Dec 142015
 

possibility-confusionsThe word “possibility” can be used in two different ways: ways that are quite often confused and conflated, leading to some huge errors in thought. This is even done by very intelligent people.

One way has to do with our uncertainty about the future. Due to our limited prediction capabilities, we often look at and call future events in which we think at the time “could happen” as a “possibility”. This type of possibility I’ll call “epistemic possibility” as “epistemic” assesses our “knowledge or lack of knowledge” over the possibility.

It’s important to note that “possibility” in this epistemic sense does not necessarily align with whether something was a real possibility. It’s more of a perspective over our uncertainty regarding what is and what is not a real possibility. For something to be a real possibility it needs to have an ability to be actualized. In other words, it must be able to happen. Keep in mind that this doesn’t necessarily imply that it will happen, only that it “can”. It’s a real possibility. This is what possibility actually means – that it may in fact happen. To distinguish this from epistemic possibility it can be qualified as well. We can call it an “ontic possibility” meaning the possibility actually “exists” in reality. Another way to qualify this is simply to say “real possibility” or say that it’s “really possible” rather than simply an assessment of uncertainty in our head (epistemic possibility).

The distinctions between these two ways to use the word “possibility” should not be conflated, because they are very different. When people do conflate them they make some huge mistakes. For example, they may believe that when thinking about options as “possibilities” at the time of epistemic uncertainty, that they in fact are “real” ontic possibilities. This isn’t, however, necessarily the case.

The way we’d determine if they were real possibilities is a different process than how we assess epistemic possibilities. Right now I can think “it could be possible that I never finish writing and never post this article” but at the same time, in reality, it could be impossible that I do not finish or post this article. I just don’t know that for certain, while writing it, due to my limitations over future knowledge. I can recognize the distinction between these two things even before I finish writing or posting this article.

For real possibilities, we need to assess the ways in which events can and cannot happen. Does something cause the event to happen? If not, what does it mean that an event happens without a cause. If all things have a cause, what would that mean for possibility? If some events can just pop into existence, what does that mean for possibility? A large portion of the book Breaking the Free Will Illusion for the Betterment of Humankind deals with causal and uncaused event “possibilities” and what they mean.

This article will not be going over those argument, but rest assured that causality is not compatible with multiple options that are all “real possibilities”. To understand this you can read here:

This article could also be (indirectly) of use even though it’s more technical: Ontic Probability Doesn’t Exist: Assessing “Probability” for the Free Will Debate

My book explains how if there are events that do not have a cause (what I call acausal events) then those events can push the future to a different “possibility”, but such a push can never be “up to a chooser”. In other words it allows for real, ontic possibilities that can never be willed (let alone freely willed).

Within the book, I purposely use a present tense definition of free will, in which I use the word “viable” to basically mean “real possibility” (rather than epistemic possibility):

“The ability to choose between more than one viable option or action, in which that choice was up to the chooser.”

The reason I moved my definition from the more common past tense version is so people do not confuse the fact that “it already happened” with the fact that even before it happened the alternative options were either (given determinism) “never viable/really possible” or (given indeterminism) “not up to the chooser“. So though we might deliberate on options and think they are all possible, it doesn’t mean they actually are (unless an acausal event can lead to such a possible future – which we’d have no say in).

The more common definition of free will is a past tense version that addresses the word “otherwise” and addresses if an otherwise could be “up to the chooser” or “of one’s own accord. My definition can be moved to this definition which I often use as well:

“The ability to have, of ones own accord, chosen otherwise than they did.”

The nice thing  about this past tense definition is that epistemic possibility cannot be conflated with ontic possibility – because one already knows ahead of time what had happened – so at least for our assessments of deterministic scenarios there is no longer future uncertainty. If we were to postulate that everything that exists is entirely causal (a deterministic universe), then asking after someone has eaten a banana if the could have not eaten that banana?… to say “yes” in response (under the scenario that every event has a cause) is a mistake. It’s a logical error.

Epistemic possibilities don’t get revived for “could have done otherwise” assessments given an entirely causal universe. The information is already available that they were caused to eat the banana, and therefore they couldn’t have been caused to not eat the banana, as that would lead to causes (variables) that were inherently a self-contradiction. Yet people tend to revive such ideas even given an entirely deterministic scenario, which lends to the incoherent free will abilities many lay-people think they have:

Free Will Intuitions: Fred and Barney Case Study – InfoGraphic

This is problematic and leads to incorrect intuitions about free will abilities that people truly do not possess. Given determinism, real alternate possibilities are logically impossible.

My book makes the strong case that the only type of event that can lead to a real alternate possibility would be an acausal event that would come into existence if we were taken back to a point in time – in which case that acausal event can influence the causal chains of events leading to a different output. Of course this presupposes an indeterministic universe where such acausal events are allowed in – which we simply have no evidence of (I hold an agnostic position in regards to indeterminism even if I have leanings toward determinism). For more information on that you can read here:

Is the Universe Causally Deterministic? Maybe!

And though an acausal event can grant real alternate possibilities, whether one of those possibilities comes about would be entirely due to such an acausal event, an event that we would have absolutely no say over if it happens or how it happens. In other words, such an event can never be a “willed” event, and if such an event had any say over our thoughts and actions it would potentially have a detrimental effect as all consistency of thought gets thrown out:

Non-caused Events and Free Will – Infographic

But let’s be perfectly clear that, if we want to be logically coherent, the only type of event that is logically compatible with real alternative possibilities are events that acausally pop into existence for no rhyme or reason at all. If we postulate a universe that is entirely causal (determinism), real alternative possibilities are….impossible. Only one of the options were really possible, even while we deliberate and have no clue which option is the real possibility. In other words, while we deliberate between epistemic possibilities, only one path translates to an ontic possibility. The others never translate over unless we postulate indeterminism in which our deliberation process has no say over.

In the philosophy of free will, the principle of alternate possibilities (PAP) states that if there are not real alternate possibilities (if only one option is ever a real possibility and all of the rest are merely epistemic but can never be actualized) – that has a say over whether we have “moral responsibility”. And if the only way an alternative real possibility can happen is for a random or acausal event (or multiple acausal events) to push to the alternative, our incapacity to have any say over such an event does not grant moral responsibility – due to the mechanism of obtaining that alternate possibility. Due to this, free will skeptics such as myself say that moral responsibility in any strong sense cannot exist.

Take a look at this infographic to understand the moral responsibility we don’t have:

Moral Responsibility (and the Lack of Free Will) – INFOGRAPHIC

Note: I’ll eventually address the failing of Frankfurt cases which try to reject PAP, but that will be saved for another post.

It’s important to also note that not having “moral responsibility” in the strong sense above does not imply a lack of morality or lack of a moral system. The book I’m currently in the process of writing is on morality without free will, and explains this important distinction.

For this post I just want to create a preventative block on certain free will advocates who tend to confuse the very important distinction between epistemic possibilities (due to uncertainty over the future) and ontic possibilities (possibilities that have the ability to be actualized) for their own contrivances. Not only are these different, when given a deterministic universe scenario and addressing the question about if someone “could have done otherwise” – there is no rational way to confuse the two given that there is no longer “epistemic uncertainty”. And of course, indeterministic events that would be out of our control that could have lead to an alternate possibility wouldn’t be “up to us” in any way, shape, or form.


Here are a couple more articles on or related to the “possibility” word:

Keep in mind that understanding what is or is not a real alternate possibility, and what it implies to have a real alternate possibility are important to the free will topic.

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'Trick Slattery

'Trick Slattery is the author of Breaking the Free Will Illusion for the Betterment of Humankind. He's an author, philosopher, artist, content creator, and entrepreneur. He has loved and immersed himself in philosophy since he was teenager. It is his first and strongest passion. Throughout the years he has built a philosophy based on analytic logic and critical thinking. Some of the topics he is most interested in are of a controversial variety, but his passion for the topics and their importance drives him to want to express these ideas to others. His other passions include pen and ink line art and digital artwork.

