Thanks for getting back to me. This should tip off an interesting discussion. I lose you at some points, or at least what the general purpose of a claim is. So we might both be getting lost in tangents.
My two thoughts would be:
1) How exactly do you conceive of your freedom of will? What is the source? How does it operate in the natural world (or is it supernatural?) Do animals have free will too, and if not, why do only high primates have it?
2) Then perhaps we can get into the neuroscientific studies that indicate that our apparent freedom is an illusion created by our brains.
Malleus Haereticorum wrote:
Now I have to ask you, what do you mean by "contra-causal" choices. For the sake of argument, grant that there is a "free will". Then that itself much be a faculty that is the cause of a free act, whether this is in a Cartesian framework (the idea that the soul is a ghost in a machine, the other thing that moves the body) or some other framework (whether the biological naturalism of Searle* or the hylomorphism that we Catholics hold)
The reference to libertarian metaphysics as entailing a contra-causal will isn't as clear in a universe that already has free will. On this idea, the 'soul' or mind or such is the source of choices as such sources are already supposed to exist. In that sense, it is the cause. When I use contra-causal, I mean instead that this soul purports to be able to disrupt the causal chains that necessarily exist to lead to genuinely open options.
This is more clear in the deterministic world, every thought would be governed by physical laws, moving in orderly and theoretically predictable ways, determining choices and so on. Everything in the universe would literally be part of a complex chain of causation. Yet the 'free will' would literally be able to disrupt the flow of causation and start a new branch. You could pick left or right, up or down. In the deterministic world, any choice would be causally determined in advance. So violating this, via the libertarian position, would be contra-causal. I hope that's more clear... Contra-causal is meant in this sense.
You speak of there needing to be a "place" for such a choice. I know many theists speak that way (they also treat divine intervention/providence the same way, trying to find a causal gap). But I believe they are very wrongheaded.
Right, something like a soul or the mind. A source that can somehow violate the laws of physics and insert new freedoms and choices into the world. Otherwise, what is the source of this mysterious freedom (that determinists do not believe exists)? I'm curious how you will interpret it alternatively.
We say God can no more commit evil than He can make a square circle, or make a thjstjsjytjw. That is, a square circle is nonsense, it isn't a thing.
Ah, ok. So it seems like you take it as a definitional truth that your God is only good, and thus cannot commit evil acts against his nature. This does seem somewhat in contrast with omnipotence, as I don't think the analogy with logic quite holds. We can't make sense of how your God could make a round square. But it's perfectly conceivable that your God could do things that you and I would call evil (as I claim the God character does quite often in, for example, the Pentatuach).
Now of course morals and ethics are not the most exact things....many actions can be good or bad, depend on circumstances, intention, etc. Now if something is inherently evil, then of course God can in no wise be the cause of the evil. Nor can He will it to be otherwise. Blasphemy is evil not because God said so, but because He is. Further, we speak of acts contrary to the natural law. What we mean by natural law is human reason's apprehension of our ends and natural tendencies, and its prescriptions and proscriptions that are made based on that (not on what monkey's, or eels do, but on our nature). If something is inherently contrary to the natural law, God cannot make it good without contradicting Himself. In other words, He made as such, and as such certain things are always bad. Same reason we say God cannot change the past. For Him to do so would mean that He contradicts what He previously willed.
A few separate points. Indeed I think that good and bad are just words we attach to certain actions, and sometimes differently. Your way to render some good and evil as natural and some as created (perhaps for rational reasons) is thus quite other. For example, I'm not sure what you mean by blasphemy, but I'm not sure in what sense it is evil.
Denying that something exists which does?
That could be based on ignorance, confusion, being raised in the wrong culture, lack of rational or other faculties. None of this is evil. They are just mistakes. If someone is directly rude and insulting your God, this is perhaps rude, but I don't know how it constitutes evil. Is anyone hurt? That is, I can't make sense of good and evil beyond affecting sentient creatures like humans and animals. If you blaspheme privately, how is that evil?
