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Free Will
Mental Causation
James Symposium
Alan Sidelle

Alan Sidelle is a professor of philosophy at the University of Wisconsin who argues that many "truths" in philosophy are merely conventional. This should include all the analytical language statements that are true by definition, because these are clearly conventional.

Information philosophy assumes that the concept of truth should be limited to logic. Truths are logical a priori statements. Facts are empirical a posteriori statements.

Despite Immanuel Kant's failure to prove the existence of a synthetic a priori truths, some metaphysicians talk about a necessary a posteriori. This is the idea that once something is a fact, it is now a necessarily true fact.

Information philosophy considers claims such as "If P, then P is true" to be redundant, adding no information to the (true) assertion of the statement or proposition "P." Further redundancies are equally vacuous, such as "If P is true, then P is necessarily true" and "If P is true, then P is necessarily true in all possible worlds."

In fact, that is to say in the empirical world, any fact F is only probably true, with the probability approaching certainty in cases that are adequately determined. And, in any case, any past F could have been otherwise. That is to say, ontologically real possibilities exist as ideas, pure abstract information, alongside material objects.

In metaphysics, Sidelle's "No Coincidence Thesis" denies the existence of coinciding objects.

One central such view I call 'The No Coincidence Thesis' (NC): There cannot be two material objects wholly located in the same place at the same time (some prefer: No two objects can wholly consist, at a time, of just the same parts). This principle conflicts with our everyday judgments that there are both ordinary objects-sweaters, trees and cows-and 'constituting' objects-pieces of yarn and wood, maybe aggregates of cells or quarks combined with our views about how these things move through time, which, more theoretically, underlie our views about the persistence conditions for these sorts of things. Since the 'macro' objects can go from existence while the constituting objects persist, and more generally, since the histories traced by each can differ, an object and its 'constituting' object cannot, in general, be identified, so we are committed to coinciding objects (Wiggins (1968)). NC also plays a role in Van Inwagen's (1981) modern version of the ancient Dion/Theon puzzle; he shows that this principle is inconsistent with our belief in arbitrary undetached parts, combined with the view that objects can lose parts (plus an intuitive judgment that undetached parts persist if all their parts persist arranged in just the same way).
Sidelle also questions the use of arbitrary distinctions, such as those involved in Peter van Inwagen's Doctrine of Arbitrary Undetached Parts.

This is the problem that Plato called "carving nature at the joints"
Another theoretical idea often invoked in criticism of ordinary (and other) views is a proscription against arbitrary distinctions. Arbitrariness, or its appearance, can show up in judgments about which portions of the world do, and which do not, contain objects, and in judgments about how things persist through change - what changes are 'substantial', and how things move through time. For instance, we commonly think cells arranged in certain ways constitute cows, but that no object is constituted by this paper and my eye. But one may wonder whether there is any difference here which can, in an appropriate way, substantiate such a distinction, especially when science reveals how much space there is between small particles making up cows. What of our judgment that something ceases to exist when a cow dies, but not when a hoof is clipped, or it catches cold? In each case, it seems that something persists, but some properties change. Or why does a car become larger when bumpers are attached, but not when a trailer is?

Arbitrariness is invoked in the problem of composite objects. Mereological nihilists deny there are any composite objects, with Peter van Inwagen and others making an ill-justified exception for living things.

For mereological universalists, David Lewis for example, arbitrary mereological sums are considered to be composite objects. Considering the Statue of Liberty and Eiffel Tower a composite object is an example of arbitrary unrestricted composition. Considering Theon (Dion missing his left leg) or Tibbles minus one hair are arbitrary disjunctions. Such arbitrariness hardly carves nature at the joints.

Between these two absurd extremes of mereological nihilism and universalism, information philosophy provides strong reasons for why things are composite objects. They also include "proper parts" that are composite objects. We can call these "integral" parts as they have a function in the integrated object.

These same reasons show that artifacts are composite objects.

Artifacts and living things have a purpose which Aristotle called final cause or "telos." They are "teleonomic." For example, "simples arranged tablewise" have been arranged by a carpenter, whose "telos" was to make a table. This telos carves the artifact at the joints (legs, top). The arrangement or organization is pure abstract information.

Living things were described by Aristotle as "entelechy, "having their telos within themselves." They are more than just matter and static form like an artifact. They have internal messaging between their integral parts that helps to achieve the teleonomic end of maintaining themselves against degradation by the second law of thermodynamics. Many such integral parts are themselves wholes, from vital organs down to the individual cells. The boundaries of integral parts "carve nature at the joints."

Living things also contain many "biological machines" that include "biological computers" or information processors that respond to those messages, which are written in meaningful biological codes that are analogous to and the precursor of human languages.

Sidelle, A. (1989). Necessity, essence, and individuation: A defense of conventionalism.
Sidelle, A. (2002). "Is there a true metaphysics of material objects?" Noûs, 36(s1), 118-145.
Sidelle, A. (2010). Modality and objects. The Philosophical Quarterly, 60(238), 109-125.
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