  30 Responses to “It’s “Possible” to be Confused About “Possibility””

  1. I look forward to your book on morality. It’s so frustrating seeing people confuse morality with moral responsibility. Particularly one argument I’ve never understood is that we can’t have good without having evil as a “possibility”.

  2. It seems to me that epistemic possibility is more than considering options within the bounds of limited knowledge but also the ability to simulate the consequences of particular actions “if” one were to do them. The reality of these “options” are not some “unactualized” state of affairs that one can argue is ruled out by the actual one. The reality exists in their role in the decision making process, a brain state that makes the difference between beings that, as a matter of fact, consider the option and the being that is incapable (and thus not “having” that option at all) .

    • I certainly agree that the epistemic version of the word “possibility” implies recognition of modal considerations (e.g. if I do such and such, such consequence will follow). But these “options” are epistemic non-the-less.The only ontological (real) possibility is the one that all of the epistemic considerations ultimately weight to. It’s the important distinction between epistemic “options” that are all taken into consideration and pitted against each other, and the ontic reality that ensues from such a causal process taking place the way it must.

      This is why I hold strong to the fact that conscious thoughts are part of the causal process that leads to our decisions, rather than the often fatalistic notion that they are not.

      Good thoughts. Thanks for stopping by Matthew!

      • But wait a minute, I think you have a very limited view of what it means for an option to “exist” that doesn’t hold true to what we actually mean by “could have done otherwise”. You seem to think that a commitment to causal closure, and thus determinism, effectively eliminates the existence of free will and the availability of options. However, even if possibilities are an epistemic notion, they exist regardless of whether prior causes fail actualize them or not. This is because the application of existential quantification is not made on that particular basis in an ordinary sense since it is not based on a causal criteria, but a perceptual one. This substantiates the intuition that provokes what is unfairly called an “illusion” on the false premise that it is an implicit commitment to contracausal or libertarian free will.

        However, there is a difference between a wind up doll and a person that can consider options. I think we can positively point out the capacity to consider options that makes us different from an automaton. I think we can positively point out that the unavailability of one option, or being misinformed about the “existence” of an option, does make a difference in behavior. Further, having acknowledged that there are multiple options, as a matter of perception or rational thought, and choosing one must substantiate what is meant by “could’ve done otherwise”. Only when people are provoked to make their intuition explicit (which leads into difficulty in interpreting experimental results on intuitions) or when hard determinist insists on what people “really mean” when they say this is when we feel legitimized in calling something an illusion.

      • It also seems to me that the referent for what one “could have done otherwise” is what you call “epistemic possibility”. Why insist that Compatibilism needs more to substantiate the intuition of free will than the deterministic mechanism of evaluating options?

        • Hi Matthew. Could have done otherwise implies that if we were to bring time back to prior to the decision, you could have made a different decision. The reason it isn’t epistemic is that it is a hindsight consideration in which we know what took place. For example, if I grabbed a Pepsi rather than a rootbeer and drank it down, to say that I “could have done otherwise” implies that, if I brought us back to right before I make the decision of Pepsi, I “could have” chosen rootbeer instead. This is ontic because, given determinism, we already know the variables existed which would lead me to Pepsi over rootbeer (which include the epistemic considerations of both). In an entirely causal universe, I never “could have” chosen rootbeer.

          Where we agree, is in the assessment that “there is a difference between a wind up doll and a person that can consider options”. One makes conscious deliberations, the other does not. But that does not imply that those deliberations were any more free. If you want to shift the definition of free will to something other than provided here, that is fine.

          The free will I’m concerned about is the definition I provide, and for various reasons. If we don’t have that type of free will ability, a whole slew of philosophical ideas need to change.

          • The difficulty I’m having with you’re understanding of “could have done otherwise” is that, in any ordinary sense, we’re not talking about rewinding the universe to it’s initial conditions and changing them. We’re only talking about the fact that multiple options were acknowledged and played a role in our decision making such that, if we were unaware of the prior options, than we couldn’t make the claim. You’re definition “The ability to choose between more than one viable option or action, in which that choice was up to the chooser.” fits right with that but it seems to me that you think that implicit in this sort of claim are philosophical commitments about the nature of causality in relation to their actions which would only be a redefinition on your part.

          • For that “the ability to choose between more than one viable option or action” definition, the point is that all of those options are not really ontologically possible (viable) in a causal universe. Only one option dictated by the entire causal line is and ever was since the big bang. The epistemic considerations someone makes are just a part of that causal process. Given determinism, there is no real “alternate” possibility or “could have done otherwise” consideration. The epistemic lack of knowledge over the variables does not comport to ontic possibilities. They stay entirely epistemic (we lack knowledge over them).

          • Viability is never judged on the basis of prior causes and actual outcomes. In a game of chess, if I make a losing move and told that I “could have moved there instead of there”, we are talking about the what the rules of the game allowed me to do at that particular stage in the game, not causal conditions. Similarly, there’s good sense in saying that at a particular point in the past, an option was available to me. Of coarse I could have be wrong, but what proves me wrong are not what necessarily follows from initial conditions. If I think I could have driven instead of biked, being wrong would depend on whether there was something that would have prevented me from driving like a broken car. However, if I’m well informed that my car isn’t broken, then the viability is still valid whether or not I drive my car.

          • Colloquially one can say that you “could have moved there instead of there” and people would understand that it simply means you made a mistake (and not take you literally). When talking about reality, however, you simply could not have moved there instead of there (given determinism). And for the topic of free will it is that “reality” that holds all of the weight. For the free will debate, it is important that one does not conflate the epistemic with the ontic.

            However, if I’m well informed that my car isn’t broken, then the viability is still valid whether or not I drive my car.

            The part about free will being “an illusion” in a causal universe simply means that your perception that it was “viable” even if you do not drive the car is also an “illusion”. It simply stems from you not having access to all of the variables that will lead you to not drive the car. Free will is an ontic ability (people think free will “exists”), so it is important not to mix the epistemic with the ontic. This link could help:

            Existence Conflated with Knowledge and the Free Will Debate

            Later. :-)

          • What I’m contesting is what counts as viable since I’m denying your premise that “existence” claims can only be narrowly applied to the causal-physical universe. You’re failing to acknowledge the criteria people actually use to judge that something “exists” or that something is “viable” which is why you think the availability of viable options is refuted on the bases of perfect knowledge of prior causes and actual outcomes. You’re insisting your own views on what people “really mean” when they say they have free will by calling it an “ontic ability” and then refuting it with the causal universe which frankly has nothing to do with how we make “could have, would have, etc.” statements.

          • Again, if you want to define free will as some epistemic idea of the process that takes place in people’s minds, such is irrelevant to the free will ability that is of concern for so many other topics, which is a ACTUAL ability to have done, of one’s own accord, otherwise.

            See below for your other comments.

  3. “Colloquially one can say that you “could have moved there instead of there” and people would understand that it simply means you made a mistake (and not take you literally).”

    Actually no. In order for it to make sense to say I “made a mistake”, there needs to have been a correct move to make prior to my mistake. If I made a forced move, then a correct move was not available and that particular move cannot be a mistake. “Could have moved there” is not a judgment based on minute brain states, but on what moves are allowed at a particular stage in the game. In other words, there is a fact of the matter about what I can and cannot do, literally.

    On the car example:
    “The part about free will being “an illusion” in a causal universe simply means that your perception that it was “viable” even if you do not drive the car is also an “illusion”. It simply stems from you not having access to all of the variables that will lead you to not drive the car.”

