Review of Book about Aleister Crowley

Crowley: Thoughts and Perspectives, Volume Two
Edited by Troy Southgate
Black Front Press, London, 2011, 215pp, £10
ISBN 978-84830-331-7

It was late one afternoon, more years ago than I care to admit. I was working as an estate agent in South London, when an old beggar woman came into the front office. “Cross my palm with silver, Dearie,” she croaked in a strong Irish accent.

I glared at her from my desk. It was hard enough at the best of times to get potential clients or buyers to step through our door. The lingering smell she had brought of unwashed clothes and of the scabby, verminous body they no doubt covered was unlikely to help. “Get out!” I said, pointing at the door.

Her response was to shamble forward, a sprig of heather clutched in her hand. Thirty seconds later, she was steadying herself on the pavement. “You’re a wicked young man,” she called, “and you’ll be dead in two weeks – you mark my words.”

“Piss off!” I laughed, dusting my hands together, “or I’ll have the police on you.” Back inside I set about looking for the tin of air freshener we kept for when the smell of tobacco smoke became too oppressive.

This happened a long time ago – much longer than the two weeks I was given. It did not determine my view of the occult. It does, even so, illustrate a view I have held since about the age of ten. During the past four centuries, we have seen the world in semi-Epicurean terms as a great and internally consistent machine. To understand it, we observe, we question, we form hypotheses, we test, we measure, we record, we think again. The results have long since been plain. In every generation, we have added vast provinces to the empire of science. We do not yet perfectly understand the world. But the understanding we have has given us a growing dominion over the world; and there is no reason to think the growth of our understanding and dominion will not continue indefinitely.

We reject supernatural explanations partly because we have no need of them. The world is a machine. Nothing that happens appears to be an intervention into the chains of natural cause and effect. We know that things once ascribed to the direct influence of God, or the workings of less powerful invisible beings have natural causes. Where a natural cause cannot be found, we assume, on the grounds of our experience so far, that one will eventually be found. In part, however, we reject the supernatural because there is no good evidence that it exists.

Forget that horrid old beggar woman. Look instead at the Nazis. It seems that Hitler was a convinced believer in the occult. He took many of his decisions on astrological advice. It did him no visible good. He misjudged the British response to his invasion of Poland. He was unable to conquer Britain or to make peace. His invasion of Russia, while still fighting Britain, turned his eastern frontier from a net contributor of resources to a catastrophic drain on them. He then mishandled his relations with America. So far as he was guided by the astrologers, I hope, before he shot himself, that he thought of asking for a refund. It was the same with Himmler. Despite his trust in witchcraft, he only escaped trial and execution by crunching on a cyanide capsule made by the German pharmaceutical industry.

Turning to practitioners of the occult, I see no evidence of special success. They do not live longer than the rest of us. However they begin, they do not stay better looking. Any success they have with money, or in bed, is better explained by the gullibility of their followers than by their own magical powers.

So it was with Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) – the “Great Beast 666,” or “the wickedest man alive.” He quickly ran through the fortune his parents had left him. He spent his last years in poverty. Long before he died, he had begun to resemble the mug shot of a child murderer. Whether his claims were simply a fraud on others, or a fraud on himself as well, I see no essential difference between him and the beggar woman who cursed me in the street. He had advantages over her of birth and education. But he was still a parasite on the credulity of others.

Nor can I see him as a thinker or writer of any real value. The book that I am reviewing does its best to claim otherwise. Its varied essays are all interesting and well-written. Anything by Keith Preston, who wrote the fourth essay, is worth reading. Mr Southgate has done a fine job on the editing and formatting. But I found myself looking up from every essay to think what a terrible waste of ability had gone into producing the book. Was Crowley a sort of national socialist, or a sort of libertarian? Was he a sex-obsessed libertine, or did he preach absolute self-control? I suspect all these questions have the same answer. The overall theme of the book is that he was a penetrating critic of “modernity,” and each of its writers – all, in my view, men of greater ability than Crowley – has done his best to reduce a corpus of self-serving nonsense to a coherent system of thought.

The truth, I think, is that, beyond a desire to impose on everyone about him, Crowley had no fixed ideas, but he was too bad a writer for this to be apparent. Take these examples of his prose:

“We are not for the poor and sad: the lords of the earth are our kinsfolk. Beauty and strength, leaping laughter, and delicious languor, force and fire are of us…” [quoted, p.68]

“The sexual act… is the agent which dissipates the fog of self for one ecstatic moment. It is the instinctive feeling that the physical spasm is symbolic of that miracle of the Mass, by which the material wafer… is transmuted into the substance of the body.” [quoted, p.151]

In the second of these, he seems to show an influence of D.H. Lawrence – or of the sources that made Lawrence into another bad writer. In the first, he has certainly been reading too much Swinburne. I confess that I have not read anything by Crowley beyond the quotations in this book. Having seen these, though, I am not curious to look further. He was a nasty piece of work in his private life, and a victim of early twentieth century fashion in everything else.

But enough of Crowley. He is less interesting than those who think him interesting, and I will end this review by discussing them. There are, broadly speaking, two main strands in the opposition to the New World Order. Both agree about the emergence of a global ruling class that is both unaccountable to and hostile to the mass of ordinary people. Its political oppressions are mandated by a set of transnational and opaque institutions. It exploits us economically through several hundred privileged corporations, and through a fiat money system managed by half a dozen central banks. It discourages open discussion of its goals by spreading lies through the mainstream media and the schools and universities, and by imposing these lies through corrupted systems of law and administration.

Where these two strands disagree is the over the cause of the New World Order. For one, it is the final result of the Enlightenment. Rationalism has stripped from us all sense of the transcendent. It has left us alienated and atomised, and unable to throw off our oppressors, or even fully to appreciate that we are oppressed. The answer is to go back to the pre-modern sources of wisdom – whether these are religious or ethnic, or frankly mystical. It is to cast off the mirage of equality, and to embrace natural hierarchy. For the other strand, the enemy is a counter-Enlightenment. This is rolling back all the gains made since about 1650 – freedom of speech, freedom of trade, equality before the law, objective science, among much else – and replacing these with a restoration of the kind of system that has kept us, for much of our existence as a thinking species, from opening our eyes and looking properly about.

Now, I fall within this second strand. I believe that most philosophical and political wisdom is to be found in Epicurus, Sextus Empiricus, Bacon, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, John Stuart Mill, and the others of their kind. There are valuable insights beyond this progression. But these are the writers who asked the questions that matter. If their answers are often conflicting, they all dance close by the probable truth. The Enlightenment was our salvation. My only complaint about progress is that we have so far had too little of it.

I think there is a necessary connection between my philosophical and my political views – libertarians and scientific rationalists: if you are one, you need also to be the other. But the geography of the human mind is too complex for lines to be drawn where I think they ought to be. Not every scientific rationalist is a libertarian. Not every mystic or reactionary is an authoritarian. There are admirers of Crowley – and of Friedrich Nietzsche and Julius Evola, and of Hegel and de Maistre, and of many other thinkers for whom I have no time – who are libertarians in the only sense that matters. I see no point in exploring their motivations, as these are both mixed and continually shifting. But, if they do not share my opinions as I have explained them, they are undoubtedly committed to a radical scaling back of the established order, or to its complete overthrow. And they do not share my dislike of the New World Order because they are not in charge of it. Their traditionalist utopias are not mine. But they will not conscript me into them. They do not wish to stop people like me from living as we please.

The two strands of the opposition may never agree about the significance of Aleister Crowley, or about the primacy of scientific rationalism. But there is much else to discuss. In particular, there is much that each can gain from trying to understand the assumptions and concerns of the other. And there is much generally to be gained if conventional libertarians can reach out and give moral support to the decentralist tendencies within traditionalism. I may not be impressed by the subject of this book. But I am impressed by the ability of its writers.

Sean Gabb’s novel, The Churchill Memorandum, comes out in e-book on the 1st April 2014. His next novel, The Break, comes out in hard copy and e-book on the 2nd June 2014.

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116 responses to “Review of Book about Aleister Crowley

  1. The above is not the view of Epicurus (at least Epicurus does not have the reputation of holding this view – the man died thousands of years before I was born, so I can not know for certain what his view was) – he did not hold that everything was a mechanical series of causes and effects (a giant machine), on the contrary he was famous for his view that random the “swerve of the atom” made free will (i.e. the ability to choose to do otherwise) possible. Indeed that a human being could choose to do otherwise (and was thus morally responsible for their actions) was at the heart of the philosophy of Epicurus. He wanted to convince people to live in a certain way – and held that people could change their way of life, if they choose to do so.

    We are not clockwork mice on the floor – we are human BEINGS who can choose what we do (choose to do otherwise), that is the heart of our moral responsibility, and it why the moral freedom of human beings is (contrary to Thomas Hobbes) fundamentally different from the “freedom” of water when a dam is blown up. Freedom is NOT just the absence of external restraint (the dam has exploded, the water is now “free” to crush towns and so on), human freedom is the ability to CHOOSE (to do otherwise), human freedom (the freedom of human beings – agents, free will beings) is agency.

    Otherwise human freedom has no moral importance what-so-ever (indeed it would be a bad thing – like an exploding dam) and human beings (the reasoning “I”) do not, properly speaking, exist.

    Someone who takes such a view of philosophy (and, I repeat, Epicurus does not seem to have taken such a view), must (at least privately) regard libertarianism as an utter absurdity – as he has rejected the philosophical principle (the ability to choose to do otherwise – the freedom from a “machine like” chain of cause and effect) that libertarianism is based upon.

    Modern science is also not entirely deterministic – otherwise neither QM (in physics) or chaos theory (in mathematics) would be part of the modern scientific world view (and they are part of it).

    Of course, as Ralph Cudworth (and many others) have pointed out, randomness is not agency. It is not enough to say that not everything is determined by a series of causes and effects in a “machine” like way – one must openly nail one’s colours to the mast of agency (the ability to choose to do otherwise) – and there is nothing “mystical” in that (as Cudworth also pointed out).

    As for Mr Crowley – I know little of him or his work, but (oddly enough) a near neighbour is a bit of an expert on the man.

  2. westernesse

    As Karl Popper tells us, Newtonian physics is not deterministic.

  3. Out of curiosity, Dr. Gabb, what are your religious beliefs?

  4. Sean:

    Crowley had an interesting life–a large part of which was lived in reaction/retaliation for his upbringing at the hands of the Plymouth Brethren.

    As for the value of his life–if your “rationalist” views are correct none of our lives are worth shite or have the slightest meaning in the scheme of things. As for what of Crowley’s life achieved–well he wrote books–which is what you do.

  5. I was curious as to whether or not you were a Christian.

  6. I am not an atheist, but many atheists believe that humans are beings, that we can choose to do otherwise.

    If all our actions are predetermined by a series of “machine like” cause and effect going back to the start of the universe, then humans are not beings (not agents), and our “freedom” has no more moral importance that the “freedom” of a wound up clockwork mouse when one has taken one’s hand off it.

    Moral freedom is not just the absence of external restraint – it is the capacity to choose, to do otherwise (agency). That is why the freedom of a human being is a fundamentally different thing than the “freedom” of water when a dam has been blown up. The water can not choose not to crush a town and kill the people (the water is not an agent – it has no free will, no moral responsibility ), a person (a human being) can choose whether or not to hurt someone else.

    This is the basis of libertarianism – not just philosophical, but moral and political also.

    And no, the “compatiblist” tap dance solves nothing, as it is saying that two incompatible things agency (moral freedom) and the predetermination of all actions are “compatible” and they are NOT.

  7. Dr Sean Gabb “I am Anglican”.

    Does this mean that you believe in the survival of the individual soul after the death of the body? In individual salvation and eternal life – by the grace of God.

    Yes or no?

  8. Ecks-

    Why should we expect that our lives have a meaning in the grand scheme of things? We exist. That is all we can say. Why isn’t that enough?

    • Julie near Chicago

      Ian, as best I remember:

      “People ask what is the use and the meaning. I as the use and the meaning. That I lived, and that I acted.”

      –Ayn Rand’s character Howard Roark, in The Fountainhead.

      It is enough. But it is still a bitter truth, until one accepts it at the deepest level of one’s being. After that … it doesn’t matter so much: The purpose of a person’s life is to be lived.

      [LIVED, not just "survived": lived so as to maximize one's experiencing of his life as being worth the living, lived in such a way as to maximize one's health (which is one's well-being) both physically and psychologically/emotionally/spiritually.]

