The debate over free will has evolved through several paradigms. The first might be called a religious paradigm trying to resolve God's omnipotence with human responsibility. The second might be called a reductionist paradigm, revolving around the determinist and indeterminist debate. A more recent paradigm frames the topic in terms of inter-level causality using systems theory, and is called non-reductive physicalism.

One thread driving the evolution of the free-will paradigms is the impact of the scientific method on the debate. Some of the previous debate is little better than “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?†Many diverse fields now provide facts which need to be integrated into a common explanatory theory, such as philosophy, neurobiology, physics, neurophysics, information theory, chaos theory, language theory, psychology, neuropsychology, etc.
I am not aware of one theory that explains all of the facts available. I believe that more research needs to be done just to ensure all of the relevant facts are considered. If all of the facts aren't available, then skepticism about any given theory is justified. Given all that qualification, I'm going to assert that human agency exists in some sense, and summarize two theories which attempt to explain how agency can work.

The two theories of agency that will be summarized are The Non-Reductive Physicalism Theory, and The Cogito Model. Each theory will provide information on the following topics. What is the correct model of causality? What is the correct theory of the person? What is action or choice? How does action or choice occur? What requirements need to be met in order to validly assert moral responsibility?


Theories of Causality

Any theory of agency must presuppose the existence of some kind of causality ( Praxeology ). This section will summarize 6 theories of causality. The six theories are Determinism, Atomism, Reductionism, Indeterminism, Adequate Determinism, and Non-Reductive Physicalism. This section will also introduce definitions for Downward Causation, Emergence, Propensity and Self-Directed System, which are necessary to understand Non-Reductive Physicalism.


1. Determinism


the general philosophical thesis that states that for everything that happens there are conditions such that, given them, nothing else could happen; Determinism rarely requires that perfect prediction be practically possible - only prediction in theory.   

Wikipedia, Determinism



Problems with Determinism



Defining Determinism

The following quotes illustrate just how little consensus there is in defining determinism, as well as highlighting problems with particular definitions:

If it is merely the claim that every event has a cause, then it may be false or harmless for present purposes. (DMNMMDI, pg56)


As noted above, by Laplace's day the laws of nature were thought to be necessary. But today, with multiple-universe cosmologies and reflection on the anthropic issue (why does the universe have laws and constants, from within a vast range of possibilities, that belong to a very small set that permit the evolution of life?), there is much room, again, to imagine that the laws of our universe are contingent. (DMNMMDI, pg56)


Jeremy Butterfield argues that the only clear sense to be made of determinist theses is to ask whether significant theories are deterministic. This is more difficult than it appears, however. It may appear that the determinism of a set of equations is simply the mathematical necessity in their transformations and use in predictions of future states of the system. One problem, though, is that there are many examples of a set of differential equations which can be interpreted as a deterministic theory, or as an indeterminate theory, depending on the notion of state used to interpret the equations. (DMNMMDI, pg56)


Second, even if a theory is deterministic, no theories apply to actual systems in the universe, because no system can be suitably isolated from its environment. (DMNMMDI, pg56)


A third problem, argued by Alwyn Scott, is the fact that many important theories dealing with higher levels of complexity (such as those governing the transmission of nerve impulses) can be shown not to be derivable from lower-level theories, and especially not quantum mechanics. (DMNMMDI, pg57)


Additional Reading:

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Causal Determinism



Defining Causes

There are at least three alternative explanations for causality: Aristotle's fourfold account; the Atomist account; and self-causation. Data can be found to fit the atomist and self-causation theories, while the Aristotelian theory has been rejected. Data can be found that doesn't fit within either the atomist account or the self-causation theory. Therefore, I conclude that the Non-reductive Physicalist account of causation is better since it has more explanatory power than either the atomist or self-causation theories alone. The following quotes emphasize this line of reasoning:

Jaegwon Kim concludes that, given the vast diversity in the ways we use causal language, it may be doubted whether there is a unitary concept that can be captured in an enlightening philosophical analysis. (DMNMMDI, pg57)


In ancient philosophy there were at least three alternatives: Aristotle's fourfold account of final, formal, material, and efficient causes. We have already described the atomist position, both with and without swerves to provide for contingency and human freedom. All along, though, it has been questioned whether indeterminacy provides for anything interesting in the way of human freedom. So from as early as the writings of Carneades (c.213-129 BCE), it has been argued by a minority that humans (and perhaps other entities) have the capacity to cause their own actions. Later proponents include Thomas Reid, Samuel Clarke, and C. A. Campbell. (DMNMMDI, pg58)


Given the rejection of all the rest of Aristotle's account of matter and causation, it is odd that this principle formal causation continues to be assumed by almost everyone in contemporary philosophy. (DMNMMDI, pg58)



Problems with the Atom


Atoms modeled as tiny solar systems have given way to a plethora of smaller constituents whose particle-ness is problematic. It is unknown whether these will turn out to be composed of even stranger parts, such as strings. (DMNMMDI, pg55)

For another example, look at the Wave Structure of Matter (WSM) theory proposed in my metaphysics section, where atoms are formed by the vibrations of space. If the universe isn't accurately modeled by Newtonian billiard balls or clocks, or by Einsteinian particles projecting mysterious forces, then Determinism and Atomism aren't accurate enough ( Metaphysics ).