    This all depends on why I think an option is viable. One, I’m perfectly capable of driving and, two, if my car isn’t broken, then judgment “I could have drove” is allowable. The causal mechanism of the decision making process is not being referred here since decision making is not a prediction about what will happen in the future based on initial conditions. Thus, once I make the choice, I don’t judge that “I could have drove”, I’m not saying “If I rewind the universe and change the initial conditions I would have drove”. I’m saying that at a particular time, driving and biking was available JUST BY VIRTUE of having functioning vehicles and my ability to do so, and I chose to bike.

    • What I’m contesting is what counts as viable since I’m denying your premise that “existence” claims can only be narrowly applied to the causal-physical universe. You’re failing to acknowledge the criteria people actually use to judge that something “exists” or that something is “viable” which is why you think the availability of viable options is refuted on the bases of perfect knowledge of prior causes and actual outcomes. You’re insisting your own views on what people “really mean” when they say they have free will by calling it an “ontic ability” and then refuting it with the causal universe which frankly has nothing to do with how we make “could have, would have, etc.” statements.

      Again, if you want to define free will as some epistemic idea of the process that takes place in people’s minds, such is irrelevant to the free will ability that is of concern for so many other topics, which is a ACTUAL ability to have done, of one’s own accord, otherwise.

      Actually no. In order for it to make sense to say I “made a mistake”, there needs to have been a correct move to make prior to my mistake. If I made a forced move, then a correct move was not available and that particular move cannot be a mistake.

      This is not correct. You making a mistake doesn’t mean that you literally “could have” not made the mistake. You saying 2+2=5 and thinking that it is correct at the time does not imply that you could have said or thought differently, event though 2+2 does not equal 5.

      ““Could have moved there” is not a judgment based on minute brain states, but on what moves are allowed at a particular stage in the game. In other words, there is a fact of the matter about what I can and cannot do, literally.”

      No, there is a fact of the matter of what would have been the better move, regardless of the fact that you could not have made it at that time. It’s important not to confuse these two.

      This all depends on why I think an option is viable. One, I’m perfectly capable of driving and, two, if my car isn’t broken, then judgment “I could have drove” is allowable.

      You making the judgement doesn’t in fact make the judgment a correct analysis if A) you are postulating a deterministic universe, and B) you did not drive the car. Given determinism, you not driving the car was entirely dictated by the causality that preceded the event, even if you thought at the time that you could drive the car, or after that you could have.

      The causal mechanism of the decision making process is not being referred here since decision making is not a prediction about what will happen in the future based on initial conditions. Thus, once I make the choice, I don’t judge that “I could have drove”, I’m not saying “If I rewind the universe and change the initial conditions I would have drove”. I’m saying that at a particular time, driving and biking was available JUST BY VIRTUE of having functioning vehicles and my ability to do so, and I chose to bike.

      And I’m saying that, given determinism, the assessment that it was ACTUALLY available is an incorrect assessment, at least if you apply logic to it. The only way you “could have” in actuality “drive” was if some acausal event that you had no control over changed the trajectory of events to such (an indeterministic universe).

      Given determinism, your epistemic thinking that the other options were viable or that you could do otherwise (or could have done otherwise), is just that, epistemic only. It isn’t anything “real”. And for this topic, that is what is important for so many other philosophical issues.

      • The reason why your categories of “ontic” and “epistemic” are so misleading because they do not apply to how language works when it comes to existence claims. “Actual”, “literal”, exists”, etc. depend on situations criteria for correct application, none of them being causal or material. You keep emphasizing “real”, “actual”, and “literal” without ever taking into consideration how terms like this are used. If we disagree here, then its not fair to keep returning to your original criticism.

        Given your commentary on the chess example:
        “This is not correct. You making a mistake doesn’t mean that you literally “could have” not made the mistake. You saying 2+2=5 and thinking that it is correct at the time does not imply that you could have said or thought differently, event though 2+2 does not equal 5.”

        We’re not talking about mathematics but a turn-based game of choice. In order for a move to have been available to me depend on the rules and powers allotted to the pieces. A mistake is not a “falsehood” like “2 +2 = 5” since it still allowed according to the game. Its considered a mistake because it lead me to losing. If there was a winning move “I could have made”, it is only possible to point that out by virtue of the prior position and the particular powers allotted to a piece (I can move here or there). Yes, it is a fact of the matter based solely on those considerations. Whether I actually make the choice or not does not prevent this from being the case since ACTUALLY in this sense is a description of what happened in a historical sense, which is categorically different from availabilities allotted by the rules. To judge that it is incorrect to say one “could have” made a certain given historical fact is a category mistake.

        • The reason why your categories of “ontic” and “epistemic” are so misleading because they do not apply to how language works when it comes to existence claims. “Actual”, “literal”, exists”, etc. depend on situations criteria for correct application, none of them being causal or material. You keep emphasizing “real”, “actual”, and “literal” without ever taking into consideration how terms like this are used. If we disagree here, then its not fair to keep returning to your original criticism.

          I’m sorry, but the term “causal” addresses events that are ontic (real, actual, literal). The situation criteria is equally as caused and causal.

          We’re not talking about mathematics but a turn-based game of choice. In order for a move to have been available to me depend on the rules and powers allotted to the pieces.

          This is irrelevant. If there was a better move, it doesn’t imply you could have, at that time, done it.

          A mistake is not a “falsehood” like “2 +2 = 5” since it still allowed according to the game.

          Someone asserting a falsehood is “allowed”, even though the assertion is still false.

          Its considered a mistake because it lead me to losing. If there was a winning move “I could have made”, it is only possible to point that out by virtue of the prior position and the particular powers allotted to a piece (I can move here or there).

          I’m sorry, but it isn’t by that virtue. The assessment that you “could have made” it is not a literal assessment, it’s just a colloquialism that simply means “there was a better move, but you didn’t take it”. It doesn’t imply that you, in actuality, could have made the better move. And if it does imply this in your usage, then that implication is just incorrect (mistaken) given determinism…as much as 2+2=5 is incorrect.

  4. “Again, if you want to define free will as some epistemic idea of the process that takes place in people’s minds, such is irrelevant to the free will ability that is of concern for so many other topics, which is a ACTUAL ability to have done, of one’s own accord, otherwise.”

    Let me make this clear: It is a myth to say that the concept of free will throughout the history of philosophy has always (or for the most part) been libertarian free will. It is a myth to say that ordinary intuitions concerning free will are all contra-causal/libertarian free will. Also, compatibilism is relevant to the many other philosophical topics as a guide as to how to sort through them and think about them.

    So Compatibilists are often charged with changing the subject. But who’s changing the subject here?

    • Let me make this clear: It is a myth to say that the concept of free will throughout the history of philosophy has always (or for the most part) been libertarian free will.

      Where did I say this (even though compatibilism is a more recent part of the historical debate that redefines). What I said was, and let me make this perfectly clear: I have clearly and sufficiently defined what it is that I am addressing when I use the term “free will”, and why it is that I am using that particular definition, and what it means that we do not have that particular free will ability that I have defined. If you want to talk about an entirely different semantic, then you aren’t addressing the free will that I am – and in turn re-enacting one of the 5 strawman fallacies I’ve displayed here:

      5 Straw-man Fallacies by Compatibilists (When Addressing Free Will Skeptics)

      It is a myth to say that ordinary intuitions concerning free will are all contra-causal/libertarian free will.

      Another strawman. I did not say this. In fact, studies confirm that layperson intuitions contain both libertarian notions of free will and the type of compatibilistic notions of free will that are logically incoherent.

      Also, compatibilism is relevant to the many other philosophical topics as a guide as to how to sort through them and think about them.

      Compatibilism also, for the most part, bypasses the important issues about not having the type of free will that I have defined. In this way it allows these bad ideas to go unchallenged….in particular, the bad intuitions of most laypeople.

      Free Will Compatibilism vs. Skepticism – SHOWDOWN!

      All of that being said, if you want to be a compatibilist, be a compatibilist. It certainly is more consistent than being an advocate for libertarian free will. Just don’t neglect what it means that we don’t have the other semantic of free will that the hard incompatibilist is suggesting. That is all.