  9. Paul-

    So far as I can tell, you’re saying that the only justification for liberty would be that humans somehow exist outside the laws of science and indeed rationality, by being somehow neither deterministic nor non-deterministic.

    I’m not sure that basing our ideas on being magical creatures is much help in the long run.

    The only two possibilities for the evolution of a state machine from (say) state A to state B are that it is either deterministic (state B is consequential of state A) or random (state B is not consequential of state A). That covers the whole gamut of possibilities. There isn’t anything else. It is the same as saying this; a person is either in Kettering or not in Kettering. That covers every possible location of the person. You can’t then say, “there is another state in which the person is neither in Kettering nor not in Kettering”. It’s a logical impossibility. That’s the problem your hypothetical “agency” thing has. It’s literally impossible.

    The strange part for me is the assumption that any creature which works by normal physical principles is not entitled to liberty. The one just doesn’t follow from the other.

    Anyway, we know that the brain is a machine, so it’s some mix of deterministic and random. Either we can justify liberty on that basis, or we may as well give up on it. Not that there’s any reason to abandon liberty, but you seem to think there is, which I find baffling.

    • Julie near Chicago

      Ian, yes, except that I’m not 100% convinced that there IS any such thing, in Actually-existing Reality, as a proper referent of the word “random.” For an event to be “random” in what I might call the strong sense, it would have to be causeless, because (as is implicit in your argument) it would have to be beyond our understanding even in principle. (There are various interpretations of the epistemological or metaphysical implications of QM, and not all of them include randomness in the strong sense. And that is only to the extent that QM is a correct theory.)

      [There is (as you probably know) a slightly narrower, technical meaning of "randomness" for mathematicians, physicists, and maybe some philosophers: A state (state-of-affairs, condition, event, phenomenon) is "random" if and only if there is not (and cannot be) any algorithm which would yield the resultant state sooner or later.]

      A phenomenon is random to Joe Blow only if he can’t see what set of factors could have determined it. Which usually means that he himself couldn’t have predicted it, and doesn’t entirely see how anybody else could have done so either.

      Of course, maybe J.B. does believe in miracles strictly speaking: Events whose only cause is divine interventon, which cause by definition lies outside of our human understanding of the cause-and-effect, rational universe in which we seem to find ourselves. It seems to me that the random and the miraculous would thus be the same thing, just seen or described from somewhat different points of view.

      The point of all of which being that I would edit your statement to this: “The brain is a machine (whose workings are therefore deterministic), period.”

      Of course, if one does believe in true randomness, if QM is properly interpreted as exhibiting true randomness, or if there really are miracles, we have to use your unedited statement.

      But neither randomness nor miracles give us free will as conventionally understood nowadays.

      And YrsTrly also addressed the issue over at CCiZ, if you can bring yourself to look (without responding there, I do understand). “Might We Have Free Will?”

      • I’m inclined to agree with all of that, Julie. I was just saying that “deterministic” and “random” cover the entire gamut of possibilities, whether or not “strong” randomness actually exists in nature or not. QM currently demands a belief in strong randomness, but I am cautiously sceptical and think a better interpretation will come along some day, possibly due to a deeper ontology. My attitude is mirrored by something I saw written by someone much cleverer (and properly qualified) than me in a complicated online discussion about QM, which was something like, “Bell’s Theorem is telling us something very profound, but we haven’t realised what it is yet”.

  10. Probably (maybe?) a majority of libertarians are determinists of the kind Paul describes. They seem to get along fine without free will as the moral, philosophical and political basis of libertarianism. The compatabilist tap-dance is not just something dreamt of by philosophers – it’s what most people naturally experience when confronted with a paradox.

    “Social justice” warriors are also probably, in the main, determinists. Not sure this accounts for their preference for “to explain is to excuse” though.

    We are determined to have free will… and if we just keep trying we’ll get there eventually !

  11. Well, shamelessly cribbing Wikipedia for quotes, I’m pretty much with Schopenhauer-

    “”Man can do what he wills but he cannot will what he wills”.

  12. IanB: “Why should we expect that our lives have a meaning in the grand scheme of things? We exist. That is all we can say. Why isn’t that enough?”

    It might be enough for you–T’aint enough for me.

  13. If you are wanting some “justification” for liberty there is none to be found. Either in religious belief or humanist malarkey. Liberty, like tyranny, comes from the barrel of a gun–or better yet something the size of a box of Milk Tray that goes up with the force of 100 Hiroshimas.

  14. Ian – Arthur S. was an interesting one.

    He says that what one does is determined by one’s character BUT one can alter one’s character – which means that (indirectly and over time) one can alter how one responds to a given situation. Cultivate good habits.

    As for agency being outside “rationality” – agency IS rationality.

    Clock work mice are not rational, a wall of water from an exploded dam is not rational.

    Humans are – or can be, SOME OF THE TIME.

    Humans can be beings – agents. A reasoning “I” – not just an “it”.

    That is the basis of reason – that is what reason is.

  15. By the way Ian – I have already said that some atheists (i.e. materialists) stand with agency (with free will – moral responsibility, the ability to choose).

    Someone can be a materialist without being a determinist.

    Indeed if one could NOT be a materialist without being a determinist – this would refute materialism.

    I would love that – but, sadly, it is not the case.

  16. Paul, I don’t accept the point that only a non-deterministic agent has agency in the sense of moral responsibility. That is, I think that on that matter the gubbins of how we work as physical beings doesn’t matter very much. Since I have a capacity for moral action (nobody would deny this, with the exception perhaps of Aleister Crowley) that is sufficient. I am probably in this regard not being philsophically deep enough, but for me sufficient qualification is the ability to understand a moral system, which I, and you, and even Crowley can do. I thus do not apply moral judgements to animals, or humans who are profoundly mentally disabled. That is my working definition of agency, and I think it’s good enough.

    Adolf Hitler was capable of understanding that it is wrong to kill a human being. A lion is not. I blame Hitler, but not a lion. But like I said, this probably isn’t sufficiently deeply reasoned for philosophical purposes, so feel free to shoot me down.

    • The interesting question (particularly for libertarians) then becomes how much agency is sufficient; which all societies have wrestled with when dealing with citizenship rights and criminal/moral responsibilty when dealing with children, the mentally disabled and ill, the senile etc.

      I’d like to see more discussion among libertarians regarding this “quantitative” issue of agency; particularly in a society that has things like an age of criminal responsibility/sexual consent and which locks people up for being diagnosed mentally ill, etc. Libertarianism is a fabulous system for moral agents to apply in our interactions. The interesting question is how we decide who qualifies as one, and what one does about those who don’t.

  17. Julie near Chicago

    Ian, that’s because libertarianism is the political application of metaphysics, epistemology and moral philosophy, informed by history and economics. It’s an attempt to figure out a political system that will work well, albeit never perfectly. It’s an “applied philosophy,” in the sense that “applied mathematics” is mathematics as put to use in science but, especially, in engineering.

    The question you pose at the end is the toughie. :>(

  18. The question you pose at the end is the toughie.

    It is, but it’s these tough questions we need to get to grips with in order to appear plausible to others. ANd, indeed, to be comfortable with ourselves. It seems to me that often libertarians- being heavily focussed- tend to dwell on economic answers, so we talk about private healthcare, friendly societies, etc in dealing with the “vulnerable”. But the issue of who has agency is profound. It’s an important matter in dealing with children in a libertarian society, and an immense problem in my opinion looking at the history of the “therapeutic” treatment of persons in the 20th century. The State has said, “if we think you are not a competent agent, we can lock you up and impose treatment upon you. Indefinitely.” This is profound, for libertarians.

    Consider, for instance, an anorexic. Perhaps a friend, or family member (presume for simplicity they are of an age above majority). They won’t eat. If they continue doing this, they will die. Yet the are apparently sane; they are not delusional and are aware of what not eating will do to them.

    Do we respect them as agents, or do we intervene? What rights do they have, and do others have any right to intervene, or not? It’s a difficult one.

  19. Ian you can refuse to accept that A is A – but this does not alter the fact that A is A.
    Your very act of “refusing to accept” is an act of agency.
    Agency IS rationality (is reason). There can be reason (including no science) without agency. Just as there can be no A without A.

    As for the idea that the idea that there can be moral responsibility without agency (without free will), that is just an absurdity. Like saying “there can be A without A”.

    “It is a very hard question to decide who has agency” (i.e. who has rationality) – yes indeed it is (quite so).

    However the correct answer is NOT “nobody has agency – agency is impossible”.

    If that were the case there would be no moral reason for the state not to lock up everyone, indeed not to simply exterminate everyone.

    After all one would not be dealing with people (with human BEINGS) – so actually it would be a mistake to talk of “everyone” as there would be no “ones” only THINGS.

    Human shaped robots – things that looked human and talked and moved about as-if they were human, but actually were not humans ( these flesh robots would be obscenities – abominations).

    And, of course, there would no point trying to cure insanity – as there would BE NO SUCH THING AS SANITY.

    So the hundreds of thousands of people left on American streets (due to the “humane” policy of closing mental hospitals) would be left to die there (what it matter if they die – if human beings do not exist?).

    Of course eventually they are locked up – but not in hospitals (no serious effort to cure them).

    They are locked up in prisons (where they fight each other – and so on) – the largest concentration of mentally ill people in the United States is the Cook County (Chicago) prison.

    Why try and cure insanity? If there is no such thing as sanity? No such thing as agency?

    So just lock up the flesh robots (who are not people – because there are no such things as persons) and watch them tear each other to bits – that is the modern “humane” view, which is not humane at all.

  20. Paul, the point is that what you are there describing as agency is just action. Which is a consequence of the brain acting according to the laws of physics, that is in a deterministic manner. Any suggestion that agency is anything else is basically an appeal to magic.

    And this-

    As for the idea that the idea that there can be moral responsibility without agency (without free will), that is just an absurdity. Like saying “there can be A without A”.

    -so far as I can interpret it, you mean to mean that there can be no moral responsibility without this “magical” agency that somehow operates outside of physical laws. I see no use in such an assertion, since we know that the brain is indeed a physical system.

    As to robots, I can certainly imagine a conscious one, though nobody has come close to inventing such a thing yet. In which case, we would indeed have to accord it rights and all the other considerations we apply to other conscious agents. I don’t have a problem with that. It seems perfectly logical to me. If you disagree with that, how would you distinguish a conscious robot from a conscious human? What would you tell it when it demands its freedom? To where in the mechanism we call a “brain” would you point to demonstrate this quality of non-deterministic agency that the lesser robot’s brain does not have?

  21. Julie is quite correct – libertarianism is based upon (is) a metaphysical belief.

    Not just philosophically – but ethically and politically also.

    And (as Julie also knows) there is nothing wrong with metaphysics.

    As Karl Popper pointed out (at great length) in his refutations of the Logical Positivists of the Vienna Circle, there is nothing “anti scientific” (let alone “irrational”) about metaphysics. Indeed as both Karl Popper and Joad (see his “A Critique of Logical Positivism”) pointed out, rationality depends upon “metaphysics”.

    There is nothing “anti scientific” about this – not at all, indeed science (all reason) depends upon it.

    “But does not materialism (atheism) depend upon determinism?”

    Well if it did I would be very pleased – as this would not prove determinism, it would refute materialism.

    Sadly this does not seem to be the case……….

    It is perfectly possible to say (for example) to say “human beings do exist, we are agents – but our agency (the soul – in the Aristotelian sense) dies with the body”.

    This is very sad (and I hope it is NOT true) – but there does not appear to be any logical contradiction in saying……

    “Yes people (human beings) exist – we have agency (moral responsibility), but our agency (our selfhood – our free will, our rationality) dies with the body”.

  22. Ian – on your point about a robot with agency (consciousness – selfhood) many have argued it is possible.

    This would mean that the robot was a person – was an agent (had free will, agency, moral responsibility).

    The robot would not be a “human” (not a member of our particular species) – but would be a “being”.

    The same as if an intelligent race of aliens was discovered. They would not be humans – but they would be beings.

  23. I don’t know what you mean about metaphysics, Paul. What we are entitled to believe in is constrained by reality. Reality is a realm of objective facts. I am not entitled to believe that the Moon is made of cheese, in an intellectual sense. I am entitled in the sense of rights; I can believe whatever I want. But I cannot base a philosophy on the Moon’s cheesiness and be intellectually justified. Because the Moon is not made of cheese.

