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Philosophers

Mortimer Adler
Rogers Albritton
Alexander of Aphrodisias
Samuel Alexander
William Alston
Anaximander
G.E.M.Anscombe
Anselm
Louise Antony
Thomas Aquinas
Aristotle
David Armstrong
Harald Atmanspacher
Robert Audi
Augustine
J.L.Austin
A.J.Ayer
Alexander Bain
Mark Balaguer
Jeffrey Barrett
William Belsham
Henri Bergson
George Berkeley
Isaiah Berlin
Richard J. Bernstein
Bernard Berofsky
Robert Bishop
Max Black
Susanne Bobzien
Emil du Bois-Reymond
Hilary Bok
Laurence BonJour
George Boole
Émile Boutroux
F.H.Bradley
C.D.Broad
Michael Burke
C.A.Campbell
Joseph Keim Campbell
Rudolf Carnap
Carneades
Ernst Cassirer
David Chalmers
Roderick Chisholm
Chrysippus
Cicero
Randolph Clarke
Samuel Clarke
Anthony Collins
Antonella Corradini
Diodorus Cronus
Jonathan Dancy
Donald Davidson
Mario De Caro
Democritus
Daniel Dennett
Jacques Derrida
René Descartes
Richard Double
Fred Dretske
John Dupré
John Earman
Laura Waddell Ekstrom
Epictetus
Epicurus
Herbert Feigl
John Martin Fischer
Owen Flanagan
Luciano Floridi
Philippa Foot
Alfred Fouilleé
Harry Frankfurt
Richard L. Franklin
Michael Frede
Gottlob Frege
Peter Geach
Edmund Gettier
Carl Ginet
Alvin Goldman
Gorgias
Nicholas St. John Green
H.Paul Grice
Ian Hacking
Ishtiyaque Haji
Stuart Hampshire
W.F.R.Hardie
Sam Harris
William Hasker
R.M.Hare
Georg W.F. Hegel
Martin Heidegger
R.E.Hobart
Thomas Hobbes
David Hodgson
Shadsworth Hodgson
Baron d'Holbach
Ted Honderich
Pamela Huby
David Hume
Ferenc Huoranszki
William James
Lord Kames
Robert Kane
Immanuel Kant
Tomis Kapitan
Jaegwon Kim
William King
Hilary Kornblith
Christine Korsgaard
Saul Kripke
Andrea Lavazza
Keith Lehrer
Gottfried Leibniz
Leucippus
Michael Levin
George Henry Lewes
C.I.Lewis
David Lewis
Peter Lipton
C. Lloyd Morgan
John Locke
Michael Lockwood
E. Jonathan Lowe
John R. Lucas
Lucretius
Alasdair MacIntyre
Ruth Barcan Marcus
James Martineau
Storrs McCall
Hugh McCann
Colin McGinn
Michael McKenna
Brian McLaughlin
John McTaggart
Paul E. Meehl
Uwe Meixner
Alfred Mele
Trenton Merricks
John Stuart Mill
Dickinson Miller
G.E.Moore
Thomas Nagel
Friedrich Nietzsche
John Norton
P.H.Nowell-Smith
Robert Nozick
William of Ockham
Timothy O'Connor
David F. Pears
Charles Sanders Peirce
Derk Pereboom
Steven Pinker
Plato
Karl Popper
Porphyry
Huw Price
H.A.Prichard
Hilary Putnam
Willard van Orman Quine
Frank Ramsey
Ayn Rand
Michael Rea
Thomas Reid
Charles Renouvier
Nicholas Rescher
C.W.Rietdijk
Richard Rorty
Josiah Royce
Bertrand Russell
Paul Russell
Gilbert Ryle
Jean-Paul Sartre
Kenneth Sayre
T.M.Scanlon
Moritz Schlick
Arthur Schopenhauer
John Searle
Wilfrid Sellars
Alan Sidelle
Ted Sider
Henry Sidgwick
Walter Sinnott-Armstrong
J.J.C.Smart
Saul Smilansky
Michael Smith
Baruch Spinoza
L. Susan Stebbing
Isabelle Stengers
George F. Stout
Galen Strawson
Peter Strawson
Eleonore Stump
Francisco Suárez
Richard Taylor
Kevin Timpe
Mark Twain
Peter Unger
Peter van Inwagen
Manuel Vargas
John Venn
Kadri Vihvelin
Voltaire
G.H. von Wright
David Foster Wallace
R. Jay Wallace
W.G.Ward
Ted Warfield
Roy Weatherford
William Whewell
Alfred North Whitehead
David Widerker
David Wiggins
Bernard Williams
Timothy Williamson
Ludwig Wittgenstein
Susan Wolf