  5. “I’m sorry, but the term “causal” addresses events that are ontic (real, actual, literal). The situation criteria is equally as caused and causal.”

    Although I was not addressing the term “causal”, it is important that the claim here was that criteria determine the meaning of the statements of causality, possibility, existence, actuality, etc. not the other way around. Criteria being caused themselves don’t really take away from this point.

    Returning to the chess example: “Someone asserting a falsehood is “allowed”, even though the assertion is still false.”

    Allowable by the rules. 2 + 2 = 5 violates a rule and is false because of it. A mistake in chess is allowable by a rule, however a “wrong” move is something like moving a knight as if it were a queen, which is not allowed. I’m not asserting a falsehood when I say “you could have moved here” when my criteria for saying so depends on the availability of moves given a certain position. The claim is true solely by virtue of this. The claim that I’m making is that there are rules for proper usage of certain claims such as “Its true that he could have moved here” is not true because they conceive of ontic possibilities of the kind you talk about. You seem to provide an extra requirement of the fact that “an option must be actualized” to substantiate the statement.

    “This is irrelevant. If there was a better move, it doesn’t imply you could have, at that time, done it.”

    Again, returning to your original criticism doesn’t help you here since I’m refuting what is MEANT by saying “I could have went there rather than here.” The criteria for this being a true statement are not the ones you keep insisting on.

    You seem to agree with me here when it comes to what “could have” means:
    “I’m sorry, but it isn’t by that virtue. The assessment that you “could have made” it is not a literal assessment, it’s just a colloquialism that simply means “there was a better move, but you didn’t take it”. ”

    What more is there for an option to be available? You’re confused as to the nature of literal and non-literal statements. But then again, in the philosophy of language and linguistics, it’s a whole complicated controversy. Still, you wouldn’t have to know any of this to understand that non-literal statements like “Love is a journey” is nothing like “could have done otherwise.” The word “could have” does not reduce down to a literal statement about what “did” or “does” happen. However, “could have” statements can be literal statements (in the traditional sense) for reasons other than what happens historically. “Could have” has a very specific use as a past tense conditional that is not amenable to your “ontic” “epistemic” distinctions (in fact this distinction is asserted without any justification). “Literal” here means the proper functioning of the word which is partially a matter of convention, not a direct mapping on to causal-physical reality.

    “Where did I say this (even though compatibilism is a more recent part of the historical debate that redefines). What I said was, and let me make this perfectly clear: I have clearly and sufficiently defined what it is that I am addressing when I use the term “free will”, and why it is that I am using that particular definition, and what it means that we do not have that particular free will ability that I have defined.”

    Well I didn’t say YOU made this claim. The criticism is of your motivations for defining it as such and how relavent philosophical history and human intuitions are. By the way, compatibilism has existed for a long time and there are numerous contradicting studies on intuitions that have interpretive and methodological issues that make it hard to say that the intuition maps on to what the philosopher means by libertarian free will. Its just not quite settled.

    But the thing is, the definition YOU GAVE, is being directly criticized. “The ability to choose between more than one viable option or action, in which that choice was up to the chooser.” One, we disagree about what it means to say that an option “exists” and what it means to say that it’s “viable”. Then you take “existence” and “viability” to mean something different from the actual use of the word, which you think is implicit in this definition. Its simply not, and you would have to define it further as an implicit belief in multiple “ontic possibilities”. We further disagree about what it would mean for a choice to be “up to you.”. However, we don’t need to believe in a self “as an entity” in order to make sense of what was “up to you”. All you have to do is look at the grammar.

    One more thing,
    There is no different semantics as long as we use the same language. It’s matters whether your way of conceiving of semantics is true or false in order to make your definitions valid.

    • When saying that the possibility “exists” that is a statement on it being “ontic”. Your comment implies that you didn’t really read or understand any of the above article….which explicitly denotes the difference between epistemic possibility and “real” or ontic possibility. And the words “I could have done otherwise” explicitly mean that, guess what? You “could have DONE otherwise”. That it was really possible for you to have done the other thing rather than just a thought that couldn’t have been actualized. It is an abuse of language to think this could mean something else because of some colloquial usage of “could have moved there” which is actually a misuse of language that would be more accurately informed by “it would have been better if you had moved there” which is what is really meant by the quick shorthand (as “could have moved there” is literally INCORRECT in the English language given determinism).

      The very point of the article above is to display how these incorrect epistemic usages of language lead to incorrect ontological ideas about the other options being “real possibilities” or “viable” or “able to be actualized”.

      The fact of the matter is, for determinism only one option is a “viable” (meaning really possible) option, the others are wholly and entirely epistemic. The very point of this post is to point out the distinction between the two, and why they should not be confused and conflated. If it was the case that the differing usages were not conflated it wouldn’t be a problem. But the fact is, most laypeople think people literally could have done, of their own accord, otherwise. That they could have actualized the different outcome. That all possibilities before them are REAL, ONTOLOGICAL possibilities that can be actualized.

      And that is the problem. You seem to want to pretend that people only see these words in an epistemic or colloquialistic sense, but this is anything but the case. Those very epistemic and colloquial usages translate TO their ontic assessments about reality, making their ontic assessments incorrect.

      The facts are: we could not have, of our own accord, DONE otherwise (“DONE” implying an ONTIC action that takes place), and we can not CHOOSE between more than one really possible (viable) option in which that is “up to us” (“CHOOSE” implying an ONTIC action that takes place). The meanings of these words are not trumped by the abuse of language for quick-talk.

      Given determinism, if I chose rootbeer, I could not have chosen pepsi instead. The statement “you could have chosen pepsi” is incorrect (in English) – plain and simple. If someone happens to mean something other than what the language refers to, the very problem is that incorrect usage often translates to their ideas about the real thing. It is a fact that most laypeople think, given an entirely deterministic scenario, that if someone found a wallet and didn’t return it, they LITERALLY could have returned the wallet (that the owner getting their wallet back could have been actualized). This is the problem.

  6. “it would have been better if you had moved there”
    What if moving there puts you in check? Then you couldn’t EVER move there and therefore it would make no sense to say that. Saying that it would have been better to move “here” instead of “there” presupposes that the move had to have been available. However, what constitutes this “availability” is where you and I disagree since, for you, if it is never actually actualized, then it fails to be true that it ever was available.

    Case in point: The “truth” of determinism says nothing about what constitutes a misuse of language unless you also have an account of language which compliments your view. But you don’t, you just assert that literally means “actualized”, “real”, “causal”, “physical”. But not all of the things that we refer to are any of those things. And, I’ll double down here, just because the things that we refer to aren’t actualized in history or material constitution, which is a product of your very narrow ontology, does not mean they translate into that AT ALL.

    “Could have gone there” would be a misuse ONLY if going there violates the rules, not because I made another choice in actuality. It doesn’t simply translate as to what have been a better move, although this statement itself acknowledges the existence of the move. The fact is, you’re not the sole arbiter of what constitutes a misuse in language. It seems that all of your claims ignore the vast literature on meaning, grammar, figurative, literal, etc. that is subject of so much controversy that I’m surprised that you think that “could have” statements translate into “ontic” or literal statements. I don’t think that’s clear to you or anybody.

    Ontology is also something philosophers disagree about that it is not clear whether physicalism or determinism eliminates the existence of options, abstract entities, colors, consciousness, etc. In face, ontology is disputably dependent on language such that any application of “is” may refer to something non-physical irreducibly.

    Bottom line, determinism as you articulate it or as usually understood, does not necessarily say a thing about any of these things.

    • What if moving there puts you in check? Then you couldn’t EVER move there and therefore it would make no sense to say that. Saying that it would have been better to move “here” instead of “there” presupposes that the move had to have been available.

      Irrelevant, as your wordage doesn’t work for that situation either.