    Likewise I am only entitled to base any philosophy of human nature based on what human nature actually consists of. And in this particular case, it is the nature of a physical mechanism (the brain) which operates under physical laws.

    So it’s no good basing libertarianism on something which is not true, and that includes ascribing natures to the brain mechanism which it does not have. It acts, it makes choices, it has agency. Whatever. But there is nothing metaphysical, or non-deterministic, about that. I remember when my mother’s cancer was much advanced and she had brain tumours. One could see the physical malfunctions manifesting profoundly in her behaviour- in her “being”, in her “nature”. She became, literally, a different person. There was no soul, or other metaphysical thing, holding her “consciousness” separate from the physical mechanisms of her brain. There was just the machine, going awry.

    To accept this does not lessen a person or reduce their personhood. It is just what we all actually are.

    • Jericho One

      Politicos (and even some idealistic scientists) make the same mistake as their Christian predecessors by asserting that the mind is somehow a separate entity from the physical body (a soul?) and that human nature is inherently good; corrupted only by culture and materialism etc..

  24. Ian you keep you using the word “I” – you fail to see that the word “I” is meaningless if there is no such thing as an agent (no such thing as an “I”).

    As for reality – reality starts from self awareness (selfhood – personhood).. To deny agency (free will – the existence of the reasoning “I”) is to deny the most basic reality of all.

  25. By the way to say that a thought does not mean a thinker (a reasoning “I”), as some philosophers have claimed, is just wrong – flat wrong. It is a fundamental mistake – as is “compatiblism” (which is the statement that two totally incompatible things, all actions being predetermined without choice, and moral responsibly, are compatible – they are not compatible they are fundamentally opposed).

    A thought does mean a thinker – a reasoning “I” (an agent). To deny this is to deny the foundation of science (of reason) for it is to deny the existence of the reasoner (the thinker and his, or her, observation of their own existence – their introspection, which is not an “illusion” for who is having the “illusion” if the person, the self aware agent, does not exist).

  26. By the way it is also odd that liberals push radically anti liberal philosophy.

    For example one of the Westminster Review crowd (I forget his name – I am just off a 12 hour shift), paid for a copy of the works of Thomas Hobbes to be placed in every library.

    The gentleman failed to grasp that if you reject libertarian philosophy (the philosophy of the Old Whigs based on the capacity of humans to be beings, to choose what they do and do not do – at least to some extent, some of the time, the philosophy of thinkers such as Ralph Cudworth) and embrace the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes (determinism – and the belief that the “freedom” of humans, who are NOT beings to Hobbes. is no different from the “freedom” of water when a dam is blown up) then you end up with the politics of Thomas Hobbes – tyranny. For the politics of Thomas Hobbes follow quite logically from his philosophy.

    • Julie near Chicago

      Paul, I have wondered about this. I see a lot of claims that Hobbes is in the Short-List of Classical Liberals. Huh??? Hobbes, Hume, Locke, Mill Jr. Usually Adam Smith.

  27. Paul, I don’t agree. The word “I” does describe agency. But that just means some thing (myself) describing myself. It does not follow that

    “all actions being predetermined without choice, and moral responsibly, are [incompatible]”

    Moral responsibility is simply assigning who did what. If I invent some mechanism that is self guiding, and it does something (say, a self-driving car, it runs into your greenhouse) we can assign it responsibility. We can say, the car drove into your greenhouse. The car did it. That’s all we need to know.

    And like I said, brains are mechanisms, so that’s what we’re stuck with. There isn’t anything “deeper” to discover. Your argument seems to be that you don’t like things being that way, so therefore they can’t be that way, but all I can reply to that is to shrug and say, “that’s how things are”.

    You also seem to think that a mechanism cannot have introspection or self awareness. That is, again, falsified by the fact that I am one, and I can do these things.

  28. Julie near Chicago

    Just as a technicality, Ian’s final paragraph above is a perfect example of “begging the question.” I’m sure Ian knows this, but just as nobody seems to understand parts of speech anymore (“like” is NOT a conjunction), there seems to be a general belief that “begging the question” means “RAISING the question of,” “bringing up the question of,” etc. It matters, because “begging the question” is a logical fallacy snuck in as a step of an argument — a step that’s fallacious precisely because it assumes the conclusion.

    It’s like arguing that “all swans are white, because if a creature weren’t white, it wouldn’t be a swan.”

    Apologies, Ian: Nothing personal in this, it just struck me as a perfect example for any Unenlightened among us (which I do not believe includes you).

    Ahem. :>( We now return you to your regularly-scheduled program.

  29. “Paul I do not agree”.

    ;And, if you not person, why should I care?

    Also you continue to use the word “I” – which is not legitimate for a determinist (i.e. the position that there is no “I” – that it is an “illusion”, although it is never explained who is having the illusion if there are no persons).

    If you are not a person you can neither “agree” or “disagree”.

    Indeed you would simply be a piece of meat – a food source. Nothing more.

    However, you are MISTAKEN.

    You do exist Ian.

    You are a reasoning agent.

    And it would, therefore, be wrong for me to eat you.

  30. Julie, I don’t agree. I meant it more like somebody saying that the laws of physics say a bumble bee can’t fly. So I point at an actual bumble bee and say, “well, there you go”.

    I know some things about reality. We are all agreed here, I would imagine, that there is an objective reality which can be perceived by the senses. I know that brains are mechanisms, and I know that brains are capable of introspection and self awareness. So, “well, there you go”. So if, as I understand Paul is saying, a mere mechanism cannot do these things, we wouldn’t be here having this debate.

    Overall, I just don’t see the point of trying to claim a right to liberty on the basis of something which does not actually exist (a special, unique “get-out” which makes brains neither deterministic nor random).

    The point here perhaps for me is that the whole concept of “free will” arose as a theological issue; a way to have a Universe which is entirely God’s creation, but in which the actions of humans are not His responsibility. If the Universe is deterministic, and God set the initial conditions, then my sin was His doing. (This is the total pig’s ear Calvin got into, by the way, with his “election” nonsense). So theologians had to provide an alternative. But not being scientists, they didn’t have to define that “free will” alternative in anything other than a theological manner. So that made man responsible for his sin.

    But I don’t actually think we need to worry about that in a non-theological discussion. We don’t need to be interested in “ultimate” blame. All we need outside that context is to practically know who did what, in order to apply some pragmatic law system. Kind of thing.

  31. Paul,

    It really doesn’t follow that my being a being that operates according to the laws of physics means I am not a person.

    Effectively what you’re doing here is a kind of Hume’s Evil Twin, of trying to derive an “is” from an “ought”, which is probably even more futile than trying to get an “ought” from an “is”.

  32. Julie near Chicago

    Back on topic: With the exception, perhaps, of a few tweaks here and there, I believe Ian is right throughout this discussion.

    So I will focus on another aspect of the issue….

    It really is necessary to refine or to slightly alter our understanding of a term or a concept from time to time, as our present understanding turns out to be EITHER in contradiction to other elements of the abstract logical systems of which the term or concept is a part, OR in contradiction with something in observed, actually-existing reality; OR BOTH (as will always turn out to be the case when the logical system is built as a part of understanding reality — that is, of grasping rationally some aspect of reality).

    Let us suppose that we live in a time and place where there is a general understanding that when a person suddenly starts flopping around uncontrollably like a beached fish, flinging his limbs about, arching and contorting his back, etc., etc., he has become possessed by a demon and must be either exorcised or killed (depending on the theory of possession in that time or place).

    But now, along comes someone (or several someones) who say, No–this person is undergoing a physical malfunction of his nervous system (which you will know more about if you manage to survive for another 500 years), exorcism won’t fix it (appearances to the contrary are in fact pure coincidence) because “demons” in your sense don’t exist, and it is cruel, immoral, and unjust to murder this poor person whose machinery has gone awry.*

    Unless people are able to reinterpret certain aspects of their conceptions of human functioning or of other elements of reality, they will not understand this statement. — What! You are telling us demons don’t exist? Are you saying there is a mundane, rational explanation for this benighted person’s soul having been driven out of his body and that body’s having come under the control of a demon? Nonsense! If demons didn’t exist, such things could not happen! And what do you mean by describing a person, and his obviously real, ineffable soul and will and being as “machinery”!!!

    So, historically, most Westerners did come to alter, or to re-interpret the meaning of, their conceptions. A “new paradigm” (to get unnecessarily fancy-schmancy) or world-view came into being as a given Joe Blow replaced the “demons” in his previous conception of convulsions with “epilepsy.” Which, as we know, involves a malfunction of the nervous system–the part of the “machinery” that carries electrical signals.

    As another example, in the 1500-1600′s it became necessary to re-interpret our understanding of the word (or concept) “number” to include imaginary and complex numbers.

    In the same way, we can re-interpret our understanding of the concepts of “free will” and of “moral responsibility.” In this way we can continue to understand the universe–Reality–as rational, one in which events, phenomena, existents have causes.

    A Free Will in the traditional or conventional, but non-Judeo-Christian, sense would necessarily be a First Cause, because by definition it would not be determined by, i.e. controlled by, anything external to itself. But that would also mean that it is outside the control of “its” particular human being, the actual human person it “inhabits.” It is like the earlier demon; it comes out of nowhere to decide and control the actions of the person, for good or ill … and in fact we commonly call the PERSON “good” or “evil” based on what he does as determined by this demon … and by ascribing Freedom to this Will, we put it beyond the reach of any constraint, any determinant, any Cause. But unfortunately, “we” (persons, selves) are not responsible for the Causeless. By definition, nobody and nuttin’ is responsible for the Causeless, because the Causless HAS no cause.

    Instead, consider the “will” as a characteristic attribute of each human being which we can consider conceptually separate from his other attributes, such as emotions, reason, mentation generally, and more, but which in fact is as much a result of the physical system that constitutes the physical person as is any of these others. The person is held accountable for his actions — that is, he morally responsible for what he does — just as much as he was under the older and possibly more intuitive conception of the will: HE is the existent phenomenon which did what he did, and was not completely constrained by any external factors to do as he did.

    *It’s an unfortunate fact that this line of argument can be extended to support certain librul (and therefore, as indicated by the spelling, misguided) beliefs. In such cases, the question arises as to whether the extended arguments are in fact correct or valid.

    But I say again, if one has a traditional religious conception of the Soul, its origin, and its nature, one might construct a rationally coherent metaphysics and epistemology around that postulate. It is unfortunate that some people who loudly proclaim themselves advocates of Reason First have so little understanding of the nature and necessity of logical postulates, and so little regard for a given person’s experiencing of the evidence of his own senses, that they feel free to deride the religious as believing in “fairies.” (Not that there’s anything wrong with fairies. Ask Madeleine Bassett.)

    By the way, Ian’s analogy of the misbehaving car is very good. I’ve been trying to construct just such an analogy myself for a very long time, but have always gotten hung up on the fact that a car has a driver, and people are going to interpret that driver as standing for the “will,” and as such maintaining its separateness from the rest of the system, which is the car. In other words, car and driver are naturally distinct and separable, so the analogy won’t work without pages and chapters of explication on the nature of the driver within that system.

    Ian dispenses with all that very neatly. It doesn’t matter “why” the car did it: The car did do it, it’s responsible, and if we don’t understand why it turns itself off & on like that, and occasionally runs amok, ruining good greenhouses and all, and can’t seem to fix it, we sell it or junk it as a low-down, no-good, sorry excuse for a robotic automotive vehicle. It’s a bad car, and no mistake.

  33. Ian – you have repeatedly said that you do not believe in agency (i.e. personhood, free will, the ability to choose to do otherwise).

    If there are no such things as agents (persons) you can not be one. Something whose every action is predetermined by a series of cause-and-effect going back to a the start of the universe is not a person (period).

    By the way trotting out “science” as an argument in this regard is an error – as many people who have actually studied physics (rather than just assume that “science says…..”) could tell you.

    However, randomness is not agency either. Agency is choice (which is neither randomness or predetermination)) the ability (by the reasoning “I”) to choose to do otherwise. By the way the great stress on the difference between “reason” and “will” in Scholastic terminology may well be an error (see Ralph Cudworth on this, he was a great critic of the Scholastics in relation to their terminology, without making the fundamental mistake of rejecting the central principles of human reasoning, indeed human existence, as Thomas Hobbes did).

    Someone may deny the existence of agents (persons) if they wish – but then (by their own statements) they are not persons, and should not (IT WOULD SEEM) be treated as if they were persons.

