[I] Are Free Will and the Determinism of Science Incompatible?
In Minds, Brains and Science John Searle, a prominent American philosopher, argues that all mental phenomena are simply features of the brain because all mental phenomena are caused by processes going on in the brain. From this he concludes that humans have no free will. His argument can be
A. Any system that is simply a feature of physical and chemical laws is a deterministic system (“simply a feature” means only a feature).
B. The human mind is a system that is simply a feature of physical and chemical laws.
C. So the human mind is a deterministic system.
D. No deterministic system is a system that exhibits free will.
E. So no human mind exhibits free will.
Despite this argument Searle concedes that he cannot abandon the belief that he can do otherwise than he in fact does. Searle believes that this belief is genetically programmed into him. According to Searle having and acting on this false belief has some kind of survival advantage for the human species. The point of interest for this paper is that Searle believes that the truth of the free will thesis is inconsistent with the truth of a key
assumption undergirding the natural sciences. Searle’s view of this incompatibility isprevalent among contemporary analytic philosophers.
I will now argue that the argument A–E above is flawed because premise B is false. While it is true that any system that is simply a feature of physical-chemical laws is deterministic, it does not follow from this that every concrete realization of such a system is deterministic. To think that the determinism characteristic of the system in abstraction from the concrete applies to the concrete is an example of what Alfred North Whitehead
calls, “the fallacy of misplaced concreteness.”3 In order to explain this fallacy it is helpful to consider the relation between concrete events and scientific theories. We cancharacterize the relation in terms of
1. A law, statable in principle in terms of the primitives of the system, which asserts that if the relevant traits of the object(s) are in one state at one time they will be in another state at another time, or that if some relevant traits are in one state other traits will be in another state. I shall refer to the relevant traits as “state variables.”
2. Statements of initial conditions noting what is the case in the actual phenomena with respect to the state-variables used in the antecedent of the law.
3. Closure assumptions which are suppositions that traits of concrete objects that are not referred to in the law do not ever or do not always affect the interactions of traits that are referred to in the law.
(Homogenous closure assumptions are suppositions that the interrelations of relevant traits in one concrete object or system of objects can be adequately described withoutreference to the same traits of other concrete objects. Heterogenous closure assumptions are suppositions that the traits selected in the abstraction process are functionally independent of those traits of the concrete situation not selected. For example, in a study
of the Galilean equations of free fall motion of objects in introductory physics classes, the instructor asks the students to neglect the factor of air resistance, for it is a trait that
belongs to the concrete object that is deemed not important when one is dropping lead weights off of skyscrapers).
Source: Michael J. Degnan Department of Philosophy