Materialism, Determinism, Free Will

September 2021 Forums General discussion Materialism, Determinism, Free Will

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  • #81443
    DJP
    Participant

    This topic was hinted at in another thread and came up in our discussion with East Anglia branch in Norwich today.

    The classic argument runs like this.

    some clever clogs wrote:
    Everything is material.

    Therefore minds are material.

    The interaction of matter (at least at the non-quantum level) follows natural laws which are uniform and predictable i.e matter follows deterministic laws.

    Therefore as the mind is material we do not have free will.

    I have a lot more to say on this topic, but this is just an opener. Anyone else care to comment?

    #89733
    Young Master Smeet
    Participant

    I always thnk of free-will as being something like a coin toss.  That is random, unpredictable and free.As humans, we have a working theory of mind that seems to comprehend and predict the behaviour of others.  Our brains are therefore not random, and are thus subject to rational processses and determination. I should add, that I don’t actually exist, I’m merely the delusion of myself created by my theory of mind and language, whereas in fact on rational examination what i call me is a series of self regulating biological and chemical processes beyond my control. To finish, fellow robots, because I’m short of time, I’ll add that my understanding of the laws of thermodynamics suggests that matter cannot be created or destroyed.  The only way free will could manifest itself would be as causeless effects, which don’t happen.

    #89734
    robbo203
    Participant

    I suggest people here read Cornelius  Castoriadis’ brilliant demolition job  on the crude reductionist materialism of some Marxists  in his short work History as Creation.  Its enough to give our so called “scientific materialists” pause to hopefully rethink …. Check it out here (it comes in 3 parts)http://eagainst.com/articles/cornelius-castoriadis-history-as-creation-part-i/ Ive got the original pamphlet  but the translation above is a bit iffy  so make allowances for that

    #89735
    steve colborn
    Participant

    If you can get hold of a copy of Vin Marattys dissertation “Is Marxism a determinist ideology” do so. Its a good read.

    #89736
    robbo203
    Participant
    steve colborn wrote:
    If you can get hold of a copy of Vin Marattys dissertation “Is Marxism a determinist ideology” do so. Its a good read.

     Is there a link to this Steve? I would be interested in reading this.  Who is Vin Marratty BTW?

    #89737
    DJP
    Participant

    We don’t even have to pay attention to Marxism, in fact it’s irrelevant to the question, to answer this question all we need is simple logic.If matter is deterministic and the mind is matter then we cannot have free will since the mind must also run on deterministic methods.Now we could presume that matter is not deterministic i.e. things just happen at random, but this does not help us either. Since now the activity of minds just occurs at random, we have not made them happen.A ‘two horned dilemma’ if ever there was one!The only way ‘free will’ as traditionally conceived could possibly exist is if we could be the cause of our own being i.e. if we existed before we came into existence, which is of course an impossibility.To me it seems to me that with the traditional concept of ‘free will’ we are demanding a logical contradiction, like wanting a round circle. Sure we have a will, but this is not ‘free’ in the sense that it can do anything at any point as libertarians such as Sartre seem to suggest.

    Cornelius Castoriadis wrote:
    Determinism only has meaning as total determinism

    Indeed, and that is what I am talking about.Since everything is on the same footing total determinism is not the same thing as economic determinism etc. where one factor is said to cause all effects regardless of other factors.Neither is it the same thing as fatalism where something happens in spite of what has gone before. Determinism says that things happen because of what has happened before.I have yet to come across an account of libertarianism (free will) which seems to make sense logically, Castoriadis certainly hasn’t provided one.If there where such a thing as uncaused events it remains unclear to me how you would be able to identify them anyhow, there could always be the possibility of some remote cause we have not yet noticed.

