Free Will as a Category of Final Causation

I have spent time I dare not spare pursuing this topic, but hope ever springs eternal from the human breast that I can someday actually explain my position. It is not the disagreements that are based on a correct understanding of what I said that puzzle me, it is disagreements that merely repeat points I had thought were already covered.

But, looking back, I realize journal posts on the Internet can only scrape the surface of what are by their nature very deep topics indeed, requiring a precision of thought and a technical vocabulary tedious or impossible to agree upon in a format like this.

For example, I take for granted that most educated readers know the difference between final cause and mechanical cause, or have read my (or someone’s) explanation of the difference. Not so!

I take for granted that any sane person knows the difference between a word and the object the word represents. Perish the thought!

I take for granted that educated people read Aristotle, preferably in the Greek. Ho ho and ha ha and surely you don’t think the education establishment wants their technopeons able to reason each man for himself?! Nope, all modern education wants is men proficient in technical specialties able to service that great blind machinery we call the modern world, and woe betide he who ponders the whys and wherefores thereof! No Aristotle here!

I am beginning to wonder if I am being absurdly obscure and technical, but I can only confess the ideas seem simple enough to me.

Let me try to explain:

There is a difference between materialism and radical materialism.

I have no philosophical objection to materialism, if by materialism we mean the idea that physical effects, such as drunkenness or a blow to the head, can disorder our consciousness or even extinguish it.

There is clearly a cause and effect relation of some sort between the electronic and chemical operations in the brain, and some sort of subjective experiences.

I have no doubt that the mere physical abundance of testosterone in my system is what makes me so manly and brave and prone to murderous rage.

I am even willing to entertain the idea that it is a lack of testosterone that makes materialists and Lefty semi-Marxists such PC-fashion-obsessive intellectual cowards and simpering effete fools. They think with their emotions rather than their reason, and their emotions are influenced by their chemical imbalances in their bloodstream. Fine. I don’t believe that, but it is not impossible to believe.

Materialism offers a partial and incomplete explanation of reality. It explains the physical and empirical properties of the material as opposed to logical-conceptual existence.

Materialism offers explanations of mechanical causes for physical motions.

But RADICAL materialism is different. Radical materialism says that the material explanation is the total explanation, and that everything there is is mechanical causes and physical motions, and that there are no final causes, nothing that happens for the sake of something, no symbols, no concepts, no abstractions, no free will, no metaphysics, no philosophy, no thought, no life.

And when you point out, slowly and patiently, to a radical materialist that his metaphysics requires him not to believe that he is alive, he agrees, and he is astonished to tell you that he is a corpse pulled by wires or pushed by the pressure of a mainspring, and that his thoughts and words are merely mechanical algorithms with no final cause, i.e., no point and no purpose. The stupid absurdity of the pose does not deter him: it is the absurdity that attracts.

“You seem to regard the symbols you discuss as static qualities.”

Not at all. It is merely that the argument does not change whether the symbols are written on a motionless cliff or painted on the teeth of gears in motion. If you moved the numbers from the face of the clock and left the works intact, the clock would not suddenly become “secretive” or “a liar” because secretiveness and lying are words that refer to the final cause or purpose of a symbolic act like speaking a sentence.

The mechanical causes of the clockwork would be the same; only the final cause of the man who made the clock or the man who removed the numbers from the face would say whether the clock kept honest time or not.

The fact that the symbols move does not make them not symbols. It does not mean that the mechanical causes of the motions are the same, or can even be reduced to, the final causes for whose sake the symbols attempt to be true or attempt to deceive. The works of the clock cannot deceive. Clockwork cannot sin. The man who moves the numbers on the clockface can deceive.

“I can understand an eighteenth or early nineteenth century man being fearful of a Newtonian clockwork existence, but after modern physics need we equate materialism to determinism and the absence of individuality, identity, and free-will?”

I don’t understand the question. Materialism equates to determinism because the description of mechanical causation does not allow for final causes in any way, shape, or form. If the total explanation for why you do some act is because inhuman and non-living movements of forces beyond your control moved your body and brain atoms with the same indifference as one billiard ball striking another, then you have no free will.

Free will is a description of the quality of the final cause of an act by a deliberate and rational being.

If we live in a universe where no statement of final cause is meaningful, then we live in a universe where no statements about free will are meaningful. No one asks why the eight ball wants or wishes or craves to maintain conservation of momentum when the cue ball strikes it and passes momentum to it. No one asks what purpose the eight ball had in mind, or whether this was the most moral or most efficient reaction to the cue ball. The question is meaningless. Eight balls don’t have minds; so you cannot ask what purpose it had in mind.

The radical materialist says that I do not have a mind, only a brain. By “brain”, he means something like a windup toy, not something that has a mind and makes decisions. From time time some materialists play word games, and pretend that your windup clockwork of a brain “makes decisions” in the same way that the Grandfather Clock in the hall “decided” to strike noon, or “decided” to wind down and run slow. But this is merely a word-game: he is using the word “decided” to mean the exact opposite of what a sober man means when he says the word.

The objection to radical materialism is, of course, that is it necessarily and absolutely false in this and every other universe, because final causes cannot be described in terms of mechanical causes.

What you are here saying is that radical materialism might be said to be contingently false because we just so happen to live in a universe where the arrangements of matter and energy obey quantum mechanics, therefore the motion of subatomic particles cannot be determined by any observers, therefore materialism does not imply determinism.

With all due respect, no. Whether atoms are the sharp, hard things Lucretius said they were, or whether atoms are the solar system things Bohr said they were, or whether atoms are clouds of quantum probabilities as described by the Schrödinger equation, or whether matter is continuous as Aristotle said it was, or whether matter is an illusion as the Buddha said it was — none of that makes any difference to the topic under discussion.

Logic says that descriptions of final cause (why something happens) cannot be reduced to any description of mechanical cause (how something happens). This is because ‘why’ is not ‘how.’

Free will is an inescapable metaphysical category that is and must be employed by anyone making a statement concerning a final cause, a ‘for the sake of what’ of an act. Even those who deny tacitly use this category.

Conflating the free will of acting human beings with the inability of observers to determine the position and mass of a small particle without effecting that particle is merely an error: you are saying two things are the same which have nothing to do with each other.

Even if you say the brain of a clockwork monkey is a clockwork where God rolls at dice and randomly flips clockwork gears on a subatomic level, so that my actions cannot be read or determined by an outside observer, is not the same as saying the clockwork monkey is a living being or a rational being or a being whose deliberate actions cannot be described or explained without reference to the being’s free will.

A clockwork with a randomizer inside it is not a rational being with a point of view whose actions cannot be described or explained without reference to his goal and purposes.

A being whose actions cannot be completely described or explained without reference to his goals or purposes has free will. A receiver who catches the football runs toward the goal because he is TRYING to score a point.

An object whose reactions can be completely described without any reference to goals or purposes has no free will. An eight ball reacts to the cue ball. The eight ball does not roll toward the pocket because he is TRYING to score a point. The billiard player is trying to score, not the billiard ball.

A radical materialist is someone who says we can describe the actions (the why of what he does) of the billiard player in the same way we can describe the reactions (the how of what is done to it) of the billiard ball.

Whether the universe is Einsteinian or Newtonian or Lucretian or Aristotelian, none of that makes any difference in the smallest degree to the innate absurdity of saying all questions of why-did-he-act can be reduced to questions of how-did-it-react.

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