Quantum Non-Locality


The original assumption that the elementary particles are unaffected by their interactions has certainly been challenged by the peculiar phenomenon of quantum nonlocality. Particles that have once interacted continue to behave in coordinated ways even when they are too far apart for any known causal interaction in the time available. Thus, measuring or otherwise tampering with one particle affects its partner, wherever it happens to be. (DMNMMDI, pg55)


Most quantum states are entangled states. This means that instead of thinking of bottom-up action by invariant constituents, one must consider cooperative effects between the constituent components that modify their very nature. Because of quantum entanglement, it is difficult even to talk of individual properties of constituent parts. But if the constituent particles at the microlevel don't even have individual properties, a simplistic reductionist view is undermined. (George Ellis, DMNMMDI, pg55)


The Source of Motion and Change


For the Epicureans, atoms alone were the source of motion. (DMNMMDI, pg56)


An important development was Newton's concept of inertia: a body will remain at rest or continue in uniform motion unless acted upon by a force. In Newton's system, initial movement could only be from a first cause, God, and the relation of the force of gravity to divine action remained for him a problem. Eventually, three other forces, electromagnetism and the strong and weak nuclear forces were added to the picture. (DMNMMDI, pg56)


Big-bang cosmology played a role, too. The force of the initial explosion plays a significant part in the causes of motion, and it is very much an open question whether there can be an explanation of that singularity. (DMNMMDI, pg56)

In other words, the Epicurean atomists, the Newtonian determinists, and the Big Bang cosmologists have all failed to explain the source of motion and change. This lack of explanatory theory is at the very least a cause for skepticism of the Determinist / Atomist / Reductionist world views by themselves. For an alternative explanation of motion and change, see my Metaphysics section.



2. Atomism

a. "The essential elements of reality are the atoms." (DMNMMDI, pg53)

b. "Atoms are unaffected by their interaction with other atoms or by the composites of which they are apart." (DMNMMDI, pg53)

c. "The atoms are the source of all motion and change." (DMNMMDI, pg53)

d. "Insofar as the atoms behave deterministically (the Epicureans countenanced spontaneous swerves, but Laplace and his followers did not), they determine the behavior of all complex entities. (DMNMMDI, pg53)

e. "Complex entities are not, ultimately, causes in their own right." (DMNMMDI, pg53)


3. Reductionism

a. Methodological reductionism: a research strategy of analyzing the thing to be studied in terms of its parts. This was the focus of early modern science. It is now recognized that it needs to be supplemented by approaches that recognize the role of environment (DMNMMDI, pg53)

b. Epistemological reductionism: the view that laws or theories pertaining to the higher levels of the hierarchy of the sciences can (and should) be shown to follow from lower-level laws, and ultimately from the laws of physics. This was the focus of twentieth-century positivist philosophers of science. It is now thought to be possible only in a limited number of cases, and how “limited†is still controversial. It is closely related to logical or definitional reductionism: the view that words and sentences referring to a higher-level entity can be translated without residue into language about lower-level entities. The lack of such translatability in many cases is one of the reasons for the failure of epistemological reductionism. (DMNMMDI, pg53)

c. Causal reductionism: the view that the behavior of the parts of a system (ultimately, the parts studied by subatomic physics) is determinative of the behavior of all higher-level entities. Thus, this is the thesis that all causation in the hierarchy is bottom-up. (DMNMMDI, pg54)

d. Ontological reductionism: the view that higher-level entities are nothing but the sum of their parts. However, this thesis is ambiguous; we need names here for two distinct positions: (DMNMMDI, pg54)

i. One is the view that as one goes up the hierarchy of levels, no new kinds of non-physical ingredients need to be added to produce higher-level entities from lower. No vital force or entelechy must be added to get living beings from non-living materials; no immaterial mind or soul is needed to get consciousness, no Zeitgeist to form individuals into a society. (DMNMMDI, pg54)

ii. A much stronger thesis is that only the entities at the lowest level are really real; higher-level entities-molecules, cells, organisms-are only composite structures (temporary aggregates) made of atoms. This is the assumption, mentioned above, that the atoms have ontological priority over the things they constitute. We shall designate this position atomist reductionism to distinguish it from 4a, for which we shall retain the designation of ontological reductionism. It is possible to hold a physicalist ontology without subscribing to atomist reductionism. Thus, one might say that higher-level entities are real-as real as the entities that compose them-and at the same time reject all sorts of vitalism and dualism. (DMNMMDI, pgs54-55)