    #89738
    ALB
    Keymaster
    robbo203 wrote:
    I suggest people here read Cornelius  Castoriadis’ brilliant demolition job  on the crude reductionist materialism of some Marxists  in his short work History as Creation.  Its enough to give our so called “scientific materialists” pause to hopefully rethink … Check it out here (it comes in 3 parts)http://eagainst.com/articles/cornelius-castoriadis-history-as-creation-part-i/

    I wish you wouldn’t throw out these jibes. It risks poisoning the atmosphere on this thread as happened on the other one. Everybody participating in this discussion, including yourself, will be a “materialist” in one sense or another and also adopt a scientific approach to things however defined. Ok, if you don’t like the word “materialism”, try “non-idealist”. Members of the SPGB are not committed to any particular kind of materialism. In other words, there is no “Party line” on this, to be attacked and demolished. Just a discussion amongst socialists with possibly differing approaches.This said, Castoriadis’s criticism of Marx’s theory of history (not of “matter”) which you recommend, which was translated and published by the ex-Trotskyist group Solidarity in the 1960s under his then pseudonym of “Paul Cardan”, didn’t cause us to rethink at the time. In fact, we saw it as a criticism of something we didn’t recognise as “the materialist conception of history”. He accused Marx of being a technological determinist, of implicitly assuming a fixed human nature, of holding that classes are a reflection of economic forces, of explaining past societies in terms of bourgeois categories, of not relying on empirical evidence and research, etc, etc (the usual stuff). Maybe this was a valid criticism of what passed for the MCH in the Leninist and Trotskyist circles from which he came.What we said at the time about Castoriadis’s and Solidarity’s views on Marx and Socialism can be found in this article in the archive section of our website:http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/socialist-standard/1960s/1969/no-774-february-1969/%E2%80%98solidarity%E2%80%99-group-not-so-solidIt was written by David Steele. Ironically, both him and Castoriadis ended up accepting the market economy.Another of Casroriadis’s claims that proved to be wrong was the view expressed in another article that Solidarity translated and published as a pamphlet, Modern Capitalism and Revolution, was that, contrary to what Marx analysed, capitalism had found a way of avoiding booms and slumps and of maintaining more or less full employment.

    #89739
    robbo203
    Participant
    DJP wrote:
     If matter is deterministic and the mind is matter then we cannot have free will since the mind must also run on deterministic methods.

     Can you please explain  how “the mind is matter”?  How is the thought that I am thinking right now that I fancy a cold beer and a pizza , “material”?  For sure it might be influenced by  material considerations – I am hungry , I am thirsty,  the weather is hot etc etc  – but does that make my thought , “matter” as such? What, for that matter,  is “matter”?   Surely, even being hungry and thirsty does not necessarily have to result in  me  desiring a pizza and a cold beer? .  Or does it in your view?  Do you consider that I have no choice but to desire this and  not , say,  a plate of ravioli  and a glass of red wine and that everything has been “predetemined” beforehand?BTW Any observations on Heisenberg’s “Uncertainty Principle ( http://www.aip.org/history/heisenberg/p08.htm)  It might be relevant to this debate  but Im not exactly certain ;-)

    #89740
    robbo203
    Participant

    ALB I dont have to accept Castoriadis’s political ideas  – some of which I think were bollocks   –   in order to recognise that History as Creation is a brilliant demolition job – say what you like  – of  the crude  reductionism  and determinism of some  people who call themselves “scientific materialists” which even you must recognise is the case and indeed seem to implicitly acceptStop being so hyper-sensitive about things.  You suggested I come over to this thread . Well,  here I am

    #89741
    DJP
    Participant
    robbo203 wrote:
    Can you please explain  how “the mind is matter”?  

    I think it may be easier if I rephrase: “If there is only one kind of stuff and this kind of stuff follows deterministic laws then minds must follow these laws as well. Therefore ‘free will’ as traditionally conceived cannot exist.”Maybe that answers some of your other points?

    Quote:
    Surely, even being hungry and thirsty does not necessarily have to result in  me  desiring a pizza and a cold beer? .  Or does it in your view?

    No it doesn’t have to necessarily, because there are other things going on.

    Quote:
    Do you consider that I have no choice but to desire this and  not , say,  a plate of ravioli  and a glass of red wine and that everything has been “predetemined” beforehand?

    All I am saying is that your choice will be the result of a myriad of previously occurring events. ‘Predetermined’ is a fatalistic way of looking at it, suggesting that you would have made the same choice regardless of what happened before.Do you get the distinction between Determinism and Fatalism?All I’m saying is that traditional notions of choice and free will need to be reframed. This is hardly a controversial statement these days.

