Sunday, February 18, 2024

Genetic Determinism and Free Will

Aporia magazine tackles tricky genetic issues like this:
Warm and caring mothers tend to have more successful children, but this doesn’t necessarily mean there’s an effect of warmth and care. The problem is that warm and caring mothers tend to pass on the sorts of genes that are correlated with being warm and caring. Since people with such traits are often successful in life in other ways, we should expect kids raised by warm and caring mothers to be successful for environmental and genetic reasons. The question then arises: to what degree does each of these influences matter?

In an article in Aporia published last August, Curtis Dunkel mentioned the issue of genetic confounding with respect to supportive parental behaviors.

In other words, good parents have good kids by passing good genes, not by good parenting behaviors.

Sounds a little like genetic determinism. Another article attacks free will:

For libertarian free will not only does not exist, it is utterly incoherent. Many philosophers have eagerly made this point, but few with the panache of Friedrich Nietzsche:
“This causa sui is the best self-contradiction that has been conceived so far, it is a sort of rape and perversion of logic. But the extravagant pride of man has managed to entangle itself profoundly and frightfully with just this nonsense. The desire for ‘freedom of the will’ in the superlative metaphysical sense, which still holds sway, unfortunately, in the minds of the half-educated; the desire to bear the entire and ultimate responsibility for one’s actions oneself, and to absolve God, the world, ancestors, chance, and society involves nothing less than to be precisely this causa sui and, with more than Baron Münchhausen’s audacity, to pull oneself up into existence by the hair, out of the swamps of nothingness.”
What is more, even if libertarian free will were coherent, it would be undesirable, granting free will only in the way a mischievous genie grants wishes that go badly wrong in popular parables for children. Libertarian free will leads to absurd and unappealing consequences. ...

Libertarian free will is a metaphysical monster invented by philosophers to be hunted and slain by philosophers. A cynic might even contend that its very purpose is to keep philosophers employed by giving them something to refute.

Scathing attack. The article is titled, "in defense of free will". Go figure.

Most people believe in free will, and even believe free will is essential to the human existence. And yet all these smart philosophers reject it.

I understand why parents want to deny genetic influences. Child-rearing is hard work, and they like to believe that the work is doing some good. But why are philosphers so eager to reject free will?

The above complains that free will makes the "universe unpredictable not just in practice, but also in principle." Yes, right, and that is a good thing, not a bad thing.

There is no scientific proof or disproof of free will, so you can believe or disbelieve as you wish. You may choose to believe that you are a puppet in a predetermined universe, if you wish.


CFT said...

It is a shame that so many have so little clue what free will is.
Free will is not that it is unpredictable. This is a red herring.
Free will is that you deliberated a course of action and were able to take it.

If I leave a man in a burning building with only one exit, you can't say the man didn't exhibit free will because he used the predictable exit, and the man could have chosen to just stay there and burn to death while composing a dirty limmerick. Often in life there are few if any possible choices that are productive or beneficial. This isn't an indication of a lack of free will, only that useful choices are usually a much smaller subset of possible choices.

If I place a child in front of a math problem 1+1=?, the child has numerous choices.
If the child wants to get the piece of butterscotch candy the teacher is offering for a correct answer they answer '2'. If the child doesn't care, they might draw a spaceship taking off in the margins of the test paper (like I did). If the child has no idea of how to perform the arithmetic because they weren't paying attention since the whole enterprise seemed dubious, their answer might be 11 (like I also did), which is actually correct if you are treating the abstract numbers as actual scores of objects like the Romans did, for example, what does two apples look like? it doesn't look like the number two, it looks like two apples sitting next to each other.

The point is, circumstance usually requires certain choices if you want certain outcomes. The true question of free will is what happens when you keep telling the child they have no free will, how will they react?

I know what I did when such a thing was proposed in the guise of 'fate' or 'destiny': I laughed, called the teacher a mean poo-poo head, got off my seat and ran for the playground full tilt. When she rounded me up with a scolding, and sent me to the principal's office, I was coerced (tortured) on threat of imminent spanking to give an account of my actions. My response: If I have no free will, then it doesn't really matter whatsoever what I do since I'm just doing what I'm supposed to be doing no matter what, there is no choice in any case, so I went for it. The principal laughed (evilly I might add) and did something horrible, even worse than a spanking, or eating vegetables. For all my sincere efforts at accepting my fate, I got put in an advanced learning group. Destiny is a real bitch.

CFT said...

If there is no free will, there are no good choices, there is no judgement, since there is no choice. Whoever the imbecile who thought this was a good idea to tell small children was, I hope they had lots of kids, which would directly lead to the next silly existential question: What is hell...and does it employ minors?