If God cannot change the past because he has previously willed it, he must have made perfect decisions, and not wish to change them (being omniscient about his future actions as well?) To me, this brings up the problem of evil, and the roundabout and unsuccessful attempt to intervene with scripture. These are rather separate points thought, and perhaps we should table them for now.
There are somethings that are wrong because God commanded it. But we have that in human law too. We might say reason suffices to say that it is wrong to drive unsafely, but what side of the road shall it be?
Right. We can distinguish between moral norms and conventional norms. Putting your elbows on the table isn't bad for the same reason stealing is. And obeying stop lights is about safety, which is arguably deeply moral. The color and location of the light and which side of the road is of course arbitrary, but the purpose of the practice is grounded in morality.
I do suspect that different terminology is going to be an issue here. I haven't heard the language of "first and second order volitions" in a while now. Correct me if I am wrong, but by that you mean the difference between "I want to go out with friends" and "I desire to want to go out with friends" (i.e. desire to stop being apathetic)
Yes, that's right.
Traditional philosophy generally distinguishes between "will" and "free choice" or as it is more frequently, but unfortunately rendered "free will" (which leads to some very funny sounding translated texts from Latin and Greek, such as Aquinas having a question about whether will and free will were the same faculty or two). The will concerns the end, free choice the means. The will necessarily is for happiness**, but is not determined insofar as somethings are not necessarily linked for or to one's happiness and insofar as not knowing everything, we don't always see what will make us happy, or at least the necessity of certain things. As an atheist, you are not going to see God as your end, and aren't going to choose things in order to obtain him, of course.
I would agree that the will is indispensable for life. It gives us a sense of personhood, gives us meaning, and separates us from non-sentient beings. So it is certainly part of what makes us happy. Our critical reflection and awareness of our ability to will things is what separates us from non-human animals. However, I would still see the freedom of 'free choice' as an illusion.
"Free will" (or better, free judgment, liber abritrium is the term Aquinas and Augustine use) comes from an affirmation of man's intellectual capacity and an affirmation of the contingency involved in the matters upon which he judges. Animals exercise a judgment too, but one from instinct and/or habituation, e.g. through training, as when a dog growls at every man because it had been abused by a man.
Aquinas had the following as a conclusion to a brief argument for free judgment.
But man acts from judgment, because by his apprehensive power he judges that something should be avoided or sought. But because this judgment, in the case of some particular act, is not from a natural instinct, but from some act of comparison in the reason, therefore he acts from free judgment and retains the power of being inclined to various things. For reason in contingent matters may follow opposite courses, as we see in dialectic syllogisms and rhetorical arguments. Now particular operations are contingent, and therefore in such matters the judgment of reason may follow opposite courses, and is not determinate to one. And forasmuch as man is rational is it necessary that man have a free-will.
I like the use of free judgment. Of course, I would maintain that for any freedom, I can provide an error theory for how this apparent freedom is actually an illusion. This is the stance of a great many philosophers and neuroscientists, though of course not all. So: being rational allows us to think, construct arguments, abstract away principles, makes choices. But all of these thoughts, arguments, and choices are pre-determined. We hear a logical argument in a book or at school, via sound waves and such. We internalize it, via deterministic laws. It changes the way we think about a certain topic. After considering something, we come to a new conclusion, again via deterministic law. The consideration and conclusion is a subconscious process that we have no control of, and moreover, one that happens deterministically. We then hear that conclusion in our active awareness, in our mind, and imagine we created it right then. But really the brain inevitably created that conclusion and then fed the results to our awareness.
So Aquinas's argument for free judgment is consistent with my error theory in a deterministic universe. As a result of the complete subjective ignorance of brain-phenomena, it is easy to come to the conclusion that we are free to choose, when we are only free to hear the options and then hear the conclusion that our brain has necessarily chosen for us.