    However, the very act of “making an argument” is an act of agency (personhood) – so he (or she) who denies agency, is (by the very act of their denial) an agent (a free will human BEING) and therefore should be treated as a person.

    So you are a person (an agent – a reasoning “I”) Ian – you are just one in the grip of great (of fundamental) error.

  34. Ian – you have repeatedly said that you do not believe in agency (i.e. personhood, free will, the ability to choose to do otherwise).

    No I haven’t. I’ve said I don’t believe in “free will” of the type you insist is the only possible one. Julie has, frankly, put my argument better than I have, so I refer you to her comments.

    All I’m saying is that will is the action of the physical brain, which is deterministic (also, possibly, some element of Quantum randomness, but since nobody really understand the ontology of that, we’ll leave it out). There simply isn’t any other method by which the brain can operate.

    As Julie poitns out above, all you’re really doing is offloading this “will” or “choice” to a demon– without explaining how the demon operates. Even if the demon existed, it wouldn’t “validate” their choices any more than the brain mechanism’s choices in the way you seek.

    Persons are simply biological entities. We have to “trot out science” in discussing this, because science describes how the universe actually operates. Just as we have to “trot out” Darwin to describe our origins, and “trot out” quantum physics to describe the operations of the Large Hadron Collider.

    “Will” is just the operating of our particular biological systems. We do things due to a variety of operations in the brain. That’s it. That’s all there is. It’s no good trying to forge a theory based on some “other” because there is no other principle.

    • The danger of adopting a deterministic worldview is that absolves people of ethical choices…. There are many examples of people going against their better judgment, or even putting their own lives at risk to serve a higher (and often vague) value/cause.

      Upon being interviewed, one of the London rioters blamed his actions on lack of opportunities etc.. Despite his seemingly lack of education, he had enough freewill and agency to formulate a deterministic theory to justify his actions, and also the confidence that many people would swallow it whole…

      Just as extreme notions of freewill has its roots in the religious concept of a ‘soul’, a completely deterministic worldview projects shades of “it is written”…

  35. Julie – yes, of course Hobbes was no liberal (not philosophically or politically).

    However, there is an interesting story here – and it covers a lot more than Thomas Hobbes.

    At some point in the 19th century Western thought could over turned – critics and opponents of the tradition of civilisation, are piled up together and turned into some sort of “tradition” of their own.

    At this point the intellectual elite stopped being the watch dogs (the defenders) of civilisation – and become its enemies (undermining it from its heart).

    For example Thomas Hill Green (Oxford) tried to base a form of “liberalism” (partly) on the idea of Thomas Hobbes – which he took deadly seriously (not as a series of fallacies and absurdities – as has been normal at Oxford even in the early 19th century).

    Certainly the Westminster Review crowd existed and some of them said and wrote some very mistaken things on basic philosophical questions (as well as things that were true on some other subjects), but they were not in charge of transmitting the great tradition of civilisation – for example the typical early 19th century Oxford academic would not have been on the same “wavelength” as these people (for what wavelength they were on – see Richard Whately’s “Elements of Logic” and “Lectures on Political Economy” – neither perfect, but both REASONABLE unlike modern works from mainstream academic which are not reasonable).

    When did the problem start? When did the rot (the decay) set in?

    I think it can be seen even in the 18th century – at least in some places.

    For example in 18th century France there was a cult of John Locke – but not the real John Locke, instead a horribly one sided and distorted view of Locke like seeing the face of John Locke in fun house mirror (see James McCosh “The Scottish Philosophy” for a brief description of this). In the 19th century French philosophy recovered – only to fall apart in the 20th century.

    Germany was even odder.

    Kant did not just reject attacks on the existence of the human mind (the reasoning “I”) and attacks on the existence of the physical universe (and our ability to perceive it) – he tried to take-them-on-board (as it were) and combine folly and truth in a single theory.

    Harold Prichard (1909) argues one can still find reason (truth) in Kant – buried in his weird language and his (totally unnecessary, indeed harmful)effort to take-on-board or reach-out to folly and falsehood. However, the straightforward man clearly prefers the writings of someone like Thomas Reid to someone like Kant – sadly (even in 1909) the time of the straight forward person was coming to an end in academia – indeed being a rational person (someone in the tradition of civilisation) was becoming an actual disadvantage in philosophy and so on (Oxford was actually one the hold outs – it was not till after World War II that the victory of folly really proceeded out of control).

    But German thought did not stop there – it goes “beyond” Kant to people like Fichte.

    When one comes to Fichte (and co) one can no longer blame over complex language and an (unfortunate) practice of “reaching out” to thinkers who should be rejected. Fichte (if not formally insane himself) is preaching insanity – madness, passed off as philosophy (and political theory).

    The idea that a population can just carry on normally when the intellectual elite preach raving lunacy may be true for awhile – but eventually what is taught in the world of academia has practical effects in the wider world.

    And teaching folly (for example the denial of human personhood, agency – or the idea that it is somehow in contradiction with the objective existence of the physical universe) certainly does not have liberal effects.

    In the United States it was not just the Aristotelians who faded away (apart from in the Catholic Universities), it was the Common Sense thinkers also (who rejected scholastic terminology – whilst not making the terrible error of rejecting the principles of human existence)

    Even in the understanding of the human person such thinkers as Noah Porter (Yale) and James McCosh (Princeton) gradually stop being taught – replaced by such people as William James (Harvard).

    This was not an improvement (certainly not from the point of view of true liberalism).

    Indeed it forshadowed the philosophical (and also moral and political) collapse of the modern era – first among the university educated elite, then among the general population.

    I remember reading Benjamin Anderson in his “Economics and the Public Welfare” mentioning an American Senator (I think it was Carter Glass) who (to Anderson’s slightly mocking astonishment) was old fashioned to believe in objective right and wrong.

    This silly old fashioned Senator believed (for example) in telling the truth and keeping his word (even if such action led to his death).

    I repeat that Anderson was astonished (and slightly amused) by the un “educated” Senator. Who did not “understand” that good and bad (right and wrong) is just a calculation of advantage. And if lying, cheating and stealing is for the “greater good”, one lies, cheats and steals.

    What the banker Benjamin Anderson failed to understand was that the free market economics he (Anderson) favoured is doomed (utterly doomed) by the philosophy he had been taught.

    For example, what sort of philosophy produced the gold case judgements of 1935? The judgements that de facto upheld the right of the government to confiscate private property (monetary gold) and rip up private contracts.

    His own philosophy (the philosophy he had been taught) had led to this.

    A philosophy that, in practice, teaches that a text (such as the Constitution of the United States) has no fixed (objective) meaning. And that one should not risk one’s own life on the line for someone else – especially in a “hopeless situation”.

    Thus failing to understand that it is precisely in a hopeless situation that it is most important that one does the honourable thing.

    The start of the film “The Eagle Has Landed” grasps this rather better than most university textbooks do.

  36. Ian “agency” is the ability (the capacity) to do otherwise (to choose) – to try and pretend there is a difference between “agency” and “freewill” is false (it is like pretending there is a difference between “I” and “me”).

    Julie “discussion”? One does not “discuss” whether 1+1=2 or whether A is A.

    The existence of human agency (human persons) is not some minor matter which is “up for debate”.

    “The freedom to deny freedom” may have interested some 19th century “liberals” – but it is, at its heart, perversity.

    And if there are no persons (no agents) there is no one to have a discussion with.

    None of the above has anything to do with natural science – the idea that natural science dictates determinism is false.

    Nor has any of the above got anything to do with religion of the supernatural (the attempt, by Dr Gabb, to associate belief in human agency with the magic of A. Crowley was cheap and squalid).

    Sadly materialism does not seem to depend upon determinism.

    I wish it did – as, far from proving determinism, this would refute materialism.

    This is an important point.

    Because if Ian (or anyone else) CAN show that materialism does depend on determinism – then this would prove that materialism is (literally) “nonsense” (i.e. that materialism denies sense – denies reason).

    Therefore I wish Ian every success in his effort to show that “science” (materialism) mandates determinism.

    As this would show that materialism is nonsense.

    It would show that the soul (in the sense of the human person) does NOT die with the body – as many good people have (sadly) come to the conclusion that it does.

    I repeat that I do not believe that Ian has shown this – and I do not think he will able to do so.

    However, I certainly hope that he does.

  37. Yes – the pursuit of the “freedom to deny freedom” (the “freedom” to deny the existence of the human agent), AND the “freedom” to deny universal laws of objective reality (of reason) – for example the idea that somewhere in the universe 1+1 does not = 2. This is where certain strands of 19th century liberalism go wrong. They undermine the philosophical ground (the foundations) that their own politics stands upon.

    And both of these things can be found in John Stuart Mill himself (partly due to the influence of his father James Mill).

    One can not reject the libertarian philosophy of the Old Whigs and keep their libertarian politics – it does not work.

  38. Paul, I’m still waiting for you to explain what this other thing of yours is. You keep saying what it isn’t- “determinism”. So what in a positive sense is it? How do these choices you keep talking about actually get made?

    Consider a black box device. It has some lights on the front, of different colours, that switch on and off variously. It also has some inputs; let us say, a light sensor, and a sound level sensor. Or maybe it has a streaming feed from the stock market. Whatever. You have no idea of the specific workings inside the black box.

    You observe the light pattern changing. Now, I would assert that it operates by some application of deterministic rules to its current state and the state of the inputs. It may also have a random element (this could be achieved practically by sampling Johnson Noise at a transistor junction, for instance). The pattern of lights is determined in this manner. The pattern of lights are the box’s choices.

    By what other principle can it possibly be operating? If you assert that there is some other principle of operation, you need to tell us what it is. If you insist that the light pattern is not due to such a mechanism, then what other principle is operating inside the box that decides its choices?

    You are repeatedly not even addressing this. Just insisting that anyone who thinks the box is a mechanism is denying its “boxhood”. Take this-

    Ian “agency” is the ability (the capacity) to do otherwise (to choose)

    To do otherwise to what exactly?

    Please describe the principle of operation that the box can be working on that has “agency” and is neither deterministic nor random. Why does my determinist/random box not have “agency”? It makes choices, does it not?

  39. Ian I have already explained what agency (selfhood – the reasoning “I”) is – several times.

    I see no reason to endlessly repeat myself – simply because you claim not to understand.

  40. No you haven’t Paul. You’ve only said what it isn’t, and insisted that if your undefined form of it doesn’t exist, neither does personhood. Write us a succinct, dictionary style definition. Then at least we’ll all hopefully know what we’re arguing about.

  41. Ian – If anything I have done too much.

    For example, James McCosh and Noah Porter (both much better people than me) made the same mistake – indeed far more so.

    Then started from “succinct, dictionary style definitions” – but the people they were dealing with claimed to not to understand. So they made the mistake of explaining – and explaining more and more (ending up with vast books of great complexity) to people who did not have the slightest intention of agreeing WHATEVER THEY SAID.

    That is not a mistake I wish to repeat.

    However, if you honestly do want an example……

    I refer you to my example above – from the start of the film “The Eagle Has Landed”.

    The German officer faces a choice – he can try to help the young women (although the situation is one of very little chance of success) or he can do nothing (thus saving himself from bad consequences).

    To say that his effort to help the young woman was predetermined by his upbringing (and so on – back to the start of the universe) is squalid, and hopelessly dishonest.

    The officer (in this film example) made a choice – and he was morally responsible because he was an agent (i.e. he is a being – someone, not just something).

    The trees and railway trains do not face any moral responsibly for failing to try to help the young woman – because they do not choose their actions (a person does – that is what a person is).

    That is why a crime is different from an accident.

    If I bump into someone by accident and they go into the path of a car that is very sad – but it is not a criminal action on my part (although I may, or may not, be liable to civil action for tripping up and pushing someone in the path of a car).

    There is no “guilty mind” (no criminal intent) involved.

    However, if I decide (if I make a choice) to push the person in front of the car – then indeed a crime has been committed (committed by me – an agent, if they trip over a tree root the tree has not committed a crime, because trees can not choose to commit crimes, trees are not agents).

    To say that my choice to push the person in front of a car was predetermined by a series of cause-and-effect going back to the start of the universe – is nonsense.

    And to say that my choice was an accident (a chance event) – is also nonsense.

    Choice is neither predetermined, nor chance – choice is just that, choice. That is why we are agents (subjects not just objects) morally responsible for SOME of our actions.

