How do I know that human behavior is not causally determined? Because all organisms are exclusively internally-motivated.

If consciousness is an illusion, why would you have a luggage tag?
If consciousness is an illusion, why would you have a luggage tag?

This came up in email, but I want to take on a piece of it here, because it’s interesting to me, and because it illuminates a discussion I had with The Cul-De-Sac Hero.

The question is, how can I say that “human behavior cannot be determined by anything other than free will” when people do such crazy, messed-up shit? Note please that I have never said that “human behavior cannot be determined by anything other than free will” — that’s the kind of loose terminology that leaves everyone lost — but do take full account of the context: The issue is not just everyday human spitefulness but the actions ensuing from mental illnesses.

So we need to have a language lesson first.

Determinism in philosophy is the doctrine that all human action occurs as the result of some prior unavoidable cause and is therefore itself causally unavoidable. (Note that the topic of discussion is human behavior, not The Grand Order Of The Universe. All of philosophy (and therefore all of scholarship) is about nothing but human beings and how they behave.) The primal determinist argument is watchwork physics: Every event in the universe for all of time is causally fore-ordained from the birth of the universe. The quantum mechanics swapped in chance for necessity. The social “scientists” trucked in determinist theories like wheelbarrows full of manure. Religion has always had a piece of this pie, but the big newsmakers, lately, have been neuro-biologists and evolutionary-charlatans — academics who try to figure out how to con cavemen.

Big yawn. Different town, same damn play: Whatever is the scientific consensus of the day, it is always the scientific consensus that human behavior MUST be determined by something (anything!) other than rationally-conceptual volitionality — informed discretion — free will.

Determinist theorists will try to tap-dance around this, but every damned one of them has “please return to” tags on his luggage, so you know without having to ask that each one of them believes that, should his bag go missing, the person who finds it (and each one of dozens of people in the succeeding chain of possession) can freely choose to return it to him, after first freely-choosing to undertake every necessary precedent step, with all of this activity being identified, considered, mediated and communicated in man-made notation systems, and with perfect performance being the blithely expected outcome rather than being an out-of-this-world improbable accident.

We are what we do. All determinists believe in free will. It is not possible to remain alive as a human being while hewing faithfully to the teleology implied by any determinist argument of human ontology. Determinists don’t uphold a belief in free will in their actions because they are intellectual hypocrites (though, of course, they are). They do it for the same reason everyone else does: Because acting upon other things as they are is how we stay alive, and acting upon them as they are not is a path to an early demise.

So two cheers for the determinists: They might be sleazy liars, but at least they are life-loving liars — and people who love being alive can be redeemed.

Meanwhile, the important thing to understand is that the idea of determinism completely precludes free will. If human behavior is caused by whatever (bogus) determining factor is cited, it is not caused by the informed discretion of the actor. He may think (how?) he is in charge, but this is just an illusion (the parsimonious purpose of which is to delude whom?). Instead, the determinists claim, he is a puppet or a robot or a ghost-in-a-machine, but his conceptually-informed discretion is not the cause of his purposive actions, and (plausibly) he cannot be held to be morally culpable for taking them. Details vary, and who really cares? Every con job is different, but the end game is always the same. This is obviously bullshit and no one acts upon these notions in real life, in any case.

Here is the counter-proposition I hear all the time — that if the human will is to be considered to be free, it could only be so if all choices were made without any non-conceptual influences or boundaries. This is the Straw Man Fallacy, insisting that free will does not exist by demanding that it exist in the absence any sort of existential context. “If birds could really fly, they could fly in an airless environment!”

Here is another form of the same general complaint, the issue with which we began this discursion:

If the purposive behavior of normal human beings (that is, genetic Homo sapiens within whom has been cultivated fluency in Fathertongue — in man-made abstract notation systems) is caused by rationally-conceptual volitionality — by free moral agency, by free will — why does so much of what other people do seem so irrational to you? It’s because they are weighing their choices in proportion to their values, not yours. You look nuts to them, too. Almost everyone looks nuts to me.

Why do other people seem sometimes to act in their own self-destruction? Most likely, it’s because they are trying to scourge their own minds, each one of them acting alone and for the most part invisibly to all other people, for not feigning to admire past behavior they know was inadmirable. The self is always acting upon itself reflexively, and each action it takes — the vast majority of which are solely introspectively observable — will either add to or subtract from the persistent mental self-image of the actor that is the idea of the self. Self-destruction is the punishment people visit upon themselves for having behaved badly, in their own judgement, according to their own self-abstracted hierarchy of values.

Why do they do things at certain times that they would never do at all other times? How can you say they are acting freely when, in that moment, they seem to be acting to destroy everything you would normally expect them to protect and defend?

Vide: Me:

But what about denigrations of your mind that are factually true? For example, can adrenaline in your bloodstream temporarily induce you to act out of proportion to your circumstances? Yes. Can pheromones goad you to dance horizontally with someone you should never even have danced with vertically? Yes. Can you make an error of perception in your apprehension of sense evidence, or can you make an error of knowledge in your reasoning about that evidence? Yes. Can you choose unwisely? Oh, yes! – especially when it comes to choosing whom to listen to about the nature of human nature.

You are most fundamentally a being of rationally-conceptual volitionality, but you are everything you are. Your thinking can be influenced by any number of external and internal factors. And your thinking, no matter how carefully you undertake the responsibility of thinking, can be in error. And, worst news of all, you can deliberately induce errors in your thinking, or pretend to, in order to rationalize saying or doing things that you know in advance are wrong – rationally unjustifiable according to your own standard of morality.

Does any of that make you fundamentally wrong? Impotent? Incompetent? Inept? Clumsy and chaotic? Diabolical? Corrupt? A dancing bear cannot actually dance, but it is beyond all doubt perfect in its expression of bearness. Why is so much of modern philosophy devoted to denouncing you for being so perfect, most of the time, in your expression of your humanity? Why is it always you who is flawed, deformed, bungled and botched? Why is your every glory portrayed as an ugly stain? Why would anyone ever create an artifact of the mind insisting that the universe would be a better place without any artifacts of the mind?

Normal human beings choose freely within the context of their physical and biological constraints, taking account of emotional, bio-chemical or other influences. Non-human genetic Homo sapiens (babies, toddlers and victims of birth defects or brain injuries) may select among options (as all organisms do), but they cannot choose by informed discretion, since this can only take place in Fathertongue — in man-made notation systems in the uniquely-human state of consciousness. Between those two extremes there can be folks who seem to straddle the line, even though, existentially, it’s probably more like an oscillating state — in and out of the human state of consciousness, with lots of interference in the signal from failing or intoxicated hardware.

That much is not terribly interesting to me, first because I’m concerned with the sicknesses of otherwise healthy people — the overwhelming majority — and not with extreme outliers. And second because, as a matter of philosophy, the problems presented by outliers serve to prove rather than to disprove my case: Normal human behavior is caused solely by informed discretion, by free will; whatever other influences may be at play, the actor can always choose to ignore them all and act for abstract principle instead. And even abnormal action by Homo sapiens (as with all action originating in all organisms) is solely internally motivated, with whatever appetites or influences that may be goading that action originating within the organism, with none of this being caused or initiated from outside that organism.

All organisms will. Human beings will freely. And none of this activity is determined in the sense that the determinists mean that term.

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