4. Indeterminism

"...the concept that events (certain events, or events of certain types) are not caused, or not caused deterministically (cf. causality) by prior events; the doctrine that not all events in the physical world are predetermined with absolute precision; it is possible for everything to have a necessary cause, even while indeterminism holds and the future is open, because a necessary cause does not lead to a single inevitable effect. Wikipedia, Indeterminism



5. Adequate Determinism

a. "Indeterminism is true in that some prior causal events have unpredictable, probabilistic, or undetermined consequences; the existence of quantum indeterminacy is an example;"

b. "Indeterminism is true in that the future is unpredictable"

c. "Indeterminism is true in that alternative futures exist and can be chosen"

d. "A degree of determinism is true in that natural laws can be discovered, predicted and verified in the macro-world"

e. "We can have causality without determinism, if among the causes is a quantum event that was itself unpredictable and to some extent uncaused; we call it soft causality"

f. "Adequate determinism means that we can usually understand the causes for events, despite the fact that some causes for our actions are surprising, even to us, and after the fact seem to have been unpredictable, the result of a causa sui."

g. "There is also no problem imagining a role for randomness in the brain in the form of quantum level noise. Noise can introduce random errors into stored memories. Noise could create random associations of ideas during memory recall. This randomness may be driven by microscopic fluctuations that are amplified to the macroscopic level. Such randomness is at the heart of the idea of a causa sui."

h. "provides statistical predictability, which in normal situations for physical objects approaches statistical certainty."

i. Source: The Information Philosopher Website, Adequate Determinism



6. Non-Reductive Physicalism

a. "So let us take physicalism to be short for physicalist monism." (DMNMMDI, pg20)

b. "In recent philosophical literature physicalism and materialism are both used to refer both to monist accounts of the person and to monistic world views. A physicalist account of the person does not entail a materialist / physicalist world view; in particular, it does not entail atheism. We choose to call our view of the person physicalist rather than materialist, first, because it is in keeping with current philosophical usage, but, second, because materialism has been used more often to designate a world view, and thus seems to carry additional atheistic connotations that we prefer to avoid." (DMNMMDI, pg20)

c. Dynamic Systems explain multiple levels of causality:

i. "The essential elements of dynamic systems are not atoms in any sense, but component processes." (DMNMMDI, pg98)

ii. "The components of systems are affected (constrained) by their relationships within the whole." (DMNMMDI, pg98)

iii. "Dynamic systems are often the source of their own changes." (DMNMMDI, pg98)

iv. "Some components of systems behave deterministically, and others are affected by genuine quantum-level indeterminacy; but the system as a whole behaves according to propensities." (DMNMMDI, pg98)

v. "Some systems are causes in their own right." (DMNMMDI, pg98)

d. "The universe is now seen to be composed not so much of objects as of systems. The components of the systems themselves are not atoms but structures defined by their relations to one another and to their environment, rather than by their primary qualities." (DMNMMDI, pgs76-77)

e. "Concepts of causation based on mechanical pushing and pulling have been replaced by the concept of attraction in phase space." (DMNMMDI, pg77)

f. "The picture we have presented is of a world in which many systems come into being, preserve themselves, and adapt to their environments as a result of a tri-level process. Lower-level entities or systems manifest or produce (mid-level) variation; higher-level structures select or constrain the variation." (DMNMMDI, pg97)

g. "So the basic causal structure of the universe, all the way from the bottom to the top may be a dynamic interplay of downward causation from large webs of structures that have evolved over time with bottom-up constraints provided by the original lower-level constituents." (DMNMMDI, pg236)

h. "If we give up on the notion that determinism and indeterminism are exhaustive categories, then perhaps strict indeterminism applies only at the quantum level (and in cases where macro-systems amplify quantum events); determinism applies largely to the realm of mechanical processes, and propensity, a genuinely distinct option, applies to much of organismic behavior. Juarrero interprets propensities in terms of dynamical attractors." (DMNMMDI, pg238)

i. "Higher order properties act by the selective activation of physical powers and not by their alteration." (DMNMMDI, pg69)

j. Downward Causation: "..involves selection or constraint of lower-level causal processes on the basis of how those lower-level processes or entities fit into a broader (higher-level) causal system." (DMNMMDI, pg25)

k. Emergence:

i. "Deacon applies the terms first-order emergence or supervenient emergence to systems in which lower-order relational properties are the constitutive factor determining some higher-order property." (DMNMMDI, pg80)

ii. "Second-order emergence occurs when there is temporal development, or symmetry breaking, in a system." (DMNMMDI, pg80)

iii. "Third-order emergent systems involve, in addition, some form of information or memory." (DMNMMDI, pg81)