  42. There’s the problem Paul. There’s no reason why a mechanism running on deterministic principles cannot make those choices. None at all.

    To say that my choice to push the person in front of a car was predetermined by a series of cause-and-effect going back to the start of the universe – is nonsense.

    Not at all. The cause and effect is so unfathomably complex that you’d never work it out, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t one.

    You still haven’t explained what this other thing is. Consider Julie’s demon; if its choices are not determined by the deterministic evolution of its prior state, nor randomly, by what other method does the demon choose?

    Or, consider my black box. If the mechanism inside is not deterministic, nor random, then what other form of mechanism do you propose? There isn’t any other imaginable mechanism. Even a “soul” has to be deterministic. It doesn’t evade that problem by being intangible or supernatural.

  43. Ian – if they are predetermined (by a series of cause and effect going back to the start of the universe) then they are not choices.

    You asked for a short definition of agency (of personhood) it is as follows – the capacity to make choices, choices neither being predetermined or random.

    To deny this is to deny the existence of humans – as beings.

  44. To say the soul (in either the Aristotelian sense – or the religious one) “has to be deterministic” is wrong (flat wrong). Indeed “can not be deterministic” is the truth.

    If all actions (without exception) are predetermined (i.e. are not choices) then there is no such thing as a person (either a human person – or any other form of person). There is no reasoning “I” – no selfhood (no personhood).

  45. It is not a “danger” Julie – it is simply what determinism is (period).

    As for agency – Aristotle was not known as a particularly religious man. Many supporters of agency are not religious at all.

    And it is possible to be a religious determinist – for example J. Edwards or George Whitefield.

    One of the points on which I disagree with the late James McCash is his denial that Predestination (Calvinism) is determinist.

    Of course it is determinist.

    Unless one says that God sends the good to Hell and the evil to Heaven.

    Predestination holds that the life of all people (including whether or not they will turn to God) is predetermined from the start of the universe – that the names of the good are written in a book before they were even born.

    When asked why they bother to preach (as whether a person is saved or not was decided at the start of the universe – with all their actions being known in advance) then the predestinationist (the determinist) can simply reply…..

    “But my preaching was also predetermined at the start of the universe – I do not have a choice over whether I preach or not”.

    In which case (of course) they (the determinists such as J. Edwards and George Whitefield) are not “I” at all. They are not subjects, they are just objects – “its”.

    And it does not work – for example George Whitefield does not get off the hook (for his various misdeeds, such as pushing hatred of J. Wedgewood because of Wedgewood’s anti slavery campaign – Whitefield-Whitfield was one of the pushers of slavery in Georgia, against the written instructions of the Founder of Georgia), by saying……

    “But all my actions were predetermined at the start of the universe – it is not my fault that I worked to push hatred of J. Wedgewood in order to try and discredit his anti slavery campaign”.

    For it is not his fault (if ALL of Mr Whitefield’s actions were predetermined at the start of the universe) then there never was a PERSON called George Whitefield at all – and one might as well burn this human shaped (but non human) object.

  46. Ian – if they are predetermined (by a series of cause and effect going back to the start of the universe) then they are not choices.

    Paul, this is simply a semantic argument. A choice in this context is simply embarking on some course of action when several are available. A mechanism does so based on some mechanical process within itself, in an entirely deterministic manner. There is no contradiction.

    You seem to be demanding an absence of mechanism. This is irrational.

    I think it’s interesting that you have a problem with being an object. A person is also an object. I am an object. A thing. Object and thing are the most general of classifications; everything- every thing- is an object- people, trees, stars, houses, anything. Some objects are persons, which means, basically, they are members of the species homo sapiens.

    You still haven’t addressed how your “persons” make choices, if not by mechanical processes.

    But the main issue here is, you’re coming at it from the wrong end. YOu’re insisting that persons can’t be deterministic, because then we would be persons. But that doesn’t tell us what they are. It just tells us what you want them to be. You can’t declare reality to be some particular way because that’s what you want it to be. It just doesn’t work that way. You have to start from what reality is. And all the evidence we have, and all the reasoning we apply to it, tells us that human brains are mechanical devices which, inevitably, thus work by deterministic processes (the laws of physics). I keep saying this but, there is nothing else. If your philosophy is not compatible with that basic reality, it’s the philosophy that will have to change, because you can’t change the reality.

  47. Yes Ian – we are objects but we are also subjects (beings – “I”s) – the point you are denying.

    I note your conversion to Calvinist “logic”.

    Will you be standing for office in the Church of Scotland?

    Allow me to provide you with a campaign slogan…..

    “God says that humans are shit (not people), they must be controlled by the iron heal of the state”.

    As we both live in Northamptonshire (at least till your move to Scotland – or the next best thing, Corby) shall I get you a pair of shoes with iron heals?

    You can then change your name to Andrew Marr.

  48. I’m not denying anything Paul, other than that you keep claiming that we’re magical or something, but then dancing around describing the actual nature of this magic of yours.

    If a system is in some state A, and evolves to some state B, then it can only do so by a deterministic, or random, process. This is just reality. I cannot think of another way to say it. Either State B is the consequence of State A, or it’s random.

    Your argument is, as I said, trying to demand reality is something else because you don’t like the implications of what it is, akin to “there must be a God because otherwise life has no meaning” or “Darwinism can’t be true, because if it is we’re just animals”.

    In each case, the “is” is being demanded to achieve a particular “ought”. That is simply bad reasoning. But you have presented no other argument than that if humans operate on deterministic (physical) laws, then we are not “persons” (by your definition) and since you demand that we be “persons” then the laws of physics have to be discarded.

    That’s not good enough Paul, not from a man of your intelligence.

  49. Although of course there is not much call for God (as an actual being) in the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland these days.

    Over time the denial of personhood (or moral choice) has extended to God Himself – these days the word “God” no longer seems to mean free will being, but is just another word for the Collective.

    This is why Mrs T. would have been very badly received by the Church of Scotland – if the lady had not said a word about politics (and had not been Prime Minister).

    A lot of Mrs T’s Anglicanism was just putting “bells and smells” on top of the theology she got from her father (Mr Roberts) Mrs T. could have rejected it (and did reject some aspects of his though), but certain points she agreed with.

    Such as the opposition to totalitarian politics (Mr Roberts’ writings from the 1930s have recently been made available by the Thatcher Foundation (Churchill College Cambridge) and to totalitarian philosophy-theology.

    The Mr Wesley side of the Wesley versus Whitefield struggle.

    My favourite example is actually J. Edwards.

    In New England the parents of various children requested him to stop teaching their children predestination – as it caused the children great distress to learn that they were predestined to Hell (whose horrors Edwards described in loving detail) and that there was nothing they could do about it – their damnation being decided at the start of the universe.

    Mr Edwards with perfect (if demented) determinist “logic” declared that he could not stop himself – as what he taught (and how he taught it) had also been predetermined at the start of the universe and he was bound by the iron laws of cause and effect from that time to his.

    The correct way to deal with such people is PERHAPS not to try and reason with them – it is to flog them, and to carry on flogging them.

    When they scream for you to stop (as they are being flogged to death) simply reply that your flogging them was predetermined at the start of the universe – and you are bound by the iron laws of cause and effect.

  50. “a man of your intelligence”?

    But Ian – you deny that intelligence (reason – the reasoning “I”) exists.

    And if intelligence (the self aware agent) does not exist – how can either of us be intelligent?

    Of course (according to the theory) you are bound by the iron laws of cause and effect (from the start of the universe) to type what you type.

    And I am bound by the iron laws of cause and effect (from the start of the universe) to type what I type.

    That is the determinist (predestination) position.

    Neither of us can convince the other – because there is no human BEING in either of us to be convinced (no reasoning “I”).

    I reject the theory – but you do not reject it.

  51. I have never said that ordinary humanity (ordinary human free will – agency, I and you) is “magical”.

    Many of the most important truths just are – they are not based (in reductionist fashion) on something else.

    A is A – it just is, there is no special “mechanism” making it so.

    1+1=2 it just is (and all over the universe – regardless of the freedom-to deny- freedom 19th century faction) there is no special mechanism making it so (and no need to write hundreds of pages “proving” it) it just is true.

    Beings can choose SOME of their (our) actions (can make real choices – which are neither predetermined or random) that is just what a being (including a human being) is.

  52. But Ian – you deny that intelligence (reason – the reasoning “I”) exists.

    What? No, I mean, what? Where did that come from?

    You seem to be stuck with this bizarre idea that anything running on the laws of physics can’t do reasoning. It simply doesn’t follow. Indeed, it is hard to see how anything not determinist could do reasoning. How on Earth could you do reasoning if the state of your mind did not evolve to a new state from its prior one, in a predictable manner? And here perhaps is the point; even computers do reasoning. It’s the easy part of thinking to reproduce with a mechanism, because its algorithmic. You start with a state, apply a function, get a new state. Simple.


    Many of the most important truths just are – they are not based (in reductionist fashion) on something else.

    A is A – it just is, there is no special “mechanism” making it so.

    I apprecaite you’re trying to get out of supporting any of your assertions, but “A is A” is just a tautology. Of course it just “is”. “Eggs is eggs” is another one. We can do this all day.

    You basically just seem to have this set of unsupportable “consequences” of determinism- like, we are not people, we cannot think or reason, we are not human. None of them follow from it. There is some name for this fallacy, I am not sure what it is. But it’s like saying, “Bob cannot be a Frenchman because his hat is red”. The two things simply are not dependent on one another.

    I repeat, for the umpteenth time; the only two logical possibilities for the evolution of a state machine are deterministic or (“true”) randomness. That’s all you’ve got. You can’t simply announce another one because you don’t like the idea of the two real ones. It just doesn’t work that way.

    So anyway, one last time. You’ve abolished cause and effect. So, where do the effects come from then? I mean, how do they arise, without causes?

  53. An agent is another word for an intelligence (a reasoning “II”) Ian.

    Oppose the existence of agency and you oppose the existence of the intelligence (of the reasoning “I”).

    What do you mean “where did that come from” – I have said it about two dozen times already in this thread (although sometimes in slightly different words).

    Reasoning beings (including human beings) either exist or they do not exist – if they do not exist it is error to use the word “intelligence” as no such thing exists.

    As for agency (the chosen actions of an agent – an intelligence).

    Agency is the capacity to make some choices – choices which are neither predetermined (if they are predetermined then they are not choices – and the self is an “illusion” although it is never explained who is having the illusion) nor random.

    They are CHOSEN – not predetermined, nor random.

    “This abolishes causes and effect” – not at all, not as long as you accept that “I” is the cause of some things.

    If you do not accept this then stop using the following words (for they are no longer legitimate for you to use – at least in a positive way).


    And so on.

    And, of course….

    Liberty and Libertarian.

    As for a “mechanism” for agency (free will) I have no problem with that – none at all. AS LONG AS….

    Agency (the capacity to choose some actions that are neither predetermined nor random) is maintained.

  54. Pingback: More wild stuff. | underdogs bite upwards

  55. Julie near Chicago

    Paul, thanks very much for your information on Hobbes and the others. I was afraid I was losing even more of my marbles, and they are already in worrisomely short supply. :>(

    I really do appreciate all the info you packed into your response to my question.

    I have now looked up the Westminster Review, so at least I have the list that Wikipedia provides of the major players.

    I downloaded all the Hume I could find awhile back. I will now make a real effort to read some of it. Vol. IV (1826) contains the two “Inquiries” and the “History of Natural Religion.” I also have the original edition, 1777, but edited by Selby Bigge & publ. in 1902. Both from Liberty Fund (OLL).

    . . .

    Kant and forward, to and including Miss Rand.: There is great difficulty in saying precisely what one means, because, to quote a pal, “words [mostly] don’t have crisp edges.” I read one or two of the more serious Objectivist boards, and there are ongoing and eternal arguments about what who meant when he or she said what (and WHETHER he or she said it at all). I find it very difficult, because often I can see for myself that some interpretation either is clearly wrong, or clearly cannot be entirely right, or can legitimately be interpreted in two different ways. It seems to me my own writing style, when I’m really trying to be serious, is dense and even turgid and probably hard to follow. That’s because I’m trying so hard to be precise and accurate.

    And if I were German and writing in German and some poor schlub put me into English, I suppose I’d be harder than Kant to make sense of!

