotional response and a “gut feeling” are generated in the unconscious part of the brain.  These are the genetic heritage of evolution.  I also agree that the rational portion of the brain has the ability to intervene—within limits.  That intervention is only possible if the rational facility, first of all, recognizes the emotional response for what it is, in time to intervene (an ability which itself requires careful development); secondly, if the culture and environment have taught judgment that the instinctual promptings are not the wisest course of behavior and provides the support the rational facility needs to resist emotional impulses, usually in the form of moral and penal incentives, and most important, only if the person’s culture and environment have provided training in the techniques required to divert, work around, and compromise with the strong hormonal-driven impulses of the unconscious brain.  Strict suppression, denial and/or simple defiance (“just say no”) can backfire in sudden explosions of these impulses.  In other words, in my opinion, the rational facility emerged first to help the unconscious brain attain its goals; it developed the ability to conflate rationales for instinctive reactions after the fact, and finally to manipulate the unconscious and, to a limited extent, to steer its stone-age drives into constructive channels.

Now, let’s go back to the personal responsibity issue.  The rational facility of the brain needs support from the environment.  Incentives to resist the promptings of the unconscious are part of that support.  Experiments using the “honor system” have proven that moral incentives have not been internalized enough to prevent cheating for the majority of humanity.  The simple environmental support of an observer (even without the threat of a penalty) is extremely effective in increasing moral behavior.  This experiment works exactly the same way with children and Halloween candy.  In other words, holding people responsible for their actions is an important part of required cultural support for the brain’s rational facility, providing it with needed incentives in its struggle against hormonal promptings of the hindbrain we inherited from our reptilian ancestors.  Those who consider free will a myth maintain that decisions are a consequence of heritage and environment.  The enforcement of personal responsibility is a part of that environment.  The debate about free will is not going away.  But the argument that the absence of free will abrogates personal responsibility is a red herring.

Doctor Campbell’s pod-casts can be heard on her “Brain Science” and “Books and Ideas” websites.  You can listen to this specific discussion at http://booksandideas.com/ if you search for “The Myth of Free Will” and scroll down to “Listen to Books and Ideas #12 Now”.

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Posted: 24 May 2008 08:42 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 39 ]
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I listen to Ginger’s “Brain Science” Podcasts and I find her very interesting. I love her podcasts.  I haven’t listened to her “Books and Ideas” podcasts yet.  She’s a great lady and was nice enough to point me to some podcasts that I had not listen to just yet and had asked her for more info on the topic.  Very patient and takes time out of her busy schedule to answer questions.

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“Sometimes in order to see the light, you have to risk the dark.” ~ Iris Hineman (Lois Smith) The Minority Report

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Posted: 26 May 2008 06:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 40 ]
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Mriana,

I sent the above remarks to Dr. Campbell and received the following response:

Pat,


Thank you for putting so much time into the comment you posted about Episode 12 of Books and Ideas.


I agree with you that it is “an illogical leap to the assumption that the absence of free will implies freedom from responsibility.”


It was actually that leap that I was attempting to attack, which is why I focused on “the importance of personal responsibility” later in my discussion. This emphasis naturally reflects my own response to the book I was reviewing. I am sorry if I did not make that clear.


You might want to post your comments on the Discussion Forum at http://brainscienceforum.com. There is a section there for Books and Ideas. That is the best place to share ideas with fellow listeners.


I hope you will keep listening.


Warmest Regards,


Ginger

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Posted: 27 May 2008 12:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 41 ]
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Like I said, she is great.  I wonder if she is that good at her practice too?  Whatever the case, I do agree with what she said in the email she sent you.

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“Sometimes in order to see the light, you have to risk the dark.” ~ Iris Hineman (Lois Smith) The Minority Report

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Posted: 28 May 2008 01:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 42 ]
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Hi guys I will add my two pennies worth to this discussion by drawing from as blog post in draft form, heck maybe I can test this out here.

The common tacit understanding of Free Will when made explicit is Libertarian Free Will, which is contra-causal - above and beyond any natural process - typically captured by the idea of a combination of genes and environment - as in some supernatural or spiritual dimension. Whether one refers to the Self, Soul, Spirit this far from being “free”, adds third type of determinism alongside environmental and genetic.

Now imagine three guys guilty of the same crime pleading mitigating circumstances in court

Edward: “It was not me guv, it was the result of growing up in a council flat, with a dysfunctional family and a broken home”

Gerard: “It was not me guv, you see I have inherited aggressive genes”

Simon:” It was not me guv, I was following the dictates of my soul and that trumps anything else”

These caricatures are deliberately made to look like defenses relying on determinism - different ones of course. Now how is the judge to decide on sentencing? Well in all three case nothing gives a justification to shorten the sentence as they all imply a current incapability to respond within the laws of the land. However rehabilitation is possible for Edward and Gerard - they might respond to this so that Edward could obtain new environmental conditioning to overcame his history, similarly Gerard could also possibly respond to learn to better control his genetic impulses - genes and environment are not islands they interact, but what hope is there for Simon? Rehabilitation would not work, if his soul decides otherwise that is that, it is beyond reach of rehabilitation. Edward and Gerard have a chance because they can be held responsible for their current and future actions, since they are potentially sensitive to the causal factors that affect everyone. Simon clearly is not.