Scientists

Michael Arbib
Bernard Baars
Gregory Bateson
John S. Bell
Charles Bennett
Ludwig von Bertalanffy
Susan Blackmore
Margaret Boden
David Bohm
Niels Bohr
Ludwig Boltzmann
Emile Borel
Max Born
Satyendra Nath Bose
Walther Bothe
Hans Briegel
Leon Brillouin
Stephen Brush
Henry Thomas Buckle
S. H. Burbury
Donald Campbell
Anthony Cashmore
Eric Chaisson
Jean-Pierre Changeux
Arthur Holly Compton
John Conway
John Cramer
E. P. Culverwell
Charles Darwin
Terrence Deacon
Louis de Broglie
Max Delbrück
Abraham de Moivre
Paul Dirac
Hans Driesch
John Eccles
Arthur Stanley Eddington
Paul Ehrenfest
Albert Einstein
Hugh Everett, III
Franz Exner
Richard Feynman
R. A. Fisher
Joseph Fourier
Lila Gatlin
Michael Gazzaniga
GianCarlo Ghirardi
J. Willard Gibbs
Nicolas Gisin
Paul Glimcher
Thomas Gold
A.O.Gomes
Brian Goodwin
Joshua Greene
Jacques Hadamard
Patrick Haggard
Stuart Hameroff
Augustin Hamon
Sam Harris
Hyman Hartman
John-Dylan Haynes
Martin Heisenberg
Werner Heisenberg
John Herschel
Jesper Hoffmeyer
E. T. Jaynes
William Stanley Jevons
Roman Jakobson
Pascual Jordan
Ruth E. Kastner
Stuart Kauffman
Simon Kochen
Stephen Kosslyn
Ladislav Kovàč
Rolf Landauer
Alfred Landé
Pierre-Simon Laplace
David Layzer
Benjamin Libet
Seth Lloyd
Hendrik Lorentz
Josef Loschmidt
Ernst Mach
Donald MacKay
Henry Margenau
James Clerk Maxwell
Ernst Mayr
Ulrich Mohrhoff
Jacques Monod
Emmy Noether
Howard Pattee
Wolfgang Pauli
Massimo Pauri
Roger Penrose
Steven Pinker
Colin Pittendrigh
Max Planck
Susan Pockett
Henri Poincaré
Daniel Pollen
Ilya Prigogine
Hans Primas
Adolphe Quételet
Juan Roederer
Jerome Rothstein
David Ruelle
Erwin Schrödinger
Aaron Schurger
Claude Shannon
David Shiang
Herbert Simon
Dean Keith Simonton
B. F. Skinner
Roger Sperry
Henry Stapp
Tom Stonier
Antoine Suarez
Leo Szilard
William Thomson (Kelvin)
Peter Tse
Heinz von Foerster
John von Neumann
John B. Watson
Daniel Wegner
Steven Weinberg
Paul A. Weiss
John Wheeler
Wilhelm Wien
Norbert Wiener
Eugene Wigner
E. O. Wilson
H. Dieter Zeh
Ernst Zermelo
Wojciech Zurek

Presentations

Biosemiotics
Free Will
Mental Causation
James Symposium
 
Hilary Bok

Hilary Bok's 1991 Harvard Ph.D. thesis Free Will and Moral Responsibility was later expanded as her 1998 book Freedom and Responsibility. Bok is a compatibilist who thinks that "libertarians should take no comfort from the idea that our actions might be caused by indeterministic natural events." She agrees with Gary Watson that to the extent libertarians hope to explain "our ability to act for reasons, they make it unclear why self-determination requires that our choices be causally undetermined."
Bok was a student of John Rawls at Harvard, and like Rawls, was greatly influenced by the works of Immanuel Kant, especially the Critiques of Pure and Practical Reason, which distinguish matters of truth (epistemology/knowledge) from moral questions (ethics/values).

The Critique of Practical Reason includes Kant's attempt to solve the problem of free will. Critics of Kant's solution for freedom, in the face of Newton's deterministic laws of nature, complain that it requires a transcendental realm that Kant called noumenal, which was in some ways an extension of Descartes' mental realm. Both Kant and Descartes locate human freedom in their noumenal/mental realms and consider the dualistic phenomenal/material/bodily realm to be completely governed by deterministic laws.