iv. "If we were to employ the term emergent, we would speak not of emergent entities but rather of emergent levels of causal efficacy." (DMNMMDI, pg20)

l. Propensity: "...an irregular or non-necessitating causal disposition of an object or system to produce some result or effect" , "...usually conceived of as essentially probabilistic in nature." (DMNMMDI, pg98)

m. Self-Directed System: "...complex adaptive systems are characterized, first, by positive feedback processes in which the product of the process is necessary for the process itself.  Contrary to Aristotle, this circular type of causality is a form of self-cause. Second, when parts interact to produce wholes, and the resulting distributed wholes in turn affect the behavior of their parts, interlevel causality is at work. Interactions among certain dynamical processes can create a systems-level organization with new properties that are not the simple sum of the components that create the higher level.  In turn, the overall dynamics of the emergent distributed system not only determine which parts will be allowed into the system: the global dynamics also regulate and constrain the behavior of the lower-level components." (DMNMMDI, pg85)



Conclusion about Causality

I currently prefer Non-reductive Physicalism as my tentative theory of causality. It incorporates facts explained by Determinism, Atomism, Reductionism, Indeterminism, and Adequate Determinism, while providing additional explanatory power. Specifically, many observations are impossible to explain without posing a hierarchical web of interactive causality.



Murphy and Brown, Did My Neurons Make Me Do It?

The Information Philosopher Website, Adequate Determinism



Theories of the Person

What is a person? Is it clay formed into God's own image? Is it a lump of meat? Is it a machine? Is it a system within the context of a larger system? As you can see, the analogy or metaphor used to describe a person (the theory of a person), will have a significant impact on understanding both agency and your larger world view. In this section I will delineate the main assumptions of two competing theories of the person. The first theory is a modern version of Cartesian Materialism, and the second theory is Physicalist Monism. I hope to show that the evidence is against a Cartesian Materialist theory of the person, and that a Physicalist Monism theory of the person is a solid working alternative.


Cartesian Materialism

The modern Cartesian Materialism thesis makes the following 7 assumptions. (1) Brain-body dualism substitutes the brain for the mind and then opposes the brain to the body. (2) CM discounts emotion by assuming the purpose of reason is to control emotion. (3) CM invented the Cartesian Theater which portrays the real I, or self, as this thing in the mind that looks at representations of the outside world. (4) CM led to two forms of skepticism-skepticism of the accuracy of these representations of this outside world; and skepticism of the agency of other minds. (5) CM influences researchers to focus on the individual, as opposed to the individual contextually embedded in the environment. (6) CM identifies the person as something inside the head. (7) CM assumes that the mind is a mirror that passively reflects representations. The rest of this section will provide evidence proving each of these 7 assumptions to be wrong, or at least inaccurate.


Brain-Body Dualism

Brain-body dualism has evolved since Descarte first proposed that the mind and soul are synonymous. He proposed that the brain and mind interacted through the Pineal Gland. Since then, finding and measuring the interaction between mind and brain has plagued philosophers. Given recent advances in science, theories have shifted from Dualism to several versions of Physicalism. These Physicalist theories include Mind-Brain Identity Theories and a Non-Reductive Physicalist theory. This section will provide quotes which limit the applicability of the Mind-Brain Identity Theory and argue for a Non-Reductive Physicalist account:

Mind and soul could be used interchangeably in Descarte's writings. (DMNMMDI, pg27)


So whereas earlier the mind had been one part or function of the soul, now mind, cognition, consciousness (thus expanded to include consciousness of sensation and emotion) became the soul's sole function. (DMNMMDI, pg27)


Richard Rorty has called our attention to the peculiarities of the concept of mind that we inherited from Descartes. The mind is an inner theater in which there appear a variety of kinds of ideas: beliefs, desires, intentions, occurrent thoughts, mental images, and raw feels such as pains and sensory images. The peculiarity appears when we ask: Appears to whom?  Theologian Nicholas Lash refers to this observer as that obstinate and anxious little person, the Cartesian ego. We shall see below that this inner spectator is more difficult to banish from our self-image than the Cartesian mind itself. The peculiar idea that the real I is an observer within the mind is one of Descartes's many legacies from Augustine, who described himself as wandering through the roomy chambers of his memory.  (DMNMMDI, pg28)


Yet, ever since Descartes proposed the pineal gland as the locus of mind-brain interaction, the problem of the relation of the mind and body has occupied philosophers.  (DMNMMDI, pg28)


This creates a dilemma: hold on to the immateriality of mind, and there is no way to account for its supposed ability to move the body; interpret it as a quasi-physical force, and its effects ought to be measurable and quantifiable as is any other force in nature.  But nothing of the latter enters into modern physics.  (DMNMMDI, pgs28-29)