    Quote:
    BTW Any observations on Heisenberg’s “Uncertainty Principle ( http://www.aip.org/history/heisenberg/p08.htm)  It might be relevant to this debate  but Im not exactly certain ;-)

    Not yet, I’ll give it a go

    #89742
    robbo203
    Participant
    DJP wrote:
     I think it may be easier if I rephrase: “If there is only one kind of stuff and this kind of stuff follows deterministic laws then minds must follow these laws as well. Therefore ‘free will’ as traditionally concieved cannot exist.”Maybe that answers some of your other points?

     Yeah but then you are only assuming what you need to prove – that there is only one kind of  “stuff”. Im saying this with my devil’s advocate cap on but how would go about  proving that  ” mind is  matter” – as opposed to, say, mind is influenced by matter?Incidentally, would the converse be true  – is matter , mind?    This seems to be the position held by Peter Russell who I mentioned on the religion thread and who holds that consciousness is immanent in the universe (see the “Observer Effect” proof) and is not dependent on the brain but is , rather  “amplified”  by the brain

    #89743
    DJP
    Participant
    robbo203 wrote:
    Yeah but then you are only assuming what you need to prove – that there is only one kind of  “stuff”. Im saying this with my devil’s advocate cap on but how would go about  proving that  ” mind is  matter” – as opposed to, say, mind is influenced by matter?

    I don’t think you could solve the monism (there is one kind of stuff) / dualism (there are two kinds of stuff i.e. mind and matter) debate empirically, it has to be done logically.If there are two completely seperate realms that follow different laws how can these realms meet and interact with each other?If the realms do meet and interact with each other are they not one after all?This is the classic argument for accepting a monist veiwpoint, probably stated quite badly.Once we accept everything is ‘one kind of stuff’ we can either take an idealist view, everything is mental. But this poses the problem of other minds…Or, we can take the materialist veiwpoint, everything is matter and minds are at least an effect of matter…But then we have the problem of consciousness, the ‘Hard Problem’ as it is known to some.Perhaps ‘Panpsychism’ is not such a silly idea after all?Anyone read A.N Whitehead?

    #89744
    Anonymous
    Inactive

    How can mind be anything other than matter? What is wrong with determinism? The case for socialism depends on it? Without ‘crude determinism’ there  is no science. In fact without ‘crude determinism’ we wouldn’t have the confindence  to move or get up out of bed. The attack on ‘determinism’ is a defence of capitalism. 

    #89745
    robbo203
    Participant
    DJP wrote:
    robbo203 wrote:
    Yeah but then you are only assuming what you need to prove – that there is only one kind of  “stuff”. I’m saying this with my devil’s advocate cap on but how would go about  proving that  ” mind is  matter” – as opposed to, say, mind is influenced by matter?

    I don’t think you could solve the monism (there is one kind of stuff) / dualism (there are two kinds of stuff i.e.. mind and matter) debate empirically, it has to be done logically.If there are two completely separate realms that follow different laws how can these realms meet and interact with each other?If the realms do meet and interact with each other are they not one after all?This is the classic argument for accepting a monist viewpoint, probably stated quite badly.Once we accept everything is ‘one kind of stuff’ we can either take an idealist view, everything is mental. But this poses the problem of other minds…Or, we can take the materialist viewpoint, everything is matter and minds are at least an effect of matter…But then we have the problem of consciousness, the ‘Hard Problem’ as it is known to some.Perhaps ‘Panpsychism’ is not such a silly idea after all?Anyone read A.N Whitehead?

     Hhmmm  The problem is that again you are making assumptions that  appear to undercut your own argument.  (incidentally, I’m not necessarily disagreeing with your argument  but am just engaging in a bit of “devils advocacy” to try to get a bit closer to the truth, whatever that is). You say the monism/dualism debate cannot be solved empirically but only logically.  How so, logically? The classic argument for monism,you say, is that if the  the realms of mind and matter meet and interact they must be one and the same thing,  But why “must ” they be?  Logically if you think about it,  if they ” meet and interact” this presupposes their separateness to begin with,  not their oneness.  Something cannot meet itself and interact with itself.   So you cant exactly use the meet and interact argument  to make the case for monism .  Which means the logical argument for monism  does not seem to be anymore up to scratch ]than the empirical approach Also, going along with this line of argument could be said to make your argument vulnerable to the claims of idealism   You say idealism poses the problem of “other minds”..  However that is an empirical problem  and you’ve  just agreed that you cannot solve the monism/  dualism problem empirically.anwyay.  All of which means you are left with material or idealism (and nothing in between ) with no reliable means of choosing between them.  Each has to be considered just as legitimate as the other Personally I think the only way of out this dilemma is emergence theory  which is monist in the sense that  it takes mind to be dependent on matter  but at the same time does not seek to reduce mind  to matter.  In other words you can only hold on to a monist viewpoint  at the expense of a deterministic  viewpoint