But there are readings of Kant that make human freedom, for him a prerequisite for morality, something entirely inside us, as seen in his famous distinction between the "starry skies above us and the moral law within." Bok focuses on a view of free will and responsibility that is something entirely within us and in some sense independent of natural causal explanations.

Bok applies some Kantian concepts, notably the important distinction between pure reason (theory) and practical reason (actual practice), to explain how humans can be free and responsible agents even if determinism is "true." She separates the question of freedom from that of responsibility and does not discuss the conditions under which we should hold persons morally responsible for their conduct. She also wisely separates (and does not discuss) the question of punishment from moral responsibility.

For Bok, practical reasoning does not look for causal chains, but looks for the grounds for choices not yet made, and not in a cause-and-effect temporal sequence. The purpose of practical reason is to determine the will, to answer the (Kantian) question "What should I do?" (Theoretical reason answers the question "What can I know?")

Bok says that libertarians cannot explain "self-determination" by discovering a theoretical causal chain of events. In any cases, there are many (perhaps infinite numbers of) causes for any event. Which cause is the most important is often a subjective matter.

Following Galen Strawson, even if some events in that chain are indeterministic (which she correctly notes means that our actions are not pre-determined from before our birth), discovering all the causes theoretically leaves our selves out of the picture. Quoting Thomas Nagel, she says in causal accounts the 'self' simply disappears.

Bok faults libertarians for using theoretical causal chains including indeterministic events to explain free will. They use indeterministic natural events to make our freedom "entirely independent of our purposes, our interests, our reasons and our selves." Only then would freedom exist for them, she says,

"Libertarians [should] want to show not only that antecedent events do not determine our conduct but that we do; that our choices are not just indeterministic but self-determined."

This is a reasonable criticism. The challenge for libertarians is to show that indeterministic events can break causal chains, as Bok sees clearly, but that in no way do they directly cause our actions.

This requires that the indeterminism be limited to the first stage in a two-stage model, where it simply expands the number of alternative possibilities available for evaluation and selection in the second, adequately determined, stage.

Bok concludes that the most rudimentary form of freedom is this: "to be free, our wills must be determined by ourselves and not by the external world." Theoretical reason is concerned to provide causal explanations of events. In this case "determined" must be interpreted as "caused." Our choices must be interpreted as "events."With such a theoretical formulation, the problem of free will cannot be solved. We cannot make sense of the problem as long as we assume that the kind of determination in question is causal.

Whereas theoretical reasoning is concerned with the causes of events, practical reasoning is concerned with the grounds on the basis of which we choose to act as we do. Practical reasoning constructs a system of reasons that allow us to determine which actions we should perform.

Bok says that when we engage in practical reasoning we must use a particular concept of freedom. She argues that "when we act freely in this sense we choose among genuine alternatives, that we should hold ourselves responsible for those acts we freely perform, that we should likewise hold others responsible for their conduct, and that this sort of responsibility differs in kind from mere causal responsibility."

She says that the truth of her claims is independent of the truth or falsity of determinism, or any hypothesis about the causes of human action. She says that the problem with libertarian accounts of self-determination derives from their attempt to construe self-determination as a causal property.

The practical reasons by which conduct is determined are not temporal, she claims. Thus she does not need to cite earlier and earlier events in a causal chain, though of course such events and their causes are considerations for practical reason. This agrees with the two-stage model view that the alternative possibilities (free thoughts) for willed action are all in existence in the mind at the same time (some indeterministically generated and in that sense "uncaused") for evaluation and selection at the later second stage.

Moreover, although the events that cause an action may be external to the mind, the practical reasons that are determining the action cannot be. Justifications for the action (reasons) are independent of any ultimate external natural events (whether deterministic or indeterministic) considered as causes. Bok says we must consider not causal origins but rational grounds, not the causes leading to the action but the reasons that convince her an action is sound.

Even if a particular action, the consequence of our practical reasoning, could be described theoretically as the effect of natural causes, we should not regard ourselves as obeying the dictates of some original natural event that controls our lives. She says that the coexistence of theoretical and practical views explains how we can be both fully natural beings and genuinely free and responsible beings.

