Roy Weatherford earned a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Harvard in 1972. He won Harvard's Bechtel Prize in Philosophy for an essay on “Heisenberg's Uncertainty Relations,” so is more competent than some philosophers to comment on the importance of uncertainty in the problem of free will. Indeed, Weatherford is comfortable with the idea that physical determinism is not deterministic, but deterministic enough in the macroscopic world to convince him that indeterminism plays no role in human freedom. Weatherford's 1991 book The Implications of Determinism was inspired by Ted Honderich's work, especially no doubt The Consequences of Determinism. Like Honderich, Weatherford is a hard determinist. In his Introduction, he discusses physical determinism and develops the Randomness Objection to Free Will. (pp.8-9)
The obvious rejoinder to physical determinism is that physical laws are not deterministic. It is now common for many philosophers to believe that quantum mechanics has disproved determinism once and for all. (In chapters VII and XV we will assess these claims, together with some rather surprising possibilities for indeterminism in Newtonian mechanics.) The usual form of these arguments is that scientists have established that some events in the sub-microscopic world of particle physics are not the inevitable and unique solution to single-valued differential equations, but are the random expression of a probability distribution. The present state, it is said, limits the probability of future outcomes, but does not determine a definite fixed result. Defenders of determinism have several moves available to them. The simplest is Einstein's continuing belief that God does not play dice with the universe and therefore there must be a possible physical theory more fundamental than quantum mechanics, which would show how the probability distributions were just approximations to the fully determined events beneath the surface. This response is usually shrugged off as just wishful thinking – no one can reasonably shape a philosophy on the possibility that some future scientist might discover a law of the desired type; we must deal with science as it is, not as it might become. A second rejoinder is that even if micro-events are undetermined, the same is not true of middle-sized material objects. According to quantum mechanics, each sub-atomic particle in the body I call my table possesses a real and non-zero probability that it might randomly "decide" to move toward my ceiling, despite the force of gravity and its interaction with the other particles in the table. Indeed, there is a non-zero probability that every particle in my table might simultaneously "realize" that possibility of motion, so that the whole damned thing would inexplicably rise up into the air in the absence of any external agent at all. But while this probability is mathematically nonzero for each particle, it is very small for most of them. When you multiply these very small probabilities to get the joint probability that all will act in such an odd fashion, that figure approaches zero so quickly and so closely that such an event would be unlikely to happen even once in billions of repetitions of the universe's lifetime. But since we are middle-sized material objects, the probability that we will ever do something unexpected, based on quantum mechanics, is about the same as that of the table's levitation, and if that is not precisely absolute determinism, it is close enough for government work. Indeterminists have argued that while the randomness of quantum mechanics may be negligible for gross bodily motions, it is not so easily ignored at the level of neural events within the brain. Here there might be enough "slack" in the laws of nature to guarantee that human actions are not the totally fixed events the determinist claims.But this freedom from determinism has been achieved only by asserting that the motions of our bodies (at least of our brains) are in some irreducible sense random motions. Is this the vaunted human liberty – that it is a matter of chance whether I watch the game today or not? More on this in chapter XVII – for now let us just note that the possibility that our actions are uncaused and random is just as upsetting to many philosophers as the determinism it replaces. Indeed, Franklin suggests' that the main argument for determinism is just this dichotomy: "either caused or random." If human actions are to fall into one or the other, determinists argue, they are only explicable and continuous with the rest of nature in the former category. If our "actions" occur without cause, they are nothing to be proud of, or even to be understood. If they are caused, on the other hand, it is the business of science to understand their causes.