    Anyway, it seems that you and Miss R. have a similar slant on Kant, although I’m not sure if you would think him “the most evil man who ever lived.” *g*

    I wish I could give a more educated and intelligent reply to your posting, but though the flesh is willing, the head is weak indeed. :( ;)

  56. One thing I missed out Julie – David Hume may well have been playing the role of “Devil’s Advocate” – to wake people up from their dogmatic slumbers.

    He may not really have believed that a thought does NOT mean a thinker (of course a thought means a thinker – a reasoning “I”).

    And he may well not really have believed that humans are not beings (not reasoning “I”s ) who CHOOSE (and are therefore morally responsible) for SOME of our actions.

    David Hume and Thomas Hobbes are very different -very different indeed.

    I apologise for not making that clear.

    As for a “mechanism” for agency (free will) – fair enough, as long as agency is preserved.

    Agency being the capacity to choose some of our actions – i.e. for some of our actions to neither be predetermined (the “I” being the determiner of SOME actions) nor random.

    If Ian’s mechanism preservers that – then I have no dispute with him. and (indeed) have fundamentally misunderstood his position.

    If I have fundamentally misunderstood Ian’s position, I apologise for not reading carefully enough.

  57. Julie near Chicago

    Paul, your present understanding of Hume has been clear for a quite awhile now, no confusion at all. :>)

    I was just amazed to find Hobbes in that list of “classical liberals.”

    But, see, onaccounta you I had to go look up the Westminster Review, and they mentioned Harriet Martineau, so naturally I had to go see what about her, and, then there was Mesmerism, which apparently turns out to have been more than just hypnotism, and, well,…you know how it is…the computer never did get dusted :>( :>))!!

    Thanks again for your info. In between Martineau and Mesmer, I’m going to have to re-read Walsh on Kant (if not Kant himself), even if it is out of alphabetical order. :)

  58. Julie you could try reading Prichard on Kant- but do not make the mistake that I made and buy just any old edition (via the internet), the production quality of this (out of copyright edition) of the book is the worst of any I have even seen. Chapters start half way down pages and so on – it is just awful.

    Hobbes in the liberal canon.

    Well the best defender of Hobbes in the 20th century was M.J. Oakeshott .

    Oakshott did deny that Hobbes was against freedom (both philosophically and politically), but pointed out that in his actual policy advice Hobbes was within the tradition of “Civil Association” – i.e. that he basically wanted the state to use force only against force (at least he does not go around suggesting other things). Rather unlike the mentor of Hobbes, Francis Bacon (who Oakeshott does not like) or Sir William Petty (the developer of what is now called econometrics (the “science” of trotting out made up figures and rigged calculations – and then saying that they justify whatever form of statism one wanted in the first place).

    And if the state wanted to do lots of other things, what does Hobbes suggest (other than offer advice)? Errr Oakeshott (in Hobbes on Civil Association) does not really deal with that “little” problem.

    As for the 19th century – it is not “just” philosophy that some of the Westminster Review people get wrong, They also have some sort of thing against the landed interest (although they dress up their envy with a lot of “free trade in land” cant).

    By the late 19th century we get respectable “New Liberals” such as Thomas Hill Green who try and liberalise the assumption of Hobbes.

    Lovely people late 19th century New Liberals (who really trace back to Walter Bagehot and J.S. Mill – proto New Liberals in some ways), polite, well meaning, filled with sweetness and light.

    I detest them.

  59. Julie near Chicago

    Thanks for heads-up on Mr. Prichard. I did look (some months ago) on Amazon, but I think everything I saw was out of my price range.

    Oakeshott. I have “On Being a Conservative” (from someplace called “River City College”) and his “Hobbes on Civil Association (Four Essays)” (from OLL).

    Your closing observation is understandable. :>(

  60. I am person with a dark side Julie – but also it is partly hidesight (I know where the endless weakness of people like Bagehot lead).

  61. As for a “mechanism” for agency (free will) I have no problem with that – none at all. AS LONG AS….

    Agency (the capacity to choose some actions that are neither predetermined nor random) is maintained.

    You’re not getting it Paul. What you are demanding is logically impossible. You are demanding that something be neither A, nor Not A. You can object all you like to (what you consider the ramifications of) only the choices of A or Not A being available, but you cannot change basic logic and reality.

    “I demand that some effects be neither caused nor uncaused”.

    You just can’t have that. It’s not rational.

  62. Ian the existence of human beings is not “logically impossible”.

    I know I exist – and you know that you exist. And the existence of the “I” (the human agent) is not an “illusion” (for, if we do not exist, who is having the illusion?).

    As for “rational” – rationality (and logic) depend on the existence of agents – there can be no reason without reasoners.

    I repeat.

    Agency is the capacity to make some choices -which are neither predetermined (if they are predetermined they are not choices) nor random.

    Determinist “logic” (which is not logic at all) is in violation of the following concepts.


    And so on.

    Determinism makes human language meaningless – which is not surprising as the basis of determinism is the claim that human BEINGS do not exist.

    If human beings do not exit then neither does our reason (our reason is us – a human intelligence, is the “I”) our logic.

  63. Paul, nowhere have I said that human beings do not exist. You seem to have drawn the inexplicable (in rational terms) conclusion that any creature operating according to either deterministic or random processes (the only possible sort of processes there are) is not human.

    Like I keep saying, A and Not A is the complete gamut of possibilities. You want “neither A nor Not A”. You simply can’t have that. It’s a logical, not to mention physical, impossibility.

  64. Also, logic is not dependent on intelligence. Machines do logic. It’s a completely deterministic, algorithmic process. No intelligence required at all.

  65. Ian – you either do not know what reason (the human “I”) is, or you are pretending that you do not know.

    Perhaps you believe that philosophy and politics can be kept in different boxes – that one can support freedom politically, whilst saying it is logically impossible philosophically.

    This practice (of keeping philosophy and politics in different boxes), in the end, breaks down.

    Human beings do exist – human freedom is neither a wall of water rushing out of blown up dam, or a clockwork mouse running round in circles on the floor.

    Human freedom is based upon the capacity of moral choice – of being able to make some choices that are neither predetermined (if a choice is predetermined it is not a choice) nor random

    Choice exists, human beings (minds) exist.

    I exist – and so do you.

  66. By the way – it is not “just” a question of human beings.

    The claim that choice does not exist (that actions must be random or predetermined) also rules out of existence all other beings – not “just” human beings.

    If moral freedom (the capacity of moral choice) does not exist (indeed is “logically impossible” according to a false and perverted “logic”) – then defending it politically (i.e.. opposing tyranny and slavery) is clearly absurd. One can not “enslave” people who do not exist (who are not really people at all – who are not capable of freedom).

    One can not reject the philosophy of the Whigs (and of many Tory people also – such as Dr Johnson) and keep their politics. It does not work.

  67. Well, that may be true Paul. I don’t agree, but if it is the case that “beings” do not exist in a universe as described, then that’s what we would have to go with. As I keep saying, you can’t start with a conclusion you desire then declare reality has to fit with that. You have to start with what reality actually is, then accept whatever conclusions result.

    And the only possible ways for a system to evolve from a state A to a state B is either deterministically (i.e. cause and effect) or randomly (effect unrelated to any cause) or some mix of the two. There isn’t a “none of the above” option. There isn’t any conceivable alternative, which is why you yourself cannot define your version of “choice” other than by saying that it is neither A nor Not A, and demanding that it exist since you find neither A nor Not A personally acceptable. For someone who talks a lot about logic, you’re not applying any at all to this issue.

  68. Aleister Crowley was in my personal opinion, a Libertarian-Revolutionary Conservative. He did briefly flirt with Italian Fascismo, but became disillusioned with Mussolini’s compromises with the Vatican. Crowley’s O.T.O. representative in Germany, Martha Kuntzel, attempted to persuade the Nazis to adopt his Book of the Law, which she sent to Hitler enclosing Crowley’s commentary (you can read the details of this affair in Crowley’s book ‘Magick Without Tears’). Some of Crowley’s political and social viewpoints are quoted on this blog article:

  69. Ian you are wrong.

    Saying that “everything must be predetermined or random” is just another way of saying “agency (choice) does not exist” – and it does exist.

    Turning to David Hume – he may not have meant what he said to be taken literally but (like the Logical Positivists that Joad dealt with more than 60 years ago – see his “A Critique of Logical Positivism”) you clearly do take him literally (not as playing Devil’s Advocate), so I will (here) take him literally also.

    When Hume claims that one can not get an ought from an is – it is normal to concentrate on the “ought”, but it might be more important to look at the “is”.

    If Hume really did mean that moral choice is LOGICALLY IMPOSSIBLE then of course one can not get an “ought” from this – as the “is” (choice – moral responsibility, agency) would not exist. One can not get an “ought” from an “is” that does not even exist – so Hume’s position (if one takes his starting point that the human mind, the “I”, DOES NOT EXIST) is true by-definition. Morality, human freedom and so on, would simply be absurdities – with no real existence.

    This would explain the light tone in Hume’s essay on whether the British Constitution inclines more to a Republic or an Absolute (please note the word “Absolute”) monarchy.

    Hume casually says that all Constitutions come to an end – and the best end for the British Constitution (its “euthanasia”) would be for it to end in Absolute (I repeat – “Absolute”) monarchy.

    Before he says this Hume (in the same essay) does say that “freedom is preferable to slavery” but it is a throw away line on which he does not place much stress.

    So why the semi indifference to the “euthanasia of the British Constitution” – after all David Hume was born when Louis XIV (a terrible tyrant) sat on the throne of France (although Louis XV, a milder ruler, was on the throne when this essay was written) – so why was he (Hume) so lacking in real concern? In any real passion?

    Well if freedom DOES NOT EXIST (if it is “logically impossible”) then why bother about it?

    Even religious persecution (after the manner France or even Spain – with the burning alive of heretics) was no real threat to Hume – although he made the correct noises opposing it. After all he was indifferent – so (like Hobbes) would have said any form of words to save his skin. So someone like Louis XIV would have been no threat to Hume.

    [For someone like Roger Williams (the founder of Rhode Island) to be in favour of religious tolerance is noteworthy (after all Mr Williams cared passionately about the matter - so to tolerate those who differed theologically with him was a great achievement). religious tolerance in an indifferent person (such as the vile Frederick the Great) is no virtue - they tolerate not out of conviction, but because they do not care.]

    Hume did not have a great estate – so he was not worth robbing (although local French Tax Farmers robbed even the smallest estates – a point Hume seems to miss), he was not physically the sort of person who would be worth conscripting, and his opinions (if his life was at stake) would have been whatever the King wanted them to be – so no threat there.

    But one need NOT by so cynical – if freedom really DOES NOT EXIST (if it really is “logically impossible”) then one really can be (under the respectable mask and after mouthing the standard line that freedom is better than slavery – whilst one laughs behind one’s hand) basically indifferent.

    After all, to such a person, to say that an Absolute Monarchy is a danger to freedom is like saying that Absolute Monarchy is a threat to elves and pixies, riding around on unicorns and dragons.

    As human moral freedom (the ability to make real choices) is “logically impossible”.

  70. George B.

    Why would a libertarian (of any sort) flirt with Fascism?

    And why would Mr Crowley hate the Vatican?

    True the “Social Teaching” that had grown up since about 1890 (under the influence of Cardinal Manning and Pope Leo XIII) was not good, but it was no worse (if anything it was more moderate in its statism) than the new “Liberals”.

    The difficulty I face is that I have never read a word of Mr Crowley’s works. Perhaps a chat with a near neighbour of mine (who, I think I have mentioned before, has read the works of Mr Crowley) should be something I do.

    As for Mr Hitler.

    Adolf Hitler (see his “Table Talk” – in public he was more respectful of the religious beliefs he mocked in private) was a crude rationalist (unlike Himmler – who flirted with all sorts of stuff) obsessed with “race” as he privately believed that nothing else (certainly not the individual human soul) existed, so presenting him with a book on magic would have been like presenting David Hume with a book listing miracles.

    Either man would have replied that a supernatural event (such as a magic spell or a divine miracle – neither man would have drawn a distinction between the two) violates the laws of nature – and, therefore can not happen.

    Both men would assume that by saying “X is against the laws of nature therefore X can not have happened” they were making a profound philosophical point.

    Of course as any decent student of logic should know (see, for example, Richard Whately pages 278-281 “Elements of Logic” Oxford 1826 – i.e. before logic was over run with mathematical notation that actually resembles magic spells) they were doing nothing of the kind. For example to say that the “common experience of mankind” is that miracles can not happen is simply to exclude from “mankind” any witness (or any number of witnesses) whom they oppose.