As a consequence both of the problem with mind-body interaction and of advances in the cognitive neurosciences, the balance has shifted in philosophy of mind from dualism to a variety of forms of physicalism.  (DMNMMDI, pg29)


A still current option is the mind-brain identity thesis. There are various versions: the mind is identical with the brain; mental properties (such as the property of being in pain, or believing some proposition) are identical with physical properties; or mental events are identical with brain events.  (DMNMMDI, pgs29-30)


An important distinction in philosophy of mind is that between type identity and token identity. Token identity is the thesis that every particular mental event or property is identical with some physical event or other; type identity is a stronger thesis to the effect that for every individual (and perhaps for every conscious species) each type of mental event is identical with a type of physical event. (DMNMMDI, pg20)


The implication that follows from the latter assumption is this: if type-type identity theory is true then reduction of psychology to neuroscience will eventually be possible.  (DMNMMDI, pg30)


This strong identity thesis may be true (within a given species and even across species) in cases such as pain sensations, but it is not true of higher-order mental states. While it is likely true for a given individual that a particular mental state (such as thinking about Socrates) is realized by a similar pattern of neural activity each time it occurs, it is not the case that one person's thought of Socrates is instantiated or realized in the same pattern as someone else's. In fact, given that no two brains are exactly alike, even those of identical twins, it is not clear what it could mean to speak of exactly the same brain state in two different people. (DMNMMDI, pg31)


We shall argue that a mental event is not even token-identical to a brain event, because the mental qua mental is essentially co-constituted by the context in which the mental / neural event occurs. Thus, a mental event must be understood as a contextualized brain event. (DMNMMDI, pg31)


The Purpose of Reason vs Emotion

Descarte proposed the Cartesian Materialist idea that the purpose of reason is to control emotions. Modern scientists have held on to this CM idea by picturing reason and emotion as separate brain areas. Reason and emotion are actually interdependent systems. The following quotes will illustrate this shift in thought:

Despite his recognition of important functions for the emotions, Descartes followed a long line of predecessors in Western thought in emphasizing the necessity for the control of emotion by reason. He argued that the chief use of wisdom lies in becoming masters of our passions.  (DMNMMDI, pg34)


Damasio titled his book Descartes' Error, and the specific error he attacks is the belief that “the mechanisms of reason existed in a separate province of the mind, where emotions should not be allowed to intrude. This psychological hypothesis had been transferred by neuroscientists to a conception of the brain, leading them to envision separate neural systems for reason and emotion.  (DMNMMDI, pg34)


Anticipatory emotional responses signal important knowledge about the likely consequences of our actions, and are therefore necessary for wise and rational behavior.  (DMNMMDI, pg36)


Therefore, we adult humans have a unique ability to incorporate into our cognitive processes information about the subtleties of bodily reactions that adds intuitive awareness (gut feelings) to our thinking and behavioral regulation. Allman has hypothesized that abnormality in the development of Von Economo neurons may be a cause of autism.  (DMNMMDI, pg37)


The Cartesian Theater

Descartes proposed that the real person is a separate thing thinking his way to certainty somewhere within the body. This idea of the Cartesian Theater has hung on in modern versions of Cartesian Materialism. Physicalist Monism argues that the whole person is the subject of experience. The following quotes will compare and contrast these two theses:

A subtle form of mind-brain identification occurs when the inwardness of the Cartesian mind is transferred to the brain. Descartes described himself as a thinking thing, distinct from and somehow within his body. Thinking is a process of focusing the mind's eye; but focusing on what? On ideas in his mind. Thus there arose the image of the Cartesian theater: the real I is an observer in the mind, looking at mental representations of what is outside. (DMNMMDI, pg37)


In contrast, Austin Farrer reminds us that the subject of experience is the whole person. In an imagined dialogue about Dick, who has just received a meaningful communication from Tom, he asks: Is it Dick the man or Dick the brain who understands the signal? When we think of the visual organs and the nerves connected to them we are tempted to ask where the signals go.  All the way in to where? To where Dick is? But isn't Dick all over himself? (DMNMMDI, pg37)


Philosopher Daniel Dennet coined the term Cartesian materialism to refer to the view one arrives at when one discards Descartes' dualism but fails to discard the associated imagery of a central (but material) theater where it all comes together as if somewhere in the brain the results of sensory perception are presented for subjective judgment. (DMNMMDI, pg38)


Subjective mental states are not the operation of a single brain subsystem, but are patterns of greater or lesser neural activation broadly distributed across most (if not all) of the brain. Second, they believe that the concept of a central theater distorts research on the nature and timing of perception, response initiation, and consciousness. Perception is not the arrival of pre-processed information at some central brain location; nor does response organization and initiative begin at a central brain locus and proceed outward. (DMNMMDI, pgs38-39)