      However, what constitutes this “availability” is where you and I disagree since, for you, if it is never actually actualized, then it fails to be true that it ever was available.

      To clarify, given we assume determinism, it fails to be true that it was ever available. For indeterminism it becomes available (just not up to us).

      Case in point: The “truth” of determinism says nothing about what constitutes a misuse of language unless you also have an account of language which compliments your view. But you don’t, you just assert that literally means “actualized”, “real”, “causal”, “physical”. But not all of the things that we refer to are any of those things.

      Perhaps we need to clarify how the word “determinism” is used: “Determinism” and “Indeterminism” for the Free Will Debate

      And every event that takes place is either causal or not. That includes your thinking, deliberating, and thought processing.

      “And, I’ll double down here, just because the things that we refer to aren’t actualized in history or material constitution, which is a product of your very narrow ontology, does not mean they translate into that AT ALL.”

      Look, those things are simply a product of your brain. They exist as thoughts, and those thoughts causally lead to actions. All of the deliberation you do between different chess moves causally translate to the decision you make.

      “Could have gone there” would be a misuse ONLY if going there violates the rules, not because I made another choice in actuality.

      That is simply not true, at least if you care about language. “Could have gone there” when referring to something you did means you literally “could have gone there” in actuality instead of the thing you just did. Sorry, but this is English.

      It doesn’t simply translate as to what have been a better move, although this statement itself acknowledges the existence of the move.

      What I said was, that “could have gone there” is wrong and if someone wanted to tell someone of a move that would have been better (or any other thing like that), it shouldn’t be used in place of it if someone cares about talking correctly.

      The fact is, you’re not the sole arbiter of what constitutes a misuse in language.

      Words have meanings. “Could” implies that one has the ability. “Done” or “do” implies that there is an actual ACTION (ONTIC!!). Otherwise implies other than a different action. Could have done otherwise simply cannot be mistaken for an epistemic usage in English. If you want to deconstruct language so nothing can ever be said about anything, then that is a totally different problem. But some words are sufficiently clear.

      It seems that all of your claims ignore the vast literature on meaning, grammar, figurative, literal, etc. that is subject of so much controversy that I’m surprised that you think that “could have” statements translate into “ontic” or literal statements. I don’t think that’s clear to you or anybody.

      Again, the problem is when the unclear epistemic usages get shifted to ontic assessments. The fact of the matter is, these words ARE clear, they are just misused colloquially (just as a double negative is a misuse). I don’t care so much that people do this, what I care about is when doing so allows them to contrive incorrect ONTIC assessments as well. And for the free will debate, we are addressing an ontic ability….and what it means that noone HAS that ontic ability.

      Bottom line, determinism as you articulate it or as usually understood, does not necessarily say a thing about any of these things.

      Bottom line, determinism doesn’t need to say anything about epistemic thoughts that are mistaken or poorly used. What it has a say about is someones ONTIC abilities to have ACTUALLY done otherwise (in reality). And bottom line is that this is what is important for the topic of free will and for so many other topics that attach to it.

      ***********
      Look – When given an entirely deterministic scenario (where a computer can predict all future events), laypeople are told that in the scenario a man named Jeremy robbed a bank (and the computer predicted it – as it is never wrong given the deterministic variables). When asked whether or not Jeremy could have chosen not to rob the bank the large majority still said yes, Jeremy could have chosen not to rob the bank.

      There is no way to give this an epistemic twist. The act of robbing the bank is an ontic happening, and for Jeremy not to have robbed the bank, it would have had to been the case that he physically did not go into the bank and rob it. Sorry, you cannot get out of this with a play on words. There are no words that could mean some epistemic contrivance here.
      ***********

      Anyway, I think our convo has reached the point of redundancy and is no longer productive. It happens – and the text in these comments could not have been otherwise given determinism (even if you incorrectly say that the conversation could have went differently – you’d simply be wrong on that). 😉

  7. I’m not deconstructing language at all but describing how its actually used and telling you what’s really meant. I challenges the idea that literal claims are claims about ontology, not to change the subject, but to point out that this is not even a traditional understanding of literal even though our understanding the literal-non-literal distinction has changed quite a bit. But you don’t refute the claim, you just insist on your own way of looking at language as if it is given.

    By the way, its not true that Compatibilism is a recent position, it has been apart of the conversation since the beginning.

    • You are mistaken on how it is “actually used”.

      I will reiterate:

      When given an entirely deterministic scenario (where a computer can predict all future events), laypeople are told that in the scenario a man named Jeremy robbed a bank (and the computer predicted it – as it is never wrong given the deterministic variables). When asked whether or not Jeremy could have chosen not to rob the bank the large majority still said yes, Jeremy could have chosen not to rob the bank.

      There is no way to give this your “twist of language”. The act of robbing the bank is an ontic happening, and for Jeremy not to have robbed the bank, it would have had to been the case that he physically did not go into the bank and rob it. Sorry, you cannot get out of this with a play on words. There are no words that could mean some epistemic contrivance here.

      What else could this mean other than Jeremy literally could have not walked into the bank and robbed it??

      And I meant compatibilism wasn’t popularized until recently. Again, I have no qualms with compatibilists until they ignore what it means that we don’t have the free will that hard incompatibilists are referring to (the semantic that actually addresses the above layperson intuitions).

      • I’m challenging the relation between literal and the ontic/actual. As I’ve said before, the even the traditional understanding of “literal” doesn’t require this but you don’t ever address this point. Instead, you say that I’m twisting words without justification.

        Doesn’t it strike you as odd that “He could have not robbed the bank” makes sense to the people in that experiment? You even say they contradict themselves because the definition they use is in line with yours. But as I’ve shown above, it’s still subject to interpretation.

        “A bishop can move diagonally left or right” IS LITERAL and true by virtue of the rules of chess and the position of the pieces. You want it to refer to something else. This is THE proper use of the word “can”, it doesn’t reduce to ontic consideration but made in virtue of ontic considerations.

        Don’t you think that philosphy and scientific research on literal language is relevant here? You’re not even goin by dictionary definition I’m afraid.

        • I’m challenging the relation between literal and the ontic/actual. As I’ve said before, the even the traditional understanding of “literal” doesn’t require this but you don’t ever address this point. Instead, you say that I’m twisting words without justification.

          The example that I provided cannot be shifted to a non-ontological claim. It is “literal” in the sense that the ontic addressing of a choice to rob the bank does not shift to the epistemic for the answer of the question.

          Doesn’t it strike you as odd that “He could have not robbed the bank” makes sense to the people in that experiment? You even say they contradict themselves because the definition they use is in line with yours. But as I’ve shown above, it’s still subject to interpretation.

          Please provide what interpretation you are referring to for THAT example.

          “A bishop can move diagonally left or right” IS LITERAL and true by virtue of the rules of chess and the position of the pieces. You want it to refer to something else. This is THE proper use of the word “can”, it doesn’t reduce to ontic consideration but made in virtue of ontic considerations.

          Context is everything. I have no doubt that the word “can” is ambigiously used to express epistemic modal accounts as well as ontic assessments. In fact that, I think, is a part of the problem that causes people to conflate the two. That being said I think a btter way to express rules is “the bishop moves either diagonally left or diagonally right”, but yes, colloquil language is abound.

          Don’t you think that philosphy and scientific research on literal language is relevant here? You’re not even goin by dictionary definition I’m afraid.

          Please provide which word I’m not going by the “dictionary definition” for. In context of an ontological action (a “doing”)…”could have done otherwise” cannot mean anything but the different ontological “doing” that was a “real possibility”. The fact that you can take one word out of context, change it to it’s present tense (can), and then give a modal example of that is irrelevant to how words are used in the context that they are in.

          It is a play of language. I’m saying, if asked whether or not Jeremy could have chosen not to rob the bank given determinism, the answer simply cannot be something referring to a non-literal non-ontic modal “rule of a game”. It is addressing a specific event that took place in the past, and asking if that specific event could have not taken pace. This is the ONLY way to interpret the language, and to pretend it isn’t based on an out of context use of a changed word is an abuse of language.