To briefly conclude the argument that free will is required for responsibility looks like an appeal to consequences and this is not only false, in fact it is the opposite. Such a free will contradicts responsibility. As for free will I prefer to focus instead directly on responsibility as that is the real question here and in that sense I am am a compatibilist like doug wrt to practical action which is all the responsibility we need or could have.

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Posted: 28 May 2008 10:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 43 ]
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I wouldn’t mind if someone could clarify this thread. Some possibilities:

(1) Augustine’s answer: There is both free will and God; God lets some men hurt others because it would be even worse to remove or thwart the will of men who wish to do evil to others. Justice is not denied, but deferred.

(2) ‘Theistic determinism’: There is no free will, yet there is a theistic reply to the problem of suffering even at the hands of otherwise healthy adult persons. There is not justice in the strict sense, but whatever substitute for it is like (1) deferred.

(3) ‘Atheistic voluntarism’: There is free will in a robust sense, but no God. Justice - or the cold comfort of death - is only had in this life.

(4) ‘Typical determinism’: There is neither free will nor a God. Justice in the typical sense is an illusion.

“Voluntarism” is the technical version of saying ‘free will in a robust sense’  - by which i mean “really” free will, no tricky ‘soft’ determinism where ‘free will’ means only ‘the rest of the Universe just happens to be allowing you to do what you feel like doing.’ So in a soft determinism, you could not really choose otherwise than read this message, but you wanted to *and* the Universe has turned out that way.

What is free will in theodicy, as the title of the thread puts it? Well, it’s more basic than suffering. Suffering, even lifelong suffering, is ‘transient’ - it doesn’t last forever. Free will is permanent to human nature is permanent - it’s essential, if you don’t have it, you’re not fully human. For instance, you would lack certain rights under law - you don’t get to speak for yourself if you can’t demonstrate some capacity to will (rationally) for yourself. Further, lacking suffering does not automatically make you a better person; in fact it’s a commonplace that people who have suffered little in their lives often lack compassion. But lacking free will *does* make you less a fully-functioning person, however.

That’s just a wquick reply to a potential question: suffering sure sucks, and the typical reasoning for allowing suffering is that removing free will would be even worse; yet sometimes it seems better to remove (usually someone else’s) free will than to allow the suffering.

I want to point out that if the thread is strictly *free will* and theodicy, then there’s a second big source of suffering that would be muddling the issue to include: ‘natural’ suffering or evils - earthquakes, mental illness, accidents and the like. Either we ditch the strict title of the thread, or put the natural evils problem in another thread.

Does this help re-orient the thread?

Chris Kirk

[ Edited: 28 May 2008 11:03 AM by inthegobi ]
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Posted: 29 May 2008 12:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 44 ]
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inthegobi - 28 May 2008 10:59 AM

I wouldn’t mind if someone could clarify this thread. Some possibilities:

(1) Augustine’s answer: There is both free will and God; God lets some men hurt others because it would be even worse to remove or thwart the will of men who wish to do evil to others. Justice is not denied, but deferred.

God and a contra-causal free will are most likely fictions, one cannot be used to explain the other those are fictional explanations. Neither are anything to do with real world justice.

inthegobi - 28 May 2008 10:59 AM

(2) ‘Theistic determinism’: There is no free will, yet there is a theistic reply to the problem of suffering even at the hands of otherwise healthy adult persons. There is not justice in the strict sense, but whatever substitute for it is like (1) deferred.

Since no contra-causal free will is required for justice, as is indeed as I tried to argue in my last post antithetical, the same goes for theistic determinism, since god is most likely a fiction, this has nothing to do with justice either

inthegobi - 28 May 2008 10:59 AM

(3) ‘Atheistic voluntarism’: There is free will in a robust sense, but no God. Justice - or the cold comfort of death - is only had in this life.

By robust sense I think you mean compatibalism? Justice relates to primarily responsibility and compatibalism supports such a real world model of responsibility.

inthegobi - 28 May 2008 10:59 AM

(4) ‘Typical determinism’: There is neither free will nor a God. Justice in the typical sense is an illusion.

Since neither are required for justice and can prevent real justice, justice is not an illusion.

inthegobi - 28 May 2008 10:59 AM

“Voluntarism” is the technical version of saying ‘free will in a robust sense’  - by which i mean “really” free will, no tricky ‘soft’ determinism where ‘free will’ means only ‘the rest of the Universe just happens to be allowing you to do what you feel like doing.’ So in a soft determinism, you could not really choose otherwise than read this message, but you wanted to *and* the Universe has turned out that way.