    #89746
    robbo203
    Participant
    TheOldGreyWhistle wrote:
    How can mind be anything other than matter? What is wrong with determinism? The case for socialism depends on it? Without ‘crude determinism’ there  is no science. In fact without ‘crude determinism’ we wouldn’t have the confidence  to move or get up out of bed. The attack on ‘determinism’ is a defence of capitalism. 

     Well no  – I would have thought it was exactly the other way round. It is the belief that our future is not  predetermined that give us hope that there can be an alternative to capitalism. Otherwise what you are advocating is teleology and this is specifically what Marx rejected.  Thus  he welcomed Darwin’s Origin of the Species  precisely because “it deals a death blow to teleology in the natural sciences” (Marx’s letter to Engels , January 16, 1861 Selected Correspondence Moscow 1975).  In The German Ideology he dismissed the notion that “later history is…the goal of earlier history” as a “speculative distortion”.Of course things are “determined” in the sense that something  happens because of something that happened before.  But “crude” determinism purports to explain the total picture and not just individual events. This is why I recommended Castoriadis’ text – because it has some rather useful things to say about determinism and its scope.  A rejection of teleology does not mean a rejection of causality as such and this is perhaps where the confusion arises. ThusContrary to what the idealist philosophers said , history is the area par excellence where causality makes sense to us for it assumes there at the very outset, the form of motivation.  We can  therefore understand the “causal concatenation” in it, something we can never do in the case of natural phenomena.  An electric current makes the bulb glow.  The law of gravity causes the moon to be in such and such a place in the sky at such and such a time.  These are, and for us, will always remain , external connexions: necessary, predictable , but incomprehensible.  But if A treads on B’s toes, B swears at him, and A responds with blows, we understand the necessity of the links even if we consider them contingent”  (History as Creation p.14-5)However when comes to consider history in general terms, unpredictability or indeterminacy expresses itself as  “an emergence or creation of which cannot be deduced  from what was there before, as a conclusion which exceeds the premisses or  positing of new premisses” (ibid p.17).  Hence , my  suggestion that we need to think instead in terms of emergence theory.  David Graeber, in summing up the broad outlines of Roy Bhaskar’s “critical realist” approach, alludes to emergence theory thus:Reality can be divided into emergent stratum: just as chemistry presupposes but cannot be reduced to physics so biology presupposes but cannot be reduced to chemistry, or the human sciences to biology.  Different sorts of mechanisms are operating on each. Each, furthermore, achieves a certain autonomy from those below: it would be impossible to even talk about human freedom were this not the case, since our actions would simply be determined by chemical and biological processes.(Graeber D, 2001,  Towards and Anthropological Theory of Value: The False Coin of Our Own Dreams, Palgrave p.52-3)You might want to ask yourself – if our actions were simply determined by chemical  and biological processes what then would become of the Marxian claim that “men make their own history” albeit under conditions not of their own making.  Is it rather that chemical and biological processes make history and human beings are just means by which they do so?The point is not only that different sorts of mechanisms operate at each stratum of reality but  also most and especially in the case of society, within society.  There is not just one “master mechanism” that  determines how we think and pushes society in a given directionThere is a great quote from Carolyn Merchant  which kind of sums up rather well how I see the relationship between the ideas people hold and the nature of the society they live in.  Note that at the individual level the ideas are not strictly predetermined by society – “crude determinism”  – as a whole but rather it is that at the aggregate level that a “determined” pattern begins to emerge:An array of ideas exists available to a given age: some of these for unarticulated  or even unconscious reasons seem plausible to individuals or social groups; others do not.  Some ideas spread; others die out.  But the direction and accumulation of social changes begin to differentiate between among the spectrum of possibilities so that some ideas assume a more central role in the array, while others move to the periphery.  Out of this differential appeal of ideas that seem most plausible under particular social conditions, cultural transformations develop (The Death of Nature: Women , Ecology and the Scientific Revolution,  Harper and Row 1980 p.xviii)

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