Skepticism of Representation and Other Minds

Descartes used the certainty of his thinking to infer that other minds exist. This skepticism of representation and skepticism of the existence of other minds has hung on in modern versions of Cartesian Materialism. Physicalist Monism shows that human brains are hard-wired, through systems like mirror neurons, to detect other persons. The following quotes describe how thinking has evolved on this subject:

While the Cartesian ego had to prove to itself that there are other minds, the social brain, apparently, cannot help but believe there are.  Brothers summarizes research showing that humans and other social primates are neurobiologically equipped to perceive persons-that is, bodies-with-subjectivity. Neurons in and near the amygdala respond selectively to faces and to hand and eye movements that signal other' intentions. (DMNMMDI, pg40)


Brothers concludes that just as we are unable to hear a word in a familiar language without perceiving the meaning, so our brains have developed in such a way that when we perceive features such as body appearance, body movement, voice, and face, we are compelled to experience them as indicative of the presence of a person who has subjectivity. (DMNMMDI, pg40)


Individuals Out of Context

Descartes started his inferences from the knowledge of his own thinking, a particularly individualist approach. This individualism shows up in modern versions of Cartesian Materialism. Physicalist Monism argues that yes, we are individuals, and it's fine to start there. However, the context within which the individual is important as well. The following quotes illustrates how CM focuses on the individual at the expense of environmental and social contexts:

Psychiatrist and neurobiologist Leslie Brothers objects to ways in which Cartesian individualism appears in neuroscientific research. Research on humans and other primates has often been pursued as though brains operate the same way in isolation as they do in social contexts.  (DMNMMDI, pg39)


The CM Person in your Head:

Descarte proposed the idea of the person viewing the world through representations on the Cartesian Theater. Modern versions of Cartesian Materialism still wrongly use this concept. Physicalist Monism argues that rather than having an agent in your head, the person is an agent. The following quotes highlight this important distinction:

The main point to be made is that maps of self-in-the-world, although they contain a representation of the self, do not constitute a Cartesian self, in that they do not constitute a separate inner agent. Similarly, the subjective experience of running an off-line behavioral scenario is not proof of an inner agent. Only the person as a whole is an agent. The maps and simulations come into play in order to regulate action of the whole person. When coupled with a Cartesian view of persons, subjective experiences of our inner workings come to be treated as evidence of a separate inner agent, rather than descriptions of the functioning of the person as a whole. (DMNMMDI, pg42)


Pressed by such criticisms of the Cartesian nature of this theory, the term mentalizing has been increasingly used as a substitute.  Mentalizing has the advantage of allowing for the possibility that mapping the knowledge, beliefs, intentions, and so forth of other persons is a process done by whole persons.  (DMNMMDI, pg43)


Mind as Passive Mirror

Descartes proposed that the mind is a passive mirror that receives representations of the outside world. Modern versions of Cartesian Materialism make the same mistake by picturing mental activities out of the context of a person's action. Physicalist Monism, by contrast, visualizes mental processes as embodied and active. The following quotes show this shift in thinking:

"The neuroscientific analogue to the image of mind as mirror is found in all attempts to understand the neural underpinnings of language, perception, or thought without taking account of human activity.  (DMNMMDI, pg44)


Lakoff and Johnson, mentioned above, hypothesize that cognition depends on neural networks first developed to enable activity in the physical world.  (DMNMMDI, pg44)


Cognitive scientist Michael Arbib uses the concept of a schema as a bridge between cognitive science and neuroscience.  Arbib emphasizes that a schema is a unit of action, thought, and perception.


Cognition and action are made possible by combining elementary schemas into complex systems.  (DMNMMDI, pg44)


Perception is an organism's way of matching its activities to the world in order to be able to achieve its purposes.  (DMNMMDI, pg44)


He defines a representation as a conditional readiness to reckon with something in the environment.  (DMNMMDI, pg44)


An important advantage in neuroscience of substituting an account of representation in terms of causes and potential behavior for an account in terms of inner images is that it eliminates the (apparent) need to postulate an inner observer in the theater to perceive the image.  (DMNMMDI, pg45)


Physicalist Monism

The Physicalist Monism thesis makes the following 7 assumptions. (1) Mental states supervene over contextualized brain events. (2) Reason and emotion are interdependent. (3) The brain is embodied. (4) The human brain is hard-wired to perceive persons in an environment. (5) Individuals are best understood in the context of their environment. (6) The person as a whole is an agent. (7) The mind modulates and regulates embodied activity.