Weatherford describes the problems for Libertarians (pp.12-16)
The position that opposes determinism in the context of moral philosophy was once called "Free Will," but as the Will loses prominence and ceases to be viewed as a philosophical reality, the modern position of moral indeterminism is coming to be called libertarianism (not to be confused with the doctrine of the American political party, which stresses political, rather than metaphysical, liberty). Libertarianism is the view that at least some human actions and decisions are not determined. Many philosophers have argued that we know this to be so by direct inspection of our own experience. We prove it to be so each time we turn a page, when we could have stopped reading instead. We presuppose it to be so each time we distinguish "persons" from the other furniture of the world. Our moral, legal, and much of our social interaction rests on this foundation — to abandon it would be unthinkable: therefore it is true! There are two fundamental grounds for the libertarian's rejection of determinism: (1) determinism is inconsistent with (the fact of) moral responsibility, and (2) each of us directly experiences freedom in our own choices. On the first point, it is clear that one of the major driving forces behind libertarianism is a conviction that we must avoid determinism at all costs, lest we imperil the institution of morality. In this case, however, libertarians are far more confident in what they reject than in what they assert. If we deny that our actions are the inevitable consequence of preceding physical and psychological factors, how, then, do we explain their origins? The libertarian cannot just reject the determinist's demand for a nomological explanation of human action, but must show why such a demand is unreasonable or impossible, on pain of being convicted of superstitious ostrichism. One common approach for libertarians is to argue that our actions are indeed caused, but they are not caused by physical events or states, they are caused by agents or persons. These agents or persons play the metaphysical role that Ted Honderich suggestively calls "the originator." That is, the libertarian asserts that a new causal chain comes into existence when an agent or person initiates an action. One of the major problems with the notion of agent causation is that it seems to blur the difference between an agent and states of an agent. In saying that Patricia caused the adoption of the new policy, we normally mean that she is responsible. But if we examine the case a little more closely, we see that not Patricia, but Patricia's states and actions brought about the new policy. Otherwise, if the unchanging agent were the cause, there would be no reason why the new policy should have been adopted yesterday, rather than the day before or today. But each time we assign the causal role to one of Patricia's states or actions, we slip indiscernibly back into a deterministic causal chain with no room for contra-causal freedom.4 If, on the other hand, we insist that there is no cause for Patricia's taking action at just this time, it again seems to be a randomly occurring event, and defeating physical determinism by invoking randomness would be a pyrrhic victory for the moral philosopher. The fundamental conflict that makes determinism loom so large in ethics is its conflict with moral responsibility, through its denial of free will. If Jones to drive the get-away car, because he was under compulsion and not free to do otherwise, then most of us feel he was not responsible, or not fully so. But if Jones drove the get-away car by accident, because a randomly firing neuron in his brain caused him to mistake it for his own, once again his moral responsibility seems to dissipate. If this is so, then randomness is no more a solution to the free will problem than the determinism it hoped to avoid. In the second argument, libertarians point to the "immediate" or "indubitable" or "self-evident" fact that we sometimes just know that we are free to choose. We find ourselves, that is, inevitably forced to believe that in certain situations of choice we are able to choose A and we are able to choose B and nothing compels us to choose one or the other. After the choice, then, we describe such a situation by saying that we "could have done otherwise," from which it follows that we are morally responsible for the choice. The stock determinist response to this argument is that (1) there is no such perception of freedom, or, if there is one, it is illusory, and (2) we could have done otherwise if we had chosen otherwise, and we could have chosen otherwise if either the facts or our values had been otherwise, but we could neither have chosen nor have done otherwise if everything were exactly the same in every respect. On the first point, Mill, for example, denied that we directly experience an awareness that we can do otherwise than what we actually do. Instead, experience teaches us, he says, that in one case we could do A, because we did A, and that in another, similar case we could do B, because we did B. The similarity between the cases suggests, but does not demonstrate, that we could have done B in the first case as well. Indeed, Mill argues, since we always act from our strongest desire, it is clear that in the first case we desired A and in the second case we desired B and therefore we could not have done otherwise in either case. Furthermore, for convinced determinists, the "experience of freedom" becomes like "the experience of the self " did to David Hume. This unquestioned thing that generations of philosophers had said was directly revealed in experience, Hume said, did not arise in his experience at all. Likewise the determinist, choosing between alternatives, feels the pull and tug of competing motives, feels the relief of tension at the moment of choice, and completely agrees that the choice is the proximate cause