Tuesday, May 28, 2013

How Should We Understand 'Feeling Free'?

(This post is meant to continue clarifying some problems with the contemporary discussion of determinism and free will which were mentioned here.)

   In the dispute over free will, I find an acknowledgement from all factions that we possesses a feeling of freedom. It is crucial to cultivate our discourse on this feeling, since it determines when the term 'free' is suitable.  And, while there is no doubt that we all have some feeling of freedom that allows us to speak of freedom (even to deny freedom), I am not sure that the same thing is always being spoken of.  Further, the standard that governs the discourse on free will has changed over time in a way that is less suited to topics, such as morality, that bring us to the discussion to begin with.
   I hope to get clearer on the standard for discussing human freedom, and help get this discourse back on track.
   Freedom is often understood relative to a feeling accompanying decisions. It is not clear that these resolutions of indecisiveness are helpful as the standard of freedom, and there is another potential standard of freedom that will seem more helpful as this discussion develops.
   We often find ourselves acting easily, and, without reflecting, knowing how to proceed. There is always some level of our activity that is arranged by an understanding of how to proceed; even when we are indecisive we have a mode of proceeding in getting ourselves back on track. When we consider this way of operating, it is not a mere connection of appearances, but a connection of possibilities and objectives along with a known technique and skill for operating. This knowledge of how to proceed, is a form of our experiencing the world and cannot be constructed from any mere aggregate of things. This 'knowing how to proceed' (or at least a portion of it) serves as another possible standard for human freedom.
   Choice results from a breakdown in our knowing how to proceed, and so stands in an important relationship to it. Understanding the context where freedom emerges as this break down constrains us to think of freedom in contexts where we are lacking in direction and thrown into the realm of trying to find our way again. In this context, the free act presents itself as the choice that resolves our indecisiveness and restores our feeling of knowing how to proceed. However, the choices we make are the result of either some discursive reasoning, or what seems to be impulse, and so if choice is taken as the paradigm of freedom we also tend to include this deliberation or spontaniety.  This is where choice as the standard of freedom introduces some problems.
   (Understand how rationalizing — an activity where we know how to proceed — returns us to knowing how to proceed in the some other domain is crucial, but I will leave this as a topic for the future.)
   Because we cannot admit real spontaneity (randomness) as freedom (since this would not place us in 'control'), we must look to the rationalization we put into making the choice. When we consider such rationalizations, we seem prone to only concern ourselves with gathering up facts and values. If we agree that our choice was by an aggregate of facts, then it was decided by something external to us; if it is our values, then we must either argue for the essential validity of our values, or give external reasons for their correctness, and in either case we will end up deferring to something else which has determined us, or something spontaneous again.
   From the above, it may seem like I am arguing against free will, but really I am trying to show how we cannot get back to our concerns with morality when we take the standard of freedom to be choice. When rationalizing is fetishized so that being a rational man means giving arguments, then the vast majority of our activities, which simply operate in the mode of knowing how to proceed, are removed from consideration, since these become unconscious, and even irrational.
   Sometimes knowing how to proceed is involuntary, such as times when we flinch, and these do not seem good candidates for our standard of freedom. However, there are times when knowing how to proceed comes explicitly with our agency being involved - when we experience a duty to act in a certain way.  
   The experience of duty is an experience of knowing how (we ought) to proceed, where the action is demanded of us. This sort of knowing how to proceed requires that we postulate ourselves as able to carry out the action under our own power. This phrase, 'under our own power', must be made clearer. If the action I take is considered merely as the result of some mechanism that continues outside of me, the agency must be attributed to all parties in the series of causes equally, or we must agree that by moral responsibility we think something akin to the results of hot potato (and perhaps some do, but I do not think those who say so are entirely clear about their experience of moral feelings such as responsibility, guilt and indignation towards others). In contrast, acting under our own power means considering a result as stemming from something that has no prior moment determining it, and also considered as resulting as an effect of us.
   Duty, or knowing how we ought to proceed, does not need to emerge due to deliberation — and usually does not. It also does not settle what will happen any more than our knowing how to proceed settles our success in the matter. However, knowing how we ought to proceed serves as our best standard for the suitability of applying the term 'free' to ourselves, since while we are experiencing it, we are implicated as agents (as able to produce effects by our own power). Now, this does not settle the 'reality' of free will, but it is the only standard we have for not only our acceptance and denial of this important concept, but also of its intelligibility.
   Even though when we know how we ought to proceed we are determined, it is not in a manner that thinks our connection to the mechanism of nature, and so we must cease trying to understand our freedom in terms of an indeterminacy which misses our concerns through randomness, or on the basis of rationalizing which must once again defer to something else or spontaneity. To be free is to be determined, however, to be more precise, self-determined, and the feeling most suited to grounding this is that of knowing how we ought to proceed.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Regarding Conflicts Between Science and Forms of Experience