    Almost (but not quite) needless to say – someone can deny the existence of any form of the supernatural (i.e. be a materialist) without denying the existence of human agency (the human “I” – the capacity to make some real choices) a classic example would be Ayn Rand.

    One does not have to believe in God to believe in good and evil and the capacity of human beings to choose between them.

    It is a common trick of those who commit terrible crimes to pretend that they had no choice – that it was all “fate” or “destiny” decided at the start of the universe. This evasion (“Bad Faith”) does not alter the fact that their crimes were choices – they could have chosen to do otherwise.

    • Well, here are Crowley’s own words on the subject: “For some time I had interested myself in Fascismo which I regarded with entire sympathy…I was delighted with the common sense of its programme and was especially pleased by its attitude towards the Church. It was proposed to use forcible means to prevent the Vatican employing the influence of the priests to attain political ends. I was also convinced of the importance of the movement and of its almost immediate success…The Fascisti patrolling the railway were delightful. They had all the picturesqueness of opera brigands…The Fascisti swarmed all over the city. I thought their behaviour admirable…I foresaw that Mussolini would be obliged to play politics just as fatally as his predecessors in order to survive the first few crises of his government. My apprehension has proved only too true. Almost at once, he had to sell his soul to the Vatican in whom a real statesman would have recognized his most dangerous foe. Like the devil, Rome takes care that its part, however fair it seems on the surface, really involves the giving of nothing and the gain of all.” -The Confessions

  71. Paul,

    I will repeat, futile though it is, again, that you are starting from a position of demanding something be true that is logically impossible, and then simply declaring that the actual logical possibilities are not acceptable to you. That is not “reasoning”. It’s blind dogma.

    This is nothing to do with David Hume. It is basic reasoning. I will ask you again; imagine a physical system. Any physical system. Imagine it is at one point in State A, and then some time later it is in State B.

    Now, try to imagine a way that it can get into State B which is neither-

    (a) A consequence of State A. (Deterministic)

    (b) Not a consequence of State A. (Truly Random)

    (c) A mixture of determinism and randomness.

    It cannot be done. There is no other conceivable method. We have literally covered every posisbility with those two options.

    Now at this point you will say, “it chose to be in State B”. But you haven’t solved the problem; because we are stuck with how this “choice” operates; and again, it has to be either (a), (b), or a combination thereof. There is no other conceivable process.

    Now I appreciate that you believe that all manner of ideological consequences result from this which are unacceptable to your taste, but that is beside the point. You cannot simply deny reality if it’s unacceptable. It doesn’t work that way.

    Do you really believe that the state of your brain is not an evolution of its state 1 second, or 10 seconds, or a minute ago? How the hell do you think it actually functions?

  72. It’s also rather dispiriting to see you appealing to the supernatural and miracles to get out of this quandary, but even then, you can’t. God and angels and ghosts have exactly the same logical constraints as “natural” phenomena, even if their brains are made of ectoplasm.

  73. Ian – I have already said (multiple times) that is not necessary to believe God to believe in the existence of human beings.

    Indeed most determinism (although not all) actually comes from religion – from the doctrine of Predestination (and, before that, from the Classical idea that “the Gods” or “the Fates” knew the future). Indeed I have long suspected that (in a subtle way) David Hume was mocking the Church of Scotland by showing them the logical consequences of their own doctrine. Those logical consequences being the nonexistence of good and bad and of the human mind itself.

    By the way what “quandary”? There is none

    Ian what you call “logic” is actually not logic at all – or rather it is an effort to reason from a false premise. The false premise being that all things must either be predetermined or random.

    If you try to reason from a false premise you get false results. You ASSUME that choice (agency – the human “I”) does not exist. But you have no reason to make this assumption (“David Hume said that everything is either chance of predetermined” does not count as a reason – if Hume said that you were Louis XIV it would not make you Louis XIV).

    Let us take a practical example – a rape.

    If it can be shown that a rapist was not in control of his actions (say that his body was under the control of an enemy via an electoral implant in his brain) we would not punish him – because he was not in control of the actions of his body..

    We punish a criminal because of the CHOICE they make (the “guilty mind”) – they could have chosen to do otherwise.

    If I choose to shove someone in front of a truck it is different (fundamentally different) from me doing it accidentally.

    It is fundamentally different because I CHOOSE to do it.

    I could have CHOSEN to do otherwise – I made a CHOICE.

    Not predetermined and not random – CHOICE.

    Are we now in agreement?

  74. “The false premise being that all things must either be predetermined or random.”

    You’re going to have to show that that is false, which is impossible. Because it isn’t. The two words cover the entire gamut of possibilities. As I have explained numerous times.

    And I haven’t said a damned thing about David Hume, and I’m not the least interested in what he said on the subject. Maybe that’s the problem. I’m looking at how reality is, and you’re quoting other peoples’ opinions.

    So, this is about basic logic and reason, and how it should be done. And you are doing it the wrong way around. presumably because you were fated to do so from the initial conditions of the Big Bang. I’m just praying that those conditions are set to develop into a universe where you get the point.

    Let’s take your rapist. You are saying, “If the rapist is either predestined to rape, or his rape was a random occurrence, he is not responsible. That is unacceptable to me morally. Therefore, neither predestination nor randomness are acceptable. Therefore I reject them.”

    That’s not how sound reasoning works. You start by looking at what reality actually is, and get your conclusions from that. You are working backwards from a prejudged conclusion. This forces you to postulate a state of reality which is literally impossible- a condition which is neither A nor Not A.

    And I repeat, I am not quoting anybody. I am working from basic principles that anyone of sound mind- who has never read a philosophy tract- can verify for themself. That principle being that the only way that our system can get from State A to State B is either deterministically or (if true randomness really exists, which it may not) randomly. There are simply no other conceivable means for the system to evolve. Which applies to any physical system (and thus happens to include the human brain).

    It’s physics, not theology, we’re doing here.

  75. I see Ian – so choice does not exist “physics proves it”.

    Thank you very much.

    As for “of sound mind” – do you not see the irony in that statement?

    You whole argument is that MIND DOES NOT EXIST (that everything is either predetermined or random – i.e. that there is no such as mind, no such thing as “I”. “me” or “you”) – and you type “of sound mind”.

    George B.

    I see so Mr Crowley approved of the use of physical violence to prevent prevent priests influencing people.

    Well if that was a typical example of his opinions Mr Crowley was neither a libertarian or a conservative (“Revolutionary” or otherwise).

    In fact he sounds like a bad man.

    There is a certain sort of person who defines freedom as doing whatever you want to do – regardless of whether it is good or bad.

    Such people are no good – and Mr Crowley sounds like one of them.

  76. Paul, nothing in anything I’ve written precludes the existence of “mind”. It simply recognises that “mind” is the functioning of a complex biological system we call a brain, which operates according to the laws of physics (or “physics” in sneer quotes, if you prefer).

    But the issue I keep driving at is that there is something more profound than saying “the laws of physics”. Physics can change. There is this basic fact that you keep not addressing, which is that there is only cause and effect (determinism) or absence of it (randomness) to choose from. No discoveries in Physics- even if Newton, Einstein and the Quantum Mechanics are all discarded by future science- can change that, because it is (ironically) a matter of pure logic (or reason).

    You keep talking of a thing called “choice” which is neither deterministic nor random, but do not define how this supposedly operates, nor can you in any meaningfully descriptive manner, because it is simply a statement of “neither A nor Not A”. Which is a logical impossibility, because “A” and “Not A” cover every possibility. Just as, as I said long ago above, the statements “Paul is in Kettering” and “Paul is not in Kettering” cover all possibilities. There is no possible state “Paul is neither in Kettering nor not in Kettering”; each is the complete negative space of the other. There simply isn’t any room in the world of logic for another option. The conceptual space is already fully occupied.

  77. Ian if you are saying “everything is determined and I determine some things” then we have no problem.

    But if you are saying that everything is PREdetermined (or random) they you ARE denying the existence of mind (of choice of “I”, “me”, “you” and so on).

    Of course a choice is not PREdetermined or random – if it is PREdetermined (or random) it not a choice.

  78. George – supporting threats of violence against people peacefully expressing their opinions is (if anything) worse than committing the violence yourself.

    I thought Mr Crowley was a mountain climber – not a coward who let Black Shirts do his fighting for him.

  79. Well I have now read some of Mr Crowley’s words (my thanks George).

    “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law”.

    Such as robbery, rape and murder?

    Not much of a “law”.

    Sounds more like the “Evil Chaotic” characters that Ian role played when young (although I played some bad guys also).

    Libertarianism without the nonaggression principle (without respect for the bodies and goods of other people) is like Hamlet without the Prince.

    Turning aside from crime and punishment (which is what justice, natural law, is actually about) morality can even concern the self.

    Even Robinson Crusoe (before Man Friday turns up) can be moral or immoral – on his own.

    For example there is LAZYNESS to be fought and DESPAIR to be fought also (both things I am subject to), and lots of other things.

    “The Law” (natural justice) is about the non violation of other people, but morality is a lot broader than the law (than the virtue of justice)

    Morality is a battle NOT to “do what you want to do”. Morality is about doing what you ought to do – work hard and achieve (create) good things.

    • “Acts invasive of another individual’s equal rights are implicitly self-aggression, such acts as rape and the assault or seduction of infants, may though be justly regarded as offences against the Law of Liberty, and repressed in the interests of the Law.” – Aleister Crowley

    • Even Robinson Crusoe (before Man Friday turns up) can be moral or immoral – on his own.

      For example there is LAZYNESS to be fought and DESPAIR to be fought also (both things I am subject to), and lots of other things.

      No, he can’t. Morality is intrinsically a matter for the group; i.e. when Friday turns up. Laziness might be unwise, and despair is unpleasant, but neither is a moral matter.

      Laziness in particular is a matter of subjective value. It might be Robinson can have more food if he goes fishing today, but perhaps he subjectively would prefer to sit down and read a book, and eat a little less. Maybe in the long run, not gorging himself on food will be healthier. All work and no play makes Robison a dull boy, after all.

      A moral sphere only arises when Crusoe and Friday have to decide how to treat each other. Crusoe on his own has only to worry about how he treats himself, and that is entirely up to him.

      Morality is a battle NOT to “do what you want to do”. Morality is about doing what you ought to do – work hard and achieve (create) good things.

      The Calvin is strong in this one.

  80. What defines a libertarian is not that we hold that there is no such thing as vice or virtue – but that we believe it is not for the state to fight vice or promote virtue.

    It is for each reasoning person (each “I” – each non predetermined and non random being) to do this, voluntarily.

    If a person falls (for example) into the abuse of booze and drugs we can try to help them – but we should not FORCE our attentions upon them.

  81. Paul, all you’ve managed to prove so far is that your definitions of “mind” and “choice” are untenable.

  82. Julie near Chicago

    Ian, you can certainly limit your definition of “morality” to what is appropriate in social interactions — in the treatment of other human beings — but some of us find it necessary to ask, “what are the roots of morality, what is its ultimate purpose?” And as a result we have to rethink the concept, its function and implications, and in the end to expand the definition.

    (As I and many others have done regarding the definitions, or concepts, of “choice” and “free will.”)

    Here, Paul and I arrive at the same conclusion: that “morality” as a set of principles guiding an individual’s interpersonal (“social”) behavior is a proper subset of the whole code of morality, the purpose of which is to further the existence of the human being in the best manner possible.

    Though I suspect Paul and I got there by somewhat different routes, the end conclusion is the same.

  83. George – I was foolish to debate about someone whose works I have never read (I apologise to you).

    Ian – do you believe that all human actions are PRE determined (not just determined) but PRE determined?

    I should have asked you that from the start – I apologise for not doing so

    As for “morality is intrinsically a matter for the group” – I think that shows our views of what “morality” (living a worth while life – as opposed to just existing) is are too different for it to be sensible for either of us to discuss it.

    Julie is, of course, free to discuss it with you..

    But I would like to know if you believe that all human actions are PRE determined.

    • No need to apologise, Paul. Some of Crowley’s books can be obtained from Amazon and Ebay, for reasonable prices. I recommend them to one and all.

  84. Still one thing we all agree upon.

    The virtue of justice – not violating the person’s or possessions of other people or voluntary associations of other people.

    To be just a person must resist any desire to violate the body or goods of others.

    It is not the only virtue (far from it) – but it is the only virtue someone needs to practice in order to be a libertarian.