          Later.

          • So in “Common Intuitions about Free Will (and how it needs to be defined)” you claim that although most people would say that one “could have done otherwise”, this doesn’t make them compatibilists. According to you they would be wrong nonetheless because their own definition of free will contradicts determinism So lets assume that they take your definition of it. “The ability to choose between more than one viable option or action, in which that choice was up to the chooser.”

            It pains me to say, as I have said before, “option”, “viability”, and “up to the chooser” don’t refer what you want them to refer to in any standard sense. The criteria for there being an “viable option” and “being up to someone” are not the one you state. What would make someone wrong about viability is not an actual outcome or physical object, but a set of considerations separate from that. If I could have drove instead of walked, that is true only if my car isn’t broken. So the condition for viability depends on the actual state of the car and my actual ability to walk, not the fact that I’ve actually walked instead,

            So a compatibilists can maintain your definition without changing the semantics, since these ARE the semantics. However, you insist what I’m doing is subject to wordplay and changing the subject. But you do nothing to prove this but reiterate your position as given. You go further to say that free will, in the compatibilist sense, is not relevant to the philosophical topics at hand. This isn’t true since the misunderstanding about what is meant creates those problems in the first place and forces some to commit to hard determinism. In this way, your position is self-affirming.

            Take this for instance: “the bishop moves either diagonally left or diagonally right” Notice that either doesn’t help you here. “Either” has multiple usages, however in the sense of the sentence above, “either” admits of options and viability. In fact, “either..or” statements always connect two choices or possibilities. Don’t take my word for it, look it up.

            “Context is everything. I have no doubt that the word “can” is ambigiously used to express epistemic modal accounts as well as ontic assessments.” NO DOUBT? Why is this? “Can” is very straightforward in the chess context and “I can walk or drive”. You keep reiterating “in reality”, “in actuality”, and then make the claim “could have gone here” is an epistemic claim (which it is not) conflated with an ontological claim. This is because, as I’ve said, they don’t mean what you want them to mean. Not only that, they express what they mean properly, how most people mean it, have meant it, from the dawn of the usage of modal statements.

            “Please provide which word I’m not going by the “dictionary definition” for. In context of an ontological action (a “doing”)…”could have done otherwise” cannot mean anything but the different ontological “doing” that was a “real possibility”. ” I’m asking you to prove that “could have done otherwise” cannot refer to anything but an “actual” outcome, what’s “actually” done. You don’t ever do this! You just keep insisting that this isn’t English. “I could have drove instead of walked” doesn’t refer to some material unactualized state of affairs, but just the abilities of the person and the functionality of the car. If it’s not functional, then it’s not an available option. I say that this is all that’s required, you say no without a shred of evidence.

            By the why, I was talking about the definition of literal.
            “He can either walk or drive” is a literal statement. Literal doesn’t mean “maps onto causal-physical reality”. It means formal, according to proper meanings, in their exact sense, etc. But if we disagree about what’s proper, exact, or formal then you will fail to see why I say that the above is a literal statement. It just means that they refer to there actual meanings, unlike “love is a journey”. Now this has changed given research, so its not authoritative. However, neither considerations support your view of language.

          • So in “Common Intuitions about Free Will (and how it needs to be defined)” you claim that although most people would say that one “could have done otherwise”, this doesn’t make them compatibilists. According to you they would be wrong nonetheless because their own definition of free will contradicts determinism. ”

            I don’t think you have read the article properly. I said they ARE compatibilists, just NOT the compatibilists that philosophical compatibilism promotes. Most philosophical compatiblists, when pressed, would say that someone could not do otherwise given determinism.

            So lets assume that they take your definition of it. “The ability to choose between more than one viable option or action, in which that choice was up to the chooser.

            It pains me to say, as I have said before, “option”, “viability”, and “up to the chooser” don’t refer what you want them to refer to in any standard sense. The criteria for there being an “viable option” and “being up to someone” are not the one you state.

            First, I define these words explicitely. For example: “They think all of the options in which they choose from are viable options. That each of these options have real possibility. Not only that, but they think the choice of the option was “up to them”.”http://breakingthefreewillillusion.com/terms/free-will/

            This is pretty explicit.

            Second, my usage is the “standard sense”, but either way that doesn’t matter as I explain how I’m using these words. In fact, I have an entire chapter devoted just for that so no ambiguity can happen.

            What would make someone wrong about viability is not an actual outcome or physical object, but a set of considerations separate from that. If I could have drove instead of walked, that is true only if my car isn’t broken. So the condition for viability depends on the actual state of the car and my actual ability to walk, not the fact that I’ve actually walked instead

            This is the mistake I’m talking about. It isn’t simply true if your car isn’t broken. For determinism, the entire state of the universe would have to be different for you to have driven instead of walked, which is impossible with the causal variables at the time. You could NOT have driven (rather than drove) instead of walked. Driving was never a “viable” option. It was never a “real possibility”.

            So a compatibilists can maintain your definition without changing the semantics, since these ARE the semantics.

            No, they seriously cannot. And no compatibilist would. This is why the “principle of alternate possibilities” is addressed by both incompatibilists and compatibilists. Because they both agree that, given determinism, that those alternate possibilities do not exist.

            However, you insist what I’m doing is subject to wordplay and changing the subject. But you do nothing to prove this but reiterate your position as given.

            No, your position is wordplay. My comments show why…and this isn’t just “my position”. It’s actually the position of most philosophical compatibilists as well. This is why they don’t define free will like this.

            You go further to say that free will, in the compatibilist sense, is not relevant to the philosophical topics at hand. This isn’t true since the misunderstanding about what is meant creates those problems in the first place and forces some to commit to hard determinism. In this way, your position is self-affirming.

            Philosophical compatibilist notions of free will avoid the fact that, given determinism, there are no alternate possibilities. Rather, they confine their semantic to abilities people do possess, at the expense of confusing laypeople who actually think those alternate possibilities exist.

            Take this for instance: “the bishop moves either diagonally left or diagonally right” Notice that either doesn’t help you here. “Either” has multiple usages, however in the sense of the sentence above, “either” admits of options and viability. In fact, “either..or” statements always connect two choices or possibilities. Don’t take my word for it, look it up.

            They only admit to epistemic possibility, not ontic. And if they did admit to ontic, and thought the world was deterministic, it would be simply incorrect. But again, this is wordplay, as that sentence in a rulebook is only addressing rules and not a single action that someone makes. For a single action, either causality leads a person to move the bishop diagonally left, or causality is different and they move it right, etc. But given the causality that exists, both options were not “viable”…only one was. The other was purely epistemic. Your “either…or” is yet another word contrivance. Again, I never said modal assessments were not possible.

            “Context is everything. I have no doubt that the word “can” is ambiguously used to express epistemic modal accounts as well as ontic assessments.” NO DOUBT? Why is this? “Can” is very straightforward in the chess context and “I can walk or drive”.

            Again, you miss the entire point of the above article. “I can walk or drive” is epistemic. Both are not really possible, but you don’t KNOW what one is so you say that. After you have walked, however, you couldn’t HAVE walked or driven (in a deterministic universe). And to say that you “could have driven” is entirely wrong. There is no way around this, and absolutely no serious language reinterpretation of “could have driven” that can bend to something other than an ontic assessment of you behind a steering wheel.

            You keep reiterating “in reality”, “in actuality”, and then make the claim “could have gone here” is an epistemic claim (which it is not) conflated with an ontological claim. This is because, as I’ve said, they don’t mean what you want them to mean. Not only that, they express what they mean properly, how most people mean it, have meant it, from the dawn of the usage of modal statements.

            If it isn’t an epistemic claim (or a poorly worded sentence), then the idea that you “could have gone there” (given determinism) is simply wrong. You couldn’t have gone there. Going there was an impossibility.