   By 'forms of experience' (or forms of unity, forms of cognition, forms of order, or, simply, form) I understand the basic power (unities, orders, cognitions) we can speak of that make up our considerations of anything.  By 'forms of experience' I understand only primitive forms, not forms of things only knowable empirically; forms of experience concern only forms that are necessary, that is, where their possibility is sufficient to show their existence - things we cannot learn from experience, yet are required for experience.
   Because sciences are higher level organizations of what is given through our forms of experience, it is clear that all sciences are governed by forms of experience.  By being drawn from only some forms of experience, a science excludes consideration of other forms, or brackets them from consideration, which excludes concern with sciences grounded through other forms of experience.  Additionally, no science can undermine a form of experience, nor should it be considered rightful in any science to reject a form of experience.  This is because either a science has bracketed forms of experience, and so has no dealings with them,  or the science is developed out of those forms of experience, and so depends upon them.  (It is true that science first begin without a clear determining ground, but this does not mean that they do not depend upon this ground.)
   In spit of the relationship between forms of experience and sciences, confusion about this relationship leads forms of experience to be challenged by arguments drawn from the vantage point of certain sciences.  More often than not, these challenges really arise from conflicts between two sciences which are each grounded on different forms of experience, and seem to have incompatible concepts.  Compounding these difficulties is the apparent fact that many conceptions of a science are given the same name, and so different things are sometimes spoken of as equal.  The summation of all this is that many disputes that proceed along the lines of these perceived difficulties are chaotic and undisciplined (they  have no clear grounding principles).  In time I would love to address all of these difficulties, but for now I will restrict myself to clarifying the supposed conflicts between forms of experience and sciences, so far as these forms of experience lead to sciences that appear to compete.
   When someone is drawing from a science in order to reject a form of experience they are either:

a) demanding that the analysis we have carried out for some form of experience be clarified, since we have excluded possible experiences, or including impossible experiences, within the forms we have accounted for.  Or,

b) that the science is itself concerning forms of human experience.