of the action. But in all of this, there need be no awareness of freedom at all. In this case, the best analogy is probably the experience of generations of observers of the heavenly bodies rotating around the fixed earth.' No one, it was thought, could deny this clear fact of experience. But, as it turned out, the earth is not the center of the universe and the indubitable experiences of so many observers were just non-veridical. Likewise, the determinists say, one may quite easily feel certain that one is acting freely, when the freedom is just an illusion. In an example from Locke, consider a man who wakes up in a room where some friends are engaged in agreeable conversation. He stays and enjoys their company, feeling quite sure that he is staying of his own free will, when, unbeknown to him, the door is locked and he could not leave if he chose. It may be, the determinist argues, that all of our experiences are as unfree as those of the Locked Man, but since our (unfree) choices obviously are effective in selecting our actions, we seem to ourselves to be acting freely. The second of the determinists' rejoinders to the libertarians is of a piece with our general desire for conceptual repeatability. Franklin,' for example, points out a striking similarity between the uniformity or regularity asserted by a candidate for the status of natural law, and the universalizability required of a candidate for moral judgment (or, more broadly, evaluative judgment). As moral philosophers such as R. M. Hare 7 and John Rawls 8 have pointed out, it would be extremely peculiar to say, "This is just like that in all respects, except that this is good and that is bad." In a case like this we would surely ask, "Why is one good and the other bad? There must be a reason." And this, of course, is just what the determinist says to the libertarian: "How can you say that this moment of choice is exactly like the other (perhaps hypothetical) one, except that in this one Jones decides to commit murder and in that one she doesn't?" There must be a reason why she does the one thing in one case and the other in the other. And, of course, if the libertarian admits there is a reason, the action is thus far determined; if the libertarian denies there is a reason, the action is thus far irrational. The dilemma confronting the libertarian is that we can act freely, or we can act rationally, but we cannot simultaneously do both. Evidently this is not a controversy that can easily be resolved. The determinist and the libertarian may accept each other's evidence (the progress of science and the feeling of freedom, respectively) without feeling obliged to accept the other's conclusion. Partly this is a matter of judgment in assessing the evidence, but largely it is a matter of resistance to the conclusion. The determinist will not believe, on so little evidence, that human beings are discontinuous with the rest of nature and science is a priori doomed to failure in its efforts to develop a nomological explanation of our conduct. The libertarian, on the other hand, refuses to believe (on so little evidence) that all our human concern for freedom, the entire institution of morality, and the intimate perception of personal ability to choose are just so much illusion and superstition. The stakes are too high; the opposing arguments are too weak; and the controversy lies unresolved.
Weatherford labels indeterminists as "supernaturalists" in his otherwise excellent discussion of the cultural implications of determinism. [We think that today it is the strict determinists who are being metaphysical, and event-causalists who look to quantum-mechanical indeterminism as providing freedom are not the least metaphysical and supernatural.] (pp.236-242)
The last great fact about determinism is that it bears directly on our view of what it is to be human. Because of this, it has enormous implications about the nature of our culture. The conflict between determinism and libertarianism is more than an abstract metaphysical dispute. It can also be viewed as the central controversy between those who believe that scientific laws govern the universe and those who believe in miracles and magic (the existence of God and the belief in the Soul or mental substance are the two other main grounds of conflict between these groups). On the one hand, the scientist asserts that every event is completely governed by the laws of nature. On the other hand, the priest asserts that supernatural events do occur. The conflict is at its most basic when the events involved are our very own lives, thoughts, and actions. By extension, then, the question of the truth of determinism is no more a pseudo-problem than the question of God's existence. We grope toward better explanations of our views, we struggle with concepts and arguments, but no one except a handful of unreconstructed logical positivists thinks that it makes no difference at all if determinism is true or if God exists. If God exists, then some things are different than they otherwise would be. If determinism is true, nothing about the world and its future could be different from what the present ordains it will be. That is the difference we care about. By describing indeterminists as supernaturalists I do not mean to imply that they are superstitious, or that their belief is childish and obviously false. There is no a priori certainty that the world is governed by natural law. If we accept all human testimony as prima facie of equal value, there is a great deal of evidence that magic exists and supernatural events occur. If the world really is indeterministic in a certain way, then naturalism is false and supernaturalism is true. This great human question has been debated for years. While it is far from being satisfactorily answered, I do not believe it is impossible to answer and I believe that in fact we are moving towards a deterministic cultural verdict. In many ways, I