Bok concludes:

On the one hand, we want to see our freedom and our dignity as moral agents written into the fabric of the universe for all to see. But on the other, we are unwilling to regard ourselves as worthy of being its sources or its guarantors. We may feel that as purposive agents we are tainted or fickle or untrustworthy; that our freedom is at risk to the extent that it depends on us. We may believe that any conception of ourselves that depends on our practical reasoning could only be a self-aggrandizing distortion or a way of projecting our own desires onto the universe. In either case we would think it an unworthy foundation for our freedom. If we adopt this view, and look to theoretical reasoning for our dignity as free agents, we will find no dignity worth having. But that is only because, in devaluing its source in our practical reasoning, we have already denied it.
Neuroscience and Free Will
In 2007, Bok updated her form of compatibilism against the neuroscientists who may be discovering all the brain mechanisms that underlie our illusion of thinking, reasoning, and acting with a degree of freedom. Her principal references are Michael Gazzaniga and Benjamin Libet.

Bok nicely summarizes the standard argument against free will, if determined, not free, if undetermined, not responsible.

The fundamental problem is as follows. Gazzaniga and Libet both assume that if our choices are causally determined by something, then we are not free. If they are right, then claiming that our choices are due to something nonnatural, like a ‘ghost in the machine’ or a spirit, cannot solve the problem unless that claim allows us to argue that our choices are not causally determined by anything. If, however, our choices are not causally determined by anything, then our choices are not under our control and we are not morally responsible for what we do. Moreover, the idea that our freedom consists in a tendency to make decisions in an indeterministic, uncontrollable way makes it unclear either that we are free, or why we would want to be.
Of course, not only Gazzaniga and Libet, but virtually every philosopher who has written on free will has confronted this dilemma. Very few have been unable to see beyond it.

Bok offers what she calls an alternative account - her arguments in Freedom and Responsibility described above. She once again argues that alternative possibilities are open for her to choose between, even if one of these has been pre-determined, as Gazzaniga claims.

In this situation, I am deciding between two alternatives: two courses of action that I can perform if I choose to do so. I take the question of which alternative I will choose to be open, not because I believe that determinism is false, or that my choice is uncaused, but because I take that question to be one whose answer depends on me, and which I have yet to answer...

If determinism is true, then that decision is itself the result of antecedent causes—but that fact is irrelevant to me when I am deciding what to do. For one thing, it is impossible in principle that I know what in particular it is determined that I will choose, if that knowledge would affect my deliberation. Therefore I cannot avoid the need to decide for myself what to do by simply embracing the inevitable. For another, when I try to figure out what to do, I am not trying to figure out what causes will ultimately lead me to choose one way or another; rather, I am trying to figure out what reasons I have for choosing one alternative over another, and the fact that my decision is itself determined is not relevant to this question...

When our actions are up to us in this sense, I would argue that we are free. This does not mean that we have to act as if our choices are uncaused, or that we have to accept the illusion of genuine freedom for practical purposes. For one thing, I have not argued that, when we try to figure out what to do, we have to believe that our choices are not determined; indeed, I see no reason to believe that this is true. I have argued only that the truth or falsity of determinism is irrelevant to us when we make decisions...

On the account I have sketched, freedom requires not causal indeterminism, but a capacity for self-governance. When we can decide for ourselves what kind of life to lead, what kind of person to be, and what kinds of actions to perform, then we are free.

Two-stage models of free will agree that we have Bok's "self-governance."

It is perhaps better called "self-determination" because our actions are evaluated and chosen in accordance with our reasons and motives, thus they are adequately determined by, or loosely speaking, "caused" by our character.

The correct way to say that we are "self-governed" is that we as agents are the cause of our willed actions. There is nothing that was "pre-determined" from the time before we started deliberating. This is called agent causation, a direct consequence of mental causation.

This is because the first stage of "free will" is the free stage, in which we creatively generate the alternative possibilities that Bok clearly sees before us in her example.

The fact that some alternatives just "pop into our heads" in no way makes them the direct cause of our actions. Those possibilities are "thoughts" - pure immaterial information, but they have causal power in the material world.

First "free thoughts," then "willed actions."

Compare Phillipa Foot, who correctly doubted that the ordinary language meaning of saying our actions are "determined" by motives has the same meaning as strict physical determinism, which assumes a causal law that determines every event in the future of the universe.

For Teachers
Bok considers that indeterministic natural events occur in the world and have an effect on her actions. Despite their indeterminism, she is completely determined in her reaction to them (chapter 2, p.).
For Scholars
Notes

1.

Bibliography

Chapter 1.4 - The Philosophy Chapter 1.6 - The Scientists
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