In the former case there is no conflict of science, but if there is something excluded (or superadded) by our account of the forms of experience, then we have an excellent opportunity to improve our account of the forms of experience.  In the latter case, there will be a conflict of metaphysics (systems of forms of experience), and we can work to see if the basic principle of our forms of experience are compatible or not with the others suggested.  When comparing different systems of metaphysics we must decide if there are real conflicts, or if the conflict is ultimately over terminology and the structure of terms - a procedure that is beyond the scope of this essay.
   In my experience of philosophical disputes, a conflict between forms of experience is rarely acknowledged, and usually  a distinction between forms of experience and sciences is needful.  In order to illustrate this more common scenario, I will select an example that, I hope, will be familiar.
   Physics draws its basic concepts from some forms of experience of objects (of a possible experience), while excluding other forms of experience.  It is often supposed that freewill is in conflict with laws of physics.  I do not intend to resolve this debate here explicitly, but merely to show the landscape of the debate from the vantage point of the distinctions I have been articulating.
   If we grant that the science of freewill, which I will call praxology, is derived from forms of experience excluded by physics, then physics and praxology are not themselves in conflict; instead, we have a question concerning our understanding of forms of experience.  As we already noted, if a science has a concern with the accuracy of our articulation of the forms of experience, this conflict is to be understood as a demand to clarify, and once more explicate, our forms of experience - a practice that is always needful.  However, the debate rarely becomes this productive since the following circumstances are often in play:  someone thinking vaguely along the lines of physics - a science which is not, by its nature, interested in freewill - does not recognize that they have bracketed certain forms of experience which praxology depends upon, and concludes the absurdity of praxology.  At the same time, a praxologist who also does not see this bracketing will be unable to understand how their own manner of thinking is able to be rejected, but is also unable to justify it.  By ignoring the difference between forms of experience, and sciences, this arrangement will never lead to a productive discussion, but only confusion.  
   Praxology, understood along the lines of Kant's practical philosophy, depends upon a different conception of cause than physics does, namely the notion of a self-cause.   Cause and self-cause both form foundations for different manners of organizing knowledge, and their is no need to suppose that the discussion of either comes in to determine what the state of the other is.  I hope to face this particular example in greater detail soon in order to clarify the notion of a self-cause, but there is no room in the current essay for this.
   The arrangement above is not an attempt to describe disputes between sciences as empty, but as typically in a chaotic state.  There is a lot to be gained by coming to terms.  I hope that all of this suggest that when sciences come into conflict, and particularly when they come into conflict with forms of experience, there is a lot to consider in order to make sure that those who argue do not make a spectacle of themselves.  Unfortunately, the crowd who may recognize such a spectacle for what it is seems to be small, since it is far more common that these sorts of conflicts tend to divide people into factions immediately, and before any investigation into the origin of the dispute has been made.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Facing the Ambiguity of "the Good"

   In my experience, the platonic insistence that all things go towards the Good is polarizing: people either think it is either a very helpful or completely empty sentiment.  As one who finds talk of the Good important, I would like to attempt an apology.
   Frequently, those who find the Good useless as a theme, confront those who appreciate it with the question: "what is the Good?"  Those who are comfortable with the discourse about the Good are very happy to answer that it is indeterminate.  However, if this is as far as the conversation goes it is frustrating for everyone — especially if this same conversation repeats frequently.  How can something indeterminate be helpful?
   Rather than taking the Good as a peculiar fact claim or occult object, I think it is helpful to consider it an expression concerning the philosophical life.  The Good signifies the highest possible 'thing' to reflect on, and while I must leave this "highest possible thing" as something undetermined, I can at least say that the upshot of the discourse about the Good, and particularly that all things go towards the Good, is that there is nothing which is excluded from this highest reflection.
   Far from suggesting the discovery of some particular thing that everything is guided towards, those who concern themselves with reflection on the Good should be characterized as seeking to understand how all things relate themselves to what is best, even in conditions where we continually need to re-evaluate what Good is.  While it seems unhelpful to be guided in reflection by something unspecific as a particular, consider the following:  why do we not have this same concern with the 'all things' portion of the relation to the Good, since we clearly do now know what constitutes all things?
   When we hear 'all things' we do not see before us an aggregate  of all objects, but rather 'all things' serves to guide us in appropriating things into the context of reflection.  In the same way 'the Good' should not call to mind some particular Good, but rather should serve to guide our reflection over everything that is mediately good towards the hazy depths of whatever is good in itself.  The combination of 'all things' and 'the Good' in the claim that all things go towards the Good, leads to a connecting of the pursuit of our interests in the world, with our interest in how we are ultimately concerned with the world, and primarily claims that these two halves - the world and the best - are to be understood as best as possible together.
   The Good should stand as a constant reminder for much more difficult and pressing work than dispute over the term 'Good' being useful or not.  However, far from suggesting that anyone adopt the use of 'Good', I am rather trying to provide some direction back to concerns that we can all rightfully share in common whenever this discourse is causing fractures in philosophizing together.  These pursuits should be more important to us than simply defending the term 'Good', but when it is being used, those who have the will to understand should try to allow themselves to see that it is suggesting something that we all can and should participate in.