            I’m asking you to prove that “could have done otherwise” cannot refer to anything but an “actual” outcome, what’s “actually” done. You don’t ever do this! You just keep insisting that this isn’t English. “I could have drove instead of walked” doesn’t refer to some material unactualized state of affairs, but just the abilities of the person and the functionality of the car. If it’s not functional, then it’s not an available option. I say that this is all that’s required, you say no without a shred of evidence.

            The onus is on you to show how “he could have chosen to not rob the bank” can be anything but him “actually choosing not to rob the bank”. You are the one who is shifting the language around to your liking rather than addressing “could have done otherwise”…which explicitly denotes an objective action of “doing” after the fact of an action that was already “done”, with that doing being something “other than” what was “done”. You keep saying things like “without a shred of evidence” when I’ve explained fully how what you are saying is wrong.

            By the why, I was talking about the definition of literal.
            “He can either walk or drive” is a literal statement.

            You miss the point that, if the universe is entirely causal, that becomes no longer literal. Rather it becomes just a figure of speech, but doesn’t mean that someone could literally either walk or drive. The fact that people are not aware of this is part of the very problem. Believing it to be literal, and it actually being literal are not the same thing.

            Right now, you have the burden of proof.

            But I do not want you to keep reiterating the same thing, so let’s scratch the board and address the study only since you read some of the other article: Common Intuitions about Free Will (and how it needs to be defined)

            The very reason those studies address “could have done otherwise” notions is because most sensible people know what this actually means for the topic of free will. I will ask you the same question posed in the study:

            Scenario: Imagine that in the next century we discover all the laws of nature, and we build a supercomputer which can deduce from these laws of nature and from the current state of everything in the world exactly what will be happening in the world at any future time. It can look at everything about the way the world is and predict everything about how it will be with 100% accuracy. Suppose that such a supercomputer existed, and it looks at the state of the universe at a certain time on March 25, 2150 AD, 20 years before Jeremy Hall is born. The computer then deduces from this information and the laws of nature that Jeremy will definitely rob Fidelity Bank at 6:00 pm on January 26, 2195. As always, the supercomputer’s prediction is correct; Jeremy robs Fidelity Bank at 6:00 pm on January 26, 2195.

            Imagining the scenario were actual— could Jeremy have chosen not to rob the bank?

            Answer the question, and then give the reason for your answer.

            ^ Please only respond to this one question, as this convo is too bloated as is. Let’s get to the nitty-gritty rather than the unfocused convo we currently have. (we’ll assume you disagree for the other stuff without the need for a constant long and tiresome thread)

            *Could Jeremy have chosen not to rob the bank?

  8. You know the answer already know my answer and my reasons. But I’ll do it in a slightly different way. The answer is, he definitely could have not robbed the bank given a certain set of considerations. However, for the sake of argument, we’ll assume that he’s not being coerced (in other words, he’s not being forced to do it because his mother his tied up somewhere). So, he’s just a bad man with no excuses. He still could have done otherwise.

    Reasons: First, taking initial conditions exactly as they are, the simulation of the outcome will always match the true outcome. There’s no disagreement here. However, people who say “could have done otherwise” don’t take this in consideration and, most importantly, IS NOT substantiated by virtue of initial conditions. Therefore, it doesn’t mean they’re wrong when they say this simply because they fail to see the full consequences of their own commitments because their commitments aren’t what you say they are. Whats most important is the proper grammar of could have, would have, if..then, etc. So, “can”, in the relevant sense, depends on resources (anyone with a gun can rob a bank), ability (he’s not paralyzed from the waist down), and the logical consequences of his behavior (pointing a gun affords the offering of money). It’s not physically impossible for a person that has all it takes to rob a bank not to rob a bank. This is all that’s needed. Its not that he’s incapable of considering not robbing a bank. Maybe he considered it and chose otherwise. Or, he never considers it since he’s intrinsically bad. So why would he even think about it? However, if you asked him, after the fact, if not robbing a bank was an impossible thing for him (an odd question I know but then again, I’m operating under the bounds of your hypothetical) I doubt he would say “Hm, I never thought about that.” as if he had insufficient knowledge about his options which doesn’t require that he takes any of them seriously. Likewise, a serial murderer will never go “I’ve never thought of not murdering”. Even if he never considers it, it will never be unthinkable. Ability and potentiality are never judged on these considerations.

    Moreover, he may have been raised wrong, or he’s poor, the job market’s bad, and so on. But freedom doesn’t imply that there aren’t constraints such that anyone can do anything at any particular time.

    —Submitted on 2016/01/10 at 12:49 am—

    Whats so upsetting here is that the scenario in the study has nothing to do with the fundamental issues raised. That’s why you’re not really getting to the nitty gritty since the answers depend on my above arguments. So if we disagree about these issues, then to bring up my answer to the scenario is senseless. But if your uncharitable about the other issues your not going to be charitable to my answer.

    A good example:
    “I don’t think you have read the article properly. I said they ARE compatibilists, just NOT the compatibilists that philosophical compatibilism promotes. Most philosophical compatiblists, when pressed, would say that someone could not do otherwise given determinism.”
    But when I say that you disqualify them from being compatibilistst, could this not mean the very clarification you provide? Not compatibilist in the philosophical sense? Your hair splitting didn’t take from my point in the least bit. Also, most philosophers are compatibilists, and not every compatibilists rejects the “principle of alternative possibilities”. To say that most of them, when pressed, say someone really could not have done otherwise”, is not demonstrated. What polls of philosophers say this? How many out of all of them? Just like many of the things you say about compatibilism, you assert it without any proof. So when I say that their views are compatible with your definition, this is true for a good number of them.

    Final point, the only challenge that has actually mattered in the conversation is your understanding of meaning and language. I gave you the definition of literal but you STILL think that determinism changes “could have done otherwise” into a figurative statement. But you gloss right over that as if it does. What, “you miss the point that, if the universe is entirely causal, that becomes no longer literal.” NO, THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT I’M REFUTING. Literal doesn’t mean what you want to mean. But you keep thinking this is a moot point, or as if I never made it. That’s incredibly dishonest! If you disagree here then we disagree about what it means “actual” or “real possibility”. Numbers, colors, money, and possibilities exist literally. All that’s needed is a set of criteria and their “objective” fulfillment.

    All you have to do is acknowledge the criteria that people actually use, what you just refuse to do as the sole arbiter of proper meaning, and the things in the world that would substantiate the claim. What constitutes reality is not something that’s readily agreed on in philosophy. Further, it’s absolutely not clear that a purely physical mechanistic reality eliminates these things. But I could agree that the universe is purely physical or deterministic, and something that never happens is still a real possibility at a particular time. It all depends on language, period.

    • You know the answer already know my answer and my reasons. But I’ll do it in a slightly different way. The answer is, he definitely could have not robbed the bank given a certain set of considerations.

      The “set of considerations” are that the computer is able to predict based in the variables that exist that he would rob the bank, and he did rob the bank after that.

      However, for the sake of argument, we’ll assume that he’s not being coerced (in other words, he’s not being forced to do it because his mother his tied up somewhere).

      Sure, this can be a part of the thought experiment. He is only forced by the causal variables that exist – not a person holding someone hostage, etc.

      So, he’s just a bad man with no excuses. He still could have done otherwise.

      Even though the variables could only lead up to him deciding to rob the bank. Okayy…let’s look at your “reasoning”:

      Reasons: First, taking initial conditions exactly as they are, the simulation of the outcome will always match the true outcome. There’s no disagreement here.

      Glad you agree with this.

      However, people who say “could have done otherwise” don’t take this in consideration

      I absolutely agree with this. Most people haven’t thought about this topic at all.

      and, most importantly, IS NOT substantiated by virtue of initial conditions.

      But it is. The fact that people don’t take such into consideration is irrelevant.

