Stephen Hawking on Free Will

The difference between Determined and Predetermined

When used as adjectivesdetermined means decided, whereas predetermined means determined in advance.

By this, we can question what people mean by deterministic. Of course, what we shouldn’t be comparing exactly is determined and predetermined but determinism and predeterminism.

Predeterminism – The belief that all events that occur have already been determined. 
Determinism – The doctrine that all actions are determined by the current state and immutable laws of the universe, with no possibility of choice.

The above is speaking of determinism in the hard determinism sense. There doesn’t seem to be much difference between the two, but one way to think about predeterminism is thinking theistically that ‘everything goes according to God’s plan‘ – if this statement is true, and no caveats are given, everything has been decided in advance by God.

[Hard] Determinism isn’t showing that things are decided in advance, just that we only have the illusion of choice and we would always make the same choices which are governed by the current state and immutable laws of the universe.

There is also fatalism that states, in short, certain things are just fated to happen. A fatalist wouldn’t bother looking both ways when they cross the street because a car hitting them would either be fated to hit them or not regardless of what they do, whereas both types of determinist would still look both ways because even though they don’t feel they have a choice in the matter they can see the laws of cause and effect and how not looking can be the cause of a car crash.

Many conflate determinism with predeterminism and fatalism. That isn’t necessarily the case, but they do pretty much end up in a similar space.

If we ignore fatalism for a moment, and focus on the deterministic nature of the universe, if we knew enough and every cause and effect everywhere could we predict the future? Does that not mean determinism and predeterminism are essentially the same thing? The only key difference between the two seems to be predeterminism seems to require a conscious entity to predetermine things where as determinism is saying there is no conscious choice its just the way it is.

Theories like LFW are completely incompatible with a deterministic universe, where as others to have some level of compatibility to them.

Free will & Morality

I’ve spoken before about Morality, Agency and Intent, and how without the choice to act differently, morality sort of loses its meaning. Someone would not be behaving immorally as it is understood, the universe is just in a different configuration.

I also explain how morality in a hard deterministic universe is like DLC for a game that gives you different options and paths to follow. If everyone was given this DLC and a desire to be moral, they would follow this path for the most moral actions where possible.

What I didn’t address is how a proper understanding of morality actually reduces your free will. That might sound puzzling, but if we consider the child again with no real knowledge or experience, a complete emotivist in its truest most animalistic state. It gets angry, reacts and smashes something.

To use a generalisation, most people want to be good (moral). They may disagree on what they perceive moral to be for cultural or religious reasons but that desire to be good is there in most people, even if it is due to conditioning rather than being a behaviour that evolved with us.

Therefore, when you explore morality in detail, you find that your choices become more limited. The study of ethics will help you whittle away from good and bad behaviours and over time there will be things you don’t have to even think about, just do. I would say you are still acting morally because you have chosen to learn about morality and become a moral person, even if now it is a much of an instinct as other behaviours, you understand why the behaviour is good or bad and can explain why you do/don’t perform an action.

Of course, I would argue that even still, you could decide ‘I know it’s wrong but I want to do x today’ if you have free will. This ties into the x-factor I think our brains have.

The desire argument rears its head again, your desire for doing x was greater than your desire for being moral (and subsequently not doing x), your desires are controlling you. Again, there is no real way I can contest this other than to say we need to work in the confines of our physiology and that includes having desires. The free will comes from the deliberation over doing x or not doing x and consciously making the choice on one or the other.

And this seems to be the main conflict with free will vs determinism. Not necessarily the desires argument, but a reductionist argument that finds some way of squeezing determinism into things, and therefore saying it makes it ultimately deterministic.

Ultimately, I don’t think we know enough to really say yet, but I do lean towards the free will scale, which seems to be a form of compatabilism.

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