Interesting, I thought “voluntarism” was applied to Divine Command theories? You really cannot chose otherwise but that does not prevent justice. Included in the set of causal factors are those societal, legal and moral influences that effect one’s desires and beliefs, on the basis of which one acts. Change those three forces and one’s beliefs and desires change. You are responsible for your actions, the more so with those three forces operating.

inthegobi - 28 May 2008 10:59 AM

What is free will in theodicy, as the title of the thread puts it? Well, it’s more basic than suffering. Suffering, even lifelong suffering, is ‘transient’ - it doesn’t last forever. Free will is permanent to human nature is permanent - it’s essential, if you don’t have it, you’re not fully human. For instance, you would lack certain rights under law - you don’t get to speak for yourself if you can’t demonstrate some capacity to will (rationally) for yourself. Further, lacking suffering does not automatically make you a better person; in fact it’s a commonplace that people who have suffered little in their lives often lack compassion. But lacking free will *does* make you less a fully-functioning person, however.

I think you are playing with the notion of free will here. Even in a pragmatically full caused world, some have brain dysfunctions that prevent them acting in “free” compared to “normal” functioning. Is that what you mean?

Now I thought theodicy meant reconciling god with the problem of evil with free will being part of the solution. If you want to return to this core theme then I and others have been addressing the wrong question.

inthegobi - 28 May 2008 10:59 AM

That’s just a wquick reply to a potential question: suffering sure sucks, and the typical reasoning for allowing suffering is that removing free will would be even worse; yet sometimes it seems better to remove (usually someone else’s) free will than to allow the suffering.

I want to point out that if the thread is strictly *free will* and theodicy, then there’s a second big source of suffering that would be muddling the issue to include: ‘natural’ suffering or evils - earthquakes, mental illness, accidents and the like. Either we ditch the strict title of the thread, or put the natural evils problem in another thread.

Does this help re-orient the thread?

Yes and I will keep out until I see where the debate goes. I think you can tell my position in it but I do not know enough about this specific argument to comment further for now.

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Posted: 29 May 2008 06:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 45 ]
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hi FG - do you have a personal name i could use btw?

‘in a robust sense’ was meant informally. I can think of a couple of versions of free will that aren’t strictly the libertarian definition usually mentioned, which still are stronger than compatibilism.

(For those who just jumped in, compatibilism is, roughly, that your desires - not will - are ‘compatible’ with the way the world happens to be running. So you happen to want a drink of water (not that you will it freely), and lo there’s a sink, and a tap with water, and a glass in the cupboard, and you’re healthy etc. - and lo, you get a drink. Your desire lines up with the rest of the (nonfree) causal world.) Compatibilism sort of makes it *look* like you willed freely without actually positing the existence fo a free will. The most common objection to compatibilism is that it is an ‘error theory’: it basically says that an activity you and I engage in every day, we are massively mistaken about it. This ‘explanation’ posits that humans are massively deceived, *and* that they have no way out of it. Further we *shouldn’t get out* of the illusion because it proves too useful a deception in daily life to jettison! Being an ‘error theory’ makes compatibilism an unlikely theory of the human will, and thinkers naturally drift either into the varieties of determinism or the varieties of robust free will.)

In this forum, we usually discuss a form of free will that goes back at least to Duns Scotus, a philosopher/theologian of the ‘high’ middle ages. ‘Radical’ free will it’s sometimes called (because you are free to act even to the extent of refusing to desire something). My preferred version is a bit weaker, from Aquinas: once a desire comes to mind (for any and no good reason), the physical mechanism just must move us, but we are free to attend consciously to some *other* object (and then the mechanism of desire is directed to that instead of the previous object).

An example:

(‘Radically’ free will:) To Scotus and a libertarian free will theorist in general, I can not only choose freely to drink the coffee i see before me, or not, I can also choose freely to even desire it or not. I can withhold not just action but desire even in face of that luscious, mocha goodness. My will is free ‘at the root’ hence ‘radically’ free will.

(Non-radical but still free will, stronger than compatibilism:) To Aquinas, once i attend to the coffee’s deliciousness, I just *am* moved toward it by the mechanism of my desire (and insert any appropriate neuroscience here - for Aquinas’ contemporaries it was neuro-pneumatics rather than neuro-electricity.). I cannot stop desiring the coffee for now, although with training my desire may well be extinguished *eventually*. So in that way my ‘will’ is not free if you’re including desires as part of my will. However, I can freely will to direct my conscious attention to some other object. Since too much coffee upsets my stomache, I can attend to that bad quality of coffee. Then - in this case, an aversion to putting things in my stomach that make it sour - the mechanism of desire moves me away from the coffee, since now it is not its velvety coffee-taste i’m attending to but its capacity to sour my stomache.

It bears pointing out that ‘conscious attention’ in a human being is a little like ‘free will’; it’s not your normal scientifically tractable property. Thus Dougsmith’s (much too simplistic) objection could be appled to Thomas’ conception of will also, since a conscious attending isn’t a very scientifically tractable property, and so isn’t a good candidate for a merely scientifically tractable cause.

This is not a direct answer to the thread’s title, just some more clarifications.

Chris Kirk

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