      Therefore, it doesn’t mean they’re wrong when they say this simply because they fail to see the full consequences of their own commitments because their commitments aren’t what you say they are.

      No, there is no way to think “he could have not robbed the bank” means anything other than a fact about what action Jeremy could have inacted (not walking into the bank and robbing it).

      Whats most important is the proper grammar of could have, would have, if..then, etc.

      I don’t think anyone but you will be confused over what “could have” means in the context of the scenario provided.

      So, “can”, in the relevant sense, depends on resources (anyone with a gun can rob a bank), ability (he’s not paralyzed from the waist down), and the logical consequences of his behavior (pointing a gun affords the offering of money). It’s not physically impossible for a person that has all it takes to rob a bank not to rob a bank.

      NO, not “can”. “Could have”. Stop changing around words to your liking. It IS physically impossible for Jeremy to have not walked into the bank and rob it. Physics dicates that he will – per the thought experiment.

      This is all that’s needed. Its not that he’s incapable of considering not robbing a bank. Maybe he considered it and chose otherwise.

      The consideration had to happen the way it is.

      Or, he never considers it since he’s intrinsically bad.

      He couldn’t have not been intrinsically bad.

      So why would he even think about it? However, if you asked him, after the fact, if not robbing a bank was an impossible thing for him (an odd question I know but then again, I’m operating under the bounds of your hypothetical) I doubt he would say “Hm, I never thought about that.” as if he had insufficient knowledge about his options which doesn’t require that he takes any of them seriously.

      Likewise, a serial murderer will never go “I’ve never thought of not murdering”. Even if he never considers it, it will never be unthinkable. Ability and potentiality are never judged on these considerations.

      What he “might say” is irrelevant here. The question isn’t about his opinion which could be as wrong as a layperson intuition.

      Moreover, he may have been raised wrong, or he’s poor, the job market’s bad, and so on. But freedom doesn’t imply that there aren’t constraints such that anyone can do anything at any particular time.

      When it comes to the freedom to have “done otherwise”…yes, those constraints matter.

      Whats so upsetting here is that the scenario in the study has nothing to do with the fundamental issues raised.

      Oh contraire, it has EVERYTHING to do with how these words are used. I don’t mean for it to be upsetting, but if it is, it might have something to do with cognitive dissonance. I think you are smart enough to understand how absurd the position that Jeremy could have chosen not to rob the bank appears given the example provided.

      That’s why you’re not really getting to the nitty gritty since the answers depend on my above arguments. So if we disagree about these issues, then to bring up my answer to the scenario is senseless. But if your uncharitable about the other issues your not going to be charitable to my answer.

      I’m uncharitable about you changing up both sentence structure and context to your liking…and pretending that says something about the sentence and context that is actually being referred.

      A good example:
      “I don’t think you have read the article properly. I said they ARE compatibilists, just NOT the compatibilists that philosophical compatibilism promotes. Most philosophical compatiblists, when pressed, would say that someone could not do otherwise given determinism.”
      But when I say that you disqualify them from being compatibilistst, could this not mean the very clarification you provide? Not compatibilist in the philosophical sense?

      Sorry, but you should try to be more clear in your language if that is what you meant, because the article itself explains how it is a compatibilist notion. The very point that you are arguing that someone “could have done otherwise” means that you, yourself, aren’t taking the majority philosophical compatibilist position here.

      Also, most philosophers are compatibilists, and not every compatibilists rejects the “principle of alternative possibilities”. To say that most of them, when pressed, say someone really could not have done otherwise”, is not demonstrated.

      That is not what the PAP is. I only said that they address PAP, meaning they address if there is or is not moral responsibility given that alternate possibilities do not exist for a deterministic account (which yes, they all agree with the part about the alternate possibilities not existing).

      What polls of philosophers say this? How many out of all of them? Just like many of the things you say about compatibilism, you assert it without any proof.

      I’ve read most of them, but please, show me one that does not. It is the very reason they shift the definition away from that notion and to one where it doesn’t matter that alternate possibilities exist or not (such as “the ability to make decisions”, or “the ability to make decisions unconstrained from human coersion (such as a gun)”, or “the ability for a biological organism to make decisions”, and so on). Again, this “otherwise” notion is a staple in this topic, and it doesn’t ever, and I mean EVER, mean what you are saying – for the philosophical topic of free will.

      Final point, the only challenge that has actually mattered in the conversation is your understanding of meaning and language. I gave you the definition of literal but you STILL think that determinism changes “could have done otherwise” into a figurative statement.

      I think everyone knows what “literal” means. Making a statement about reality that we know isn’t true about that reality ISN’T literal, it is figurative. It’s more often a “figure of speech”. But this doesn’t matter, as the word “literal” is irrelevant here (and can be ambigious). The fact of the matter is, you cannot assess that Jeremy could have chosen not to rob the bank without addressing the real, ontological possibility of a objective configuration of him actually doing different.

      But you gloss right over that as if it does. What, “you miss the point that, if the universe is entirely causal, that becomes no longer literal.” NO, THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT I’M REFUTING. Literal doesn’t mean what you want to mean. But you keep thinking this is a moot point, or as if I never made it.

      Even if it was true about the word literal (it’s not), it is a moot point, as I’ve already explained.

      That’s incredibly dishonest! If you disagree here then we disagree about what it means “actual” or “real possibility”. Numbers, colors, money, and possibilities exist literally. All that’s needed is a set of criteria and their “objective” fulfillment.

      Sorry, I call BS here. The fact that you are addressing an “objective” fulfillment means that such is actually possible. That it “could be” the case that the physical body of Jeremy could have not walked into the bank and robbed it. It’s incredibly dishonest to pretend that some incorrect epistemic assessment of yours applies to any account for the topic of free will which addresses real decisions taking place. The assessment of epistemic possibilities exists literally (it’s literally an assessment), but epistemic possibilities is not literal, they are figurative – IF we understand determinism (which most do not). But again, who cares about the word “literal”. We don’t need to play with the sematics of such words, as we can just say that the “done otherwise” when referring to a physical action that has taken place, means that that physical action actually could have not taken place (and there is not honest way out of that). Your abuse of language to your liking will not be put up with here, as this can be explained in a number of different ways that do not entail the word “literal” that explicitely make the point. The fact that you keep going off on the “literal” word, when that isn’t even used in “Jeremy could have not robbed the bank” shows your own intellectual dishonesty.

      Again, everyone but you knows what it means and refers to in order to say that “Jeremy could have not robbed the bank”.

      All you have to do is acknowledge the criteria that people actually use, what you just refuse to do as the sole arbiter of proper meaning, and the things in the world that would substantiate the claim.

      I’m sorry, but it is obvious to everyone except yourself what “Jeremy could have decided not to rob the bank” means. No person on the planet is assessing that from your oddball perspective of a rulebook that changes language around.

      What constitutes reality is not something that’s readily agreed on in philosophy.

      Irrelevant.

      Further, it’s absolutely not clear that a purely physical mechanistic reality eliminates these things.

      It is logically clear.

      But I could agree that the universe is purely physical or deterministic, and something that never happens is still a real possibility at a particular time.

      Sure, you could “agree”, but your position would be illogical non-the-less.

      It all depends on language, period.

      The language is clear. Your obfuscation of language is not. I could also agree that I have “leaped up and landed on the moon” if I take each word out of context. I can say that I have leaped up and landed (and that would be true), and that there are things on the moon (and that would be true), and that this is all I mean by “leaped up and landed on the moon” but that language obfuscation is irrelevant to the actual context of the sentence.

      I think at this point it is best to end the talk. Unless you are willing to work within the confines of the Jeremy scenario given, I simply cannot allow a pile of irrelevancies that are used to confuse others. If you want to continue on the path I asked, that is fine. If not, I hope you at least got some food for thought from our discussion – but I bid you adieu.

      Take care good sir.

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