think the question of whether or not contra-causal freedom exists is just like the question of whether or not the river gods exist. In a pre-scientific society, the river's "actions" were so important that we had to have an explanation. As no scientific explanation was available, we adopted a supernatural anthropomorphic explanation. Likewise Skinner has argued, "Autonomous man is a device used to explain what we cannot explain in any other way. He has been constructed from our ignorance, and as our understanding increases, the very stuff of which he is composed vanishes. Science does not dehumanize man, it de-homunculizes him, and it must do so if it is to prevent the abolition of the human species." The crucial point, however, is that when a good scientific explanation of the river's behavior came along, we (almost) universally rejected belief in the river gods even though, as Quine has shown,' at no point were we logically compelled to do so by an ultimately conclusive argument. I accept Quine's argument that our belief choices are always logically underdetermined by the evidence. Nevertheless, by a reverse analogy to Gresham's Law, I propose the following:Good scientific explanations drive out good supernatural explanations.There are any number of reasons for this effect, but I believe the most important is our desire for regularity, repeatability, and sound expectation. Sometimes a witch doctor's incantation is followed by improved health and sometimes it is not, but inoculation against smallpox is almost 100 per cent effective. It is not a sociological accident that our cultural history demonstrates a continuing conflict between science and religion. No doubt some priests were concerned about their own wealth and power, and no doubt many scientists were cold, unfeeling automata with no concern for love and beauty, but the essential conflict is just this: How is the world, and humanity's place in it, to be explained — by magic or by scientific law? It cannot be both, for each is destructive of the other. It is a commonplace to remark that science has given us the power to destroy ourselves. It is seldom noted that religion and cultural myths, not science, have given us the reasons and desires to destroy each other. Without the techniques of science, human beings succeeded in killing each other, for religious and patriotic reasons, in great quantities by the crudest of means. The best resolution, of course, would be if we could unite the noble ideals and humane motivations of religion with the concern for truth and practical effectiveness of science. Cultural attitudes are not just of abstract interest. They not only serve as guiding frameworks for our social institutions, they even shape the way we perceive the world. Franklin, for example, draws a telling analogy between the libertarians who "just see," in an irreducible and incontrovertible phenomenal way, that they are free to choose, and the defenders of the Ptolemaic system of astronomy who "just saw," in an equally irreducible and incontrovertible way, that the solid Earth is unmoving while the heavenly bodies are in motion. He further points out that the conceptual shift whereby we (or most of us) came not to see the Earth as fixed was similar to the problem of free will in requiring a deep and important revision of our view of the nature of the universe and humanity's place in it.' If determinism is to become the dominant world-view of our cultural, it will take a massive shift indeed. Yet the shift is imaginable, despite what the libertarians claim. If we had been born into a culture permeated by Asiatic Fatalism, for example, most of us would find it "impossible to imagine" what the concept of contra-causal freedom could possibly refer to. Our current attitudes are shaped by the past of our culture; but our future culture will be shaped by our current attitudes. Since determinism is a significant thesis, and since it is not now the official position of our culture, its adoption would make a significant difference in the way our culture behaves. It seems clear, then, that it is possible to develop a conception of humanity that is compatible with determinism, and it also seems clear that such a conception would depart from the traditional one. Just what the cultural implications might be, however, is a matter for debate. If we should stop believing that we are discontinuous from the rest of nature, that would be a change analogous (as Franklin pointed out) 4 to the change from seeing the Earth as the center of the universe to our present, more modest, conception of our place in the scheme of things. To that extent, I submit, the change would be for the better. Surely it would be useful in many ways: it would advance our concern for the environment; it would diminish our overweening arrogance; it would encourage science and discourage superstition. On all these grounds, I think, the cultural implications of determinism would be positive. The first main cultural disadvantage would be if the attitude of acceptance that determinism encourages should evolve into a form of eastern fatalism, sapping our hopeful enthusiasm for life. I think it would not, but I admit there are grounds for concern. Our western culture has made much of individual freedom —especially in the political sense, but also in the metaphysical. We are accustomed to believe that each of us is a law unto ourself, unique in the universe. The alternative possibility, that our actions and decisions "are not open to individual explanation" but only universal law-like explanation, Honderich remarks, demands that "we must revise our view of ourselves."' It is here that determinism can have its greatest cultural implications. It challenges a view of humanity that is dear to the western world, a view of individual heroes and villains waging a battle whose outcome is uncertain and dependent on individual moral responsibility. The fear of determinism, like