Tomis KapitanIn 1986 Tomis Kapitan raised the question of whether determinists can and do deliberate. Deliberation is the consideration of alternative possibilities and their evaluation according to the agent's character, values, desires, and beliefs, with the aim of choosing one of the alternatives as a course of action.
Even determinists appear to believe they have alternative courses of action when they deliberate. That is, they must practically consider that their alternatives are undetermined before their choice is made, and that they are free to choose any of them. If the agent knew with certainty that only one alternative existed, she could no longer deliberate.Immanuel Kant, Richard Taylor, and Carl Ginet had assumed that an agent must assume himself to be free when deliberating over how to act. Kapitan wonders what this means for the deliberating determinist.
That a deliberator does not view himself at the mercy of an indifferent causal network is, to an extent, unquestionable, his assumption of self-agency, of his power to choose, is at once a recognition of his partial independence from the flow of events and of his ability to shape an indeterminate future. The Kantian postulate of freedom, coordinating agency and contingency, is well-grounded in the phenomenon of choice, and there is no intent to oppose it here. Yet, what this presumption of freedom amounts to is not something which the data unequivocally reveal. The reading so far encountered, henceforth labeled the "Standard Interpretation", must be measured against the overt dissent of those who, while deliberating, take their actions to be caused by their volitions, and these volitions, in turn, to be terminal points of deliberations whose every phase is determined. To believe in free will while taking it to be an illusion is not a comfortable position to be in. But for this very reason, the presence of deliberating determinists, while not refuting the Standard Interpretation, motivates development of and interest in a rival account... [Now] the deliberator takes his choosing to be an essential factor in causal chains leading up to either his doing or refraining. This is crucial to the sense of agency; that the action is under his control stems partially from the supposition that he would do it only through his own conscious effort. [Kapitan's] claim is that one who takes his A-ing to be open assumes it to be contingent relative to all conditions (facts, events, propositions) existing (obtaining, occurring, being true) prior to and including the time at which the assumption is held. This unqualified modality requires the deliberator to consider his A-ing to be, as yet, undetermined by those same conditions, hence, undetermined simpliciter. To minimize complexities, define determinism broadly as the doctrine that each state of the world is fully determined by antecedent states...Of importance is the fact that a determinist assumes that whatever he will do (choose, undertake, etc.) is already determined. To locate an inconsistency within the beliefs of a deliberating determinist now seems easy; for as a deliberator, he takes his future act to be yet undetermined, but as a determinist, he assumes the very opposite, that it is already determined...the ascription of an inconsistency to deliberating determinists is secured. Concluding Remarks Although the preceding discussion has centered on deliberation, it is likely that the proposals culminating in (PO) and (POA) have a wider applicability. For one thing, they seem to pertain to all choice, even that which does not emerge from conscious deliberation, insofar as decision involves a selection among presumed alternatives. Perhaps they govern all intention as well; what is the point of intending something which is not taken as open at some time before intending it? If so, then each intention is a choice, minimally, between a course of action and its complement, and we can appreciate anew Kant's insistence that a presupposition of freedom underlies all practical thought. Additionally, the proposals imply that an omniscient being cannot deliberate, choose, or perhaps, intend - a consequence of no small theological importance if creativity, perfection, or omnipotence necessitate such abilities. It remains to be seen what relevance they have for the overall free will controversy, though there is every reason to suspect a firm and fruitful linkage. The spectacle of a determinist who deliberates is at first perplexing. What is the point of deliberating if whatever one chooses and does is already determined? What difference can one's own deliberations possibly make? Faced with such questions, some conclude that we are, by our very nature as rational agents, indeterminists - an idea which can only disturb the determinist who takes his actions and volitions to be the outcome of antecedent factors while retaining a passion for consistency. Agreeing that an agent has a sense of the contingency of his own future, I have urged that the modality is indexed to what he himself assumes to be the case; it need not be a presumption of the non-existence of any determining conditions whatever. No more is required to give deliberation a point than the agent's ends, his belief that those ends will not be realized except through his own intentional activity, and his sense of freedom based, in part, upon his incomplete grasp of the future. If forgetfulness, as Nietzsche once wrote, is a precondition of action, an imperfect conception of what will be is no less essential. Practically-minded determinists, haunted by the spectres of inconsistency and fatalism, can be encouraged by this account of the matter.