The following quotes provide evidence for the supervenience assumption:

Until recently the options were causation (interactionism, epiphenomenalism), correlation (parallelism), and identity (mind-brain identity, event identity, property identity). It is widely recognized that the concept of supervenience offers interesting new alternatives to these three.  (DMNMMDI, pg31)


Donald Davidson's suggestion that mental events (or properties) supervene on brain events seems a promising alternative to the claim that mental events are identical to brain events.  (DMNMMDI, pg31)


We propose instead that supervenient mental states be understood to be co-determined by subvenient neural events along with social, environmental, and historical context.  (DMNMMDI, pg32)


***While it is easy to make a case for the role of the whole body in perception, sensation, emotion, and intentional action, linguists George Lakoff and Mark Johnson argue that the structure of reason itself comes from the details of our embodiment. By careful analysis of the language of time, causation, mind, morality, and other concepts, they show the same cognitive mechanisms that allow us to perceive and move around in the physical world also create our conceptual systems and modes of reason. The raw materials for all of our thinking, even philosophical categories are metaphorical extensions of language developed for describing everyday bodily actions and experiences. Thus, they hypothesize thatan embodied concept is a neural structure that is actually part of, or makes use of, the sensorimotor systems of our brains. Much conceptual inference is, therefore, sensorimotor inference.  (DMNMMDI, pg33)


Thus, neuroscientist Antonio Damasio is correct in saying: It is not only the separation of mind and brain that is mythical; the separation between mind and body is probably just as fictional. The mind is embodied, in the full sense of the term, not just embrained.  (DMNMMDI, pg33)


Mental events, even if dependent on internal physiological events, are about the field-of-action (or about you-in-the-field-of-action).  (DMNMMDI, pg34)


      • This Lakoff and Johnson quote is a wonderful validation of my world view project. Embodiment is an applicable concept not only in this section on agency, but is also relevant to epistemology via the Langen school, and of course has the tie in to praxeology and epistemology first noted by Hoppe. By bringing these sections of the worldview together, we are indeed seeing a consensus form on word usage.


Reason and Emotion are Interdependent

The following quotes are drawn from the IWV section on emotional intelligence, in the Paedeutics section. These quotes should adequately illustrate the interdependence of reason and emotion:

Emotion is a feeling. Emotions are rapid, but rough, responses to the environment, influenced by evolution and actual past life experiences. Emotion is experienced before evaluative thought can occur. Emotion is a psychological and biological state. Emotional states consolidate neural circuits under a state of mind. In complexity terms, emotional states of mind are dynamic processes. In IPNB terms, emotional states of mind are shifts in integration. Ultimately, emotional states of mind are impulses that create a readiness to act.  ( Paedeutics, Defining Emotion )


Emotions form, or are processed, in three phases. Phase one is the initial orientation. Phase two is an elaborative appraisal and arousal. Phase three is the expression of an emotion. Emotional regulation, or the normal functioning of the emotional system, is influenced by seven factors—intensity, sensitivity, specificity, windows of tolerance, recovery process, access to consciousness, and external expression. The interaction of these 7 factors with a person’s genetics and experiential learning determine how well they maintain emotional equilibrium, and return to equilibrium when normal functioning is disrupted.  ( Paedeutics, The Emotional System )


As explained above, thinking is meant to be both emotional and logical. The two processes are normally inter-dependent. One system does the higher thinking, while the other uses emotion to assign meaning and value. The seven factors of emotional regulation serve to maintain this inter-dependent working relationship between thinking and feeling.  ( Paedeutics, The Emotional System )


The Embodied Brain

The following quotes illustrate how a brain can be embodied, as a contrast to the Cartesian Theater:

According to the Multiple Drafts model developed by Dennett and Kinsbourne, there is not a single ˜stream of consciousness", only a parallel stream of conflicting and continuously revised contents. All perceptual operations, and indeed all operations of thought and action, are accomplished by multitrack processes of interpretation and elaboration that occur over hundreds of milliseconds, during which time various additions, incorporations, emendations, and overwritings of content occur, in various orders.  (DMNMMDI, pg39)


Gerald Edelman and Giulio Tononi have a very similar view. They believe that consciousness is not linked to the activity of a single brain area, but is a functionally integrated network of neuronal activity that extends across widely distributed areas of the cerebral cortex. The stream of consciousness is embodied in dynamic, moment-to-moment changes in the patterns of these functionally interconnected networks.  (DMNMMDI, pg39)


Humans are hard-wired to perceive persons in an environment

Humans have evolved biological systems whose function is to help interpret the emotional states of other humans. When around another human, humans can't help but to interpret the emotional signals that are sent socially. Skepticism of other minds seems untenable given the structure of our brains. The following quote should help bolster this Physicalist Monism assumption:

An important Cartesian assumption was that people know only their own minds directly, and that all else is known only by inference. Neuroscientist Marc Jeannerod adds evidence for our in-built capacities to perceive others' intentions and also notes cases in which it is possible to misidentify one's own intentions. When we perceive others' intentions, it is by means of mirror neurons: that is, populations of neurons in several brain areas that selectively encode postures and movements performed by conspecifics. Much of this population of neurons overlaps that in parts of the motor cortex that is involved in performing those same actions. Thus, the intentions of others are represented by means of the same neural activity as one's own intentions to act. So it is one thing to represent the intention, and another to identify whose intention it is. Only in particularly unusual circumstances do we fail to make the proper attribution, such as in schizophrenia, which sometimes involves a tendency to mistake others' perceived intentions for one's own.  (DMNMMDI, pg40)


Individuals in Context

Individuals don't function physically the same when they are isolated, as they do when they are in a social environment. The social environment, in fact, is necessary for healthy cognitive development to occur. Physicalist Monism asserts that individuals need to be studied both in isolation and in their environment. The following quote highlights the importance of this distinction:

In fact, she argues, mental life is only possible at all as a result of socialization, language, conversation. This is consistent with our emphasis throughout on the context-dependence of the mental.  (DMNMMDI, pg40)


The person as a whole is an agent

Minds are embodied and contextualized brain events. Even the neural system is not limited to just the brain.  Brains don't have an agent in the head.  Rather, the person as a whole is an agent.  The following quote supports this Physicalist Monism assumption:

Human beings do not have separate agents somewhere in the head that construct theories, but are themselves very complex agents that have various skills for mapping, remembering, and interacting with the social environment. The distinction is subtle, but critically important for our understanding of humankind.  (DMNMMDI, pg43)


The mind modulates and regulates embodied activity

The Cartesian Materialist assumption is that the mind is a passive receptor of sense data. Physicalist Monism, by contrast, assumes that the mind modulates and regulates activity. Humans are active beings. Trying to study the mind outside the context of action unnecessarily limits the scope of study. The following quotes reinforce this Physicalist Monism assumption:

Raymond Gibbs has recently attempted to rethink the entire field of cognitive psychology from the point of view of embodiment.  For Gibbs, “human cognition is fundamentally shaped by embodied experience.†He emphasizes the importance of memories of bodily experience in theoretical accounts of how people perceive, learn, think, experience emotions and consciousness, and use language.  (DMNMMDI, pg46)


We need to think of mind primarily as the modulator and regulator of ongoing embodied activity, and this requires abandonment of the dividing lines among perception, cognition, and action. His motto is: minds make motions; mind is always on the hoof.  (DMNMMDI, pg46)


Clark ends his work with an imagined dialogue between John and his brain that serves nicely to conclude this section. The brain says, A complex of important misapprehensions center around the question of the provenance of thoughts.  John thinks of me as the point source of the intellectual products he identifies as his thoughts.  But, to put it crudely, I do not have John's thoughts.  John has John's thoughts.  That is, it is the person as a whole who perceives and acts, with the help of neural machinery.  (DMNMMDI, pg46)


Choice and action

To understand choice and action, I'm going to divide this section into two parts. The first part conceives action as a logical category and analyzes the necessary presuppositions and implications of action as a concept. This section will rely entirely on Mises' conception of Praxeology, the science of human action. I intend this first section to be as general as I can get it. The second part will explore recent scientific observations on what goes on biologically when an action occurs. My intent is to show that the content of scientific observations fit the logical requirements of action as a concept.

According to Mises, action is purposeful behavior.  Action as a concept logically requires five presuppositions, and nine implications. The five presuppositions of action are a felt uneasiness, the image of a more satisfactory state, "the expectation that purposeful behavior has the power to remove or at least to alleviate the felt uneasiness", causality, and the existence of space. The nine logical implications of action are ends, means, value, choice, preference, uncertainty, time, knowledge and exchange. Notice that choice is a necessary logical deduction from action. These 14 laws of action are completely general and should inform any empirical study of what goes on biologically when action happens. We should expect scientific observations to conform to these 14 concepts. If observations don't match theory, then language will have to shift and rework theory. These praxeological laws of action are discussed in more detail at: Praxeology.

From the perspective of biological observations, I've found a few praxeological terms to be synonymous with those used in biology. First, scientists will speak in terms of needs, instead of ends. Second, the phrase changing needs is used to describe a change in value. Third, the phrase history of feedback from the environment denotes a concept of time. The following quotes illustrate how the content of biological observations adequately fit into the categories of action defined by praxeology:

Emission of behavior is based on something more like the rolling of weighted dice, with the weights constantly changing as a result of changing needs on the part of the organism and a history of feedback from the environment. (DMNMMDI, pgs94-95)


MacIntyre understands actions, both human and in higher animals, to originate in the biological needs and drives of the species-the goods at which such a form of life must aim if it is to flourish. (DMNMMDI, pg209)


Thus, an animal can be said to act (behavior X) for the reason of the learned belief that this behavior in the context of A (or in the context of B, which predicts A) will have an outcome relevant to current needs or goals. (DMNMMDI, pg193)

The Cogito Model describes choice as Fixed Past, then