the fear of fatalism, is that anyone who rejects the traditional view must give up the struggle. Determinists tend to be a little more "laid back" than libertarians. Accepting the inevitable as a comfort and cushion against the blows of the world can all too easily become accepting the inevitable as beyond our power to do anything. I do not believe this danger is great, and I am willing to accept some deceleration of our manic rush into the future, but it is certainly a legitimate concern. Yet the difference may be less than we suppose. As Galen Strawson remarks, "I am not really better off, if it is not already determined whether or not I will die in battle. It is not as if my chances of survival are higher. In some respects a life may be like a novel, which is not less enjoyable or surprising because it is already written down."' The greatest concern, however, is the moral one. As I argued in the previous chapter, the acceptance of determinism will require some changes in our moral point of view, but the fundamental institution should remain substantially the same. The cultural effects will be a little more tolerance and sympathy for others, a little more emphasis on rehabilitation than on punishment, a little less individualism and a little more sense of community. On the whole, then, these changes would (to my taste) be for the better. Are they likely to come about? At the present time, the determinist and the libertarian to some extent accept each other's evidence (the progress of science and the feeling of freedom, respectively) without feeling obliged to accept the other's conclusion. Partly this is a matter of judgment in assessing the evidence, but largely it is a matter of resistance to the conclusion. The determinist will not believe, on so little evidence, that human beings are discontinuous with the rest of nature and science is a priori doomed to failure in its efforts to develop a nomological explanation of our conduct. The libertarian, on the other hand, refuses to believe (on so little evidence) that all our human concern for freedom, the entire institution of morality, and the intimate perception of personal ability to choose are just so much illusion and superstition. The stakes are too high; the opposing arguments are too weak; and the controversy lies unresolved. The solution is that determinism as it is classically construed is indeed incompatible with free will and moral responsibility as they are classically construed. Furthermore, determinism is closer to the truth than its classical opponents. The feeling that nevertheless we cannot abandon the need for deliberation and moral evaluation is sound social doctrine, and practical, not metaphysical, truth. As described above, we need to deliberate as a machine needs to deliberate, and knowing the outcome is determined is not nearly as disastrous as Aristotle and van Inwagen believe. On the other hand, moral responsibility and free will in a consciously deterministic culture would indeed be different from what was previously believed. The evolution from "old" responsibility to "new" responsibility is in part like the evolution from moral liability to "strict" liability under the law: it is just a decision that some excusing conditions are no longer recognized —that punishment and blame go on as before, with lessened moral recriminations in many (but not all) respects. Nagel's notion of moral luck' and Rawls' observation' that we do reward and praise people for things beyond their control (beauty, intelligence, and strength, certainly, and probably moral character, trustworthiness, perseverance, etc.) show that it is just not true that our moral system is even now geared to rewarding only the transcendental devotion to duty that rises above worldly circumstance in the Kantian sense. Kant was brilliant, but he was wrong about many things, and this is one of them. Indeed our language — and even more our moral concepts — must change with scientific progress. Once we found it hard to think of non-Christians as members of the moral community, then Black Christians, then foreigners, now machines and animals. We must in the future recognize that the pattern of intelligence and moral activity is the important thing, not the physical (or, just marginally possible, non-physical) vehicle that instantiates it. The rules are not transcendental, they are human. The moral law is not eternal and unchanging, it is fundamentally like the laws of etiquette. It is a way of getting along with each other and getting ahead with our daily life in the most satisfactory — the most pragmatic — way possible. Once we drew comfort from thinking the world was animistic like us. Then we drew comfort from thinking the world was ruled by a God who was animistic like us. Now we must see that we are, like the world, essentially physical. Art, music, and poetry are none the less beautiful for being physically instantiated, and neither are we. If some of the "spiritual" world withers away — Santa Claus, God, Nation — it may turn out for the better. If they are transmuted into human and humane institutions (people do not go to war over Santa Claus, though they still do over the other two) then the world will be richer, not poorer, for the change. Physical determinism has not yet been either established or refuted, though the evidence increasingly suggests that all important events on the human scale (as opposed to micro-events) are so nearly determined as makes no difference. Still, the decision is, as William James said,' a matter of non-scientific choice as well as scientific judgment. The conservatives, the mystics, the superstitious, will cling to the shibboleths of the past. The rational, the humane, the humanistic will try to develop new institutions that embody less wrath and punishment, more love and community. The new will prevail, if the old guard don't start a war over their superstitions and kill us all first.