  85. Julie near Chicago

    Paul, at 9:02 pm: Agreed. :>)))

  86. Julie near Chicago

    Although strictly speaking, “justice” does have a dark side.

    (I put it that way for dramatic effect. Not “dark side” in the sense of “morally wrong,” still less in the sense of “evil.” Just in the sense of requiring unpleasant acts in certain situations — acts which can only be acceptable on the grounds that they are just. Of course there is a lot of difference of opinion as to what “unpleasant” acts CAN be just, and as to what circumstances do justify such acts.)

  87. Julie – yes, justice is only one virtue. To live a good life (not something I do) one needs to cultivate a blended combination of the virtues.

    A just man can still not be a good man – one virtue is not enough. Indeed carried to fanatical excess the desire for justice (in the sense of a desire to punish violations) can lead someone into cruelty.

  88. Julie near Chicago

    Yes, Paul, I absolutely agree. That’s why we have moral philosophy — informed by psychology, as best we can — and political philosophy as one of their applications, so as to set limits on what is acceptable in the way of visiting justice upon wrongdoers.

    Musing further … human (real, individual humans’) lives, well-being, “flourishing,” health in the broadest sense — require various systems and subsystems that intertwine and cooperate to support them. Physical health … being well-nourished, disease-free, in possession of healthy organs, so forth … which interlocks with having a healthy psychology (one supportive of and reflecting the person’s “flourishing”) … both of which require reasonably accurate understandings of reality and its demands … which are systems of abstract thought, based on observation and interpretation and logic … which gets into the realms of philosophy considered as a set of similarly interlocked systems of abstract thought … and “natural philosophy” (what we today call “science” or “hard science”) exists at the interface between observation (or experience) and abstract thought. Or, you could imagine it as the threads that pass back and forth between the fabric of what I will call “extra-conceptual reality” (to distinguish between the reality of the apple tree itself, which has nothing to do with me, and my perception of and thoughts about that apple tree) and the fabric of thought, to stitch them together into one whole.

  89. Julie near Chicago

    Foregoing prompted by your observation that (paraphrase) “a good life requires a blended combination of the virtues”….

    Also note that you said “cultivate.” Important. Requires effort, requires an understanding that trying to be a Good Person (according to some reasonable understanding of what it means to be “a good person) is worth the effort. Requires making the effort to work out what what in one’s view IS a “good person.”

  90. Julie near Chicago

    All these recent postings (here & elsewhere) being committed in virtue of putting off balancing my checkbook, of course. :>)

  91. This is where I reach for my gun, as the saying goes.

    Everyone has an idea of what is most “flourishing”. What few fail to realise, or accept, is that this tends to be just their own preferences in disguise.

    I don’t believe we need “moral philosophies” to tell us how to flourish. We can work things out practically. If I don’t eat, I will starve. If I don’t wash, I will stink. If I drink too much beer, my head will hurt. But this does not mean one needs a “system”.

    Look at it this way; I am a minarchist. In this, I am interested in how small a State (i.e. set of coercive institutions) we can have. That doesn’t mean no state (I think the anarchists are in error, see my Cats posting passim) but it’s saying, “does the State need to do this? No, let’s stop” and so on.

    Likewise, a morality is simply an agreed set of rules that enable us to get along. Some will work better than others. Some will be repulsive to one’s sentiment. But again, the question is, “how small a ruleset do we need?”.

    The alternative tendency is to seek to expand the ruleset. To make a rule for everything. To tell people what to eat, how to cut their hair, whether they should dance or not. I’m pulling in the opposite direction to that; which means that when somebody comes up to me with an expanded moral philosophy, well… I reach for my gun.

    Markets. You see, this is the inconsistency I see in most libertarians. They will scream and rant about subjective economic value, and the market will decide. But then turn into objectivists with everything else, as if there is some distinction between economic values and other human values- such as the ones we call “moral values”.

    Just let the market figure it out. The social sphere is just as much a market as the economic sphere. People will do different things, live different ways. Some will prosper, some won’t. So long as we say that nobody can coerce anyone else- the only real “moral” system we need- then freely acting individuals will converge on those living solutions with the greater utility. That’s all we need do.

    Smallest possible ruleset. That was my catchphrase (EJ Thribb).

  92. Julie near Chicago

    Fine, Ian. What you’ve given us, then, IS your philosophy. Or, at least, your working philosophy. It is what it is. :>)

    For you, “morality” is restricted to the sphere of interpersonal interactions and you rely on whatever you rely on to guide you as to what is in your best interest. Any of your rules of thumb may or may not IN FACT serve that, in any given understanding of “best interest,” but that is true of all of us.

    For me, and for Paul (OK, Paul?), “morality” has a broader definition, which includes the way we treat ourselves (if you want to put it that way). We see it as directed to a specific end, that end being what each of us sees as his own “best interest,” though we might not have quite the same definition of what that is. And whatever rules (whether “absolute”–relatively! :) or “rules of thumb”) we adopt and try to follow may or may not IN FACT serve what is really in what we think is our “best interest,” or in what is IN FACT our best interest, there being no guarantee that these are the same. And that is true of all of us.

    Summarizing: As we in America say (with a little different meaning to Paul’s), “to each his own.”

    - – -
    “Smallest possible ruleset”? Eat nourishing food as needed, sleep sufficiently, brush your teeth after eating, and bathe regularly. Don’t s*** where you eat. That’s the smallest possible ruleset. It allows murder, pillage, and rapine.

    My own has a few more do’s & don’t’s. Most of the “Don’t’s” are formal only: e.g., I don’t botherabout rapine, as I don’t see myself in a position where that would be an issue anytime soon.

    - – -

    And I’ve finished balancing my checkbook, or I wouldn’t be here.

  93. So like I said, subjectivist.

    See, the point here is that “best interest” is individual. It’s subjective, in that each person has an opinion of what their best interest is, whether in the marketplace shopping, or the social “marketplace” of life.

    So, you end up with some form of non-coercion principle. Let each person seek their own (subjective) best interests. That’s all you need. Push in the opposite direction- try to deontologically define an objective “best” for everything and you end up in the world of declaring ham sandwiches evil and so on. Because there’s always another rule to be made.

    Smallest possible. Maybe I should have said smallest “practical”; but I mean the same by each. We can’t all live our own (subjectively best) lives if we’re being raped and murdered and our houses burgled, so prohibiting them is in our smallest ruleset. But Paul keeps banging on about “choice” and (philosophical concerns about determinism aside) I agree. I want the maximal choice, and the same for everyone else. That means, the fewest rules we can get away with.

    Which, after our several gigabytes of ranting at each other, is inevitably going to boil down to some form of the non-aggression principle, or the like.

    But within that framework, whether I want to maximise my life expectancy, or live fast and die young, whether to maximise my productivity or kick back and relax, whether or not to be monogamous or promiscuous, whether or not to drink beer or be teetotal… these are my choices, and anyone with a moral philosophy ordering me to one or the other really can stick it somewhere devoid of sunlight.

    Not much use being a libertarian if you can’t say that.

  94. Julie near Chicago

    No, your original “smallest practical ruleset” IS practical, provided you can find a place where living by it isn’t too inconvenient. I mean, as long as you can get the populace to go along with it….

    Then you proceed to strike the word “smallest,” by implication, and substitute a ruleset that yields “the maximal choice, and the same for everyone else.”

    Which is WAY larger than “the smallest” possible. In fact, the general libertarian (properly speaking: no such thing as “left-libertarian”) and Classical Liberal conundrum is precisely the question of what are the do’s and don’ts that will form “the smallest ruleset that allows people to peacefully coexist.”

    (Of course, libertarianism only addresses POLITICAL issues, hence interpersonal or social ones. My own ruleset also includes the injunction to get enough sleep, because I feel dreadful and my brain doesn’t work if I don’t.)

  95. Ian I can not see here (perhaps it was in your previous comments – which I may have misread due to extreme tiredness) whether or not you believe that all human actions are PRE determined.

    Is our disagreement just me getting the wrong end of the stick (a TERMINOLOGY thing) – with you using the word “determine” when I would say “choose”?

    For example, with you saying that when someone (as I would put it) chooses to push someone else in front of a truck they “determine” to do so (and could have determined not to push the other person in front of a truck).

    I assure you that I have no special definition of “mind”, “choice”, “I”, “me” (and so on) – I am using the standard definitions used both by Aristotelians (of various sorts) and also CRITICS of the Aristotelians such as Ralph Cudworth in the 17th century or Harold Prichard in the 20th century.

    However, if I have got the wrong end of the stick – if I have simply not understood your TERMINOLOGY (if you are using he word “determine” when I would say “choose”) I apologise.

    It is, of course, whether or not all human actions are PRE determined (not determined by the human person – who could have determined otherwise) upon which liberalism stands or falls.

    Only if human persons are not “determiners” (as I think you would say) unable to “determine” to do otherwise (for example not to throw someone in front of a truck) does liberalism fall.

    An event yesterday puts all this in sharp relief.

    A leading figure in the Indian Socialist Party (the third largest party in the Indian party and a de facto supporter of the current government) declared that, as rapists are hanged, women who engage in voluntary sexual intercourse should also be hanged.

    In the face of real human EVIL (such as shown by the Socialist Party of India man) our disputes seem much less important.

    However, I would still like to know whether or not you believe that all human actions are PRE determined.

  96. George a friend of mine (only a couple of minutes walk away) actually owns works by Mr Crowley.

    Yet I commented without reading them (I do not read nearly as much as did when I was younger – even a thread of comments is often too much for me these days, especially if someone violates the golden rule of comments “say the important thing in the first paragraph and repeat it in the last paragraph – as most people do not read the bit in the middle”).

    I should not have commented on Mr Crowley.

    I do not even know if he believed that all actions are PRE destined (for example if someone deliberately shoves someone in front of a car – they could not have decided NOT to do so).

    Belief in magic does not tell me whether someone believes that humans can make real choices – or whether it is all predestined.

    After all many people who believe in magic talk of “fate” and “destiny”.

    The Church in the Middle Ages opposed astrology (the “scienceism” of the day – without a Karl Popper to debunk its pretensions concerning everything being predetermined) because astrology was held to declare that all important actions were un chosen (i.e. that people could not choose to do otherwise), thus making the concept of right and wrong (indeed the very existence of the human person) meaningless.

  97. The word “subjective” depends on the existence of the subject (that people are not JUST objects – that people are also subjects, reasoning “I”s).

    This may be fine for determinism IF a person is defined as a “determiner” who “determines” some actions – it is only if all actions are PRE determined, that the idea of a “subject” (as in a person – see subject-object distinction) is made meaningless – and the concept of “subjective” along with it.

  98. Ian B.

    “We have the capacity for moral action”.

    “Hitler was capable of understanding that murder is wrong a lion is not – I blame Hitler not the lion”;

    So it is NOT the case that all human actions are PRE determined.

  99. Paul, I’m still waiting for you to explain, or even address, how any physical system exercising “choice” can operate which is neither deterministic nor random. If you want to insist that there is this third type of physics, you need to say how it works.

    All you keep saying is that you don’t like the ramifications of physical action as we know it, so you deny its existence, at least as regards humans. Whether this also applies to the actions of plants, and the motions of non-living objects, you don’t say. But whatever, the onus on you is to say, in a physical sense, not a moral sense, a physical one, what “choice” (as you believe it is) actually is rather than what it is not.

  100. Ian I broke the golden rule – I commented whilst tired and without reading all your comments, for example I did not even see the Hitler and the lion comment (till just above when I first mention it).

    If you do not believe that all human actions are PRE determined (or random) there really is no problem.

    If you want to say that people “determine” things rather that “choose” things that is just a terminology difference of no importance – the point is that the “determiners” (the persons) could have determined otherwise.

    As you say “we have a capacity for moral conduct” – a person is blameworthy for deliberately pushing someone in front of a moving car, because they could have determined (chosen) not to do so.

    Hence your Hitler and the lion example.

    Short version.

    I do not mind if you say that people “determine” things whereas I would say they “choose” them.

    My problem was that (mistakenly) thought you were claiming that all human actions were PRE determined (or random) – i.e. (in your terms) that people could not determine to do otherwise. For example, not push someone in front of a moving car.

    Determined – yes (if “determined” is the word you wish to use for choose – as in “I determined to walk north rather than south”).

    PRE determined – no.

    Otherwise (as you point out) Hitler is no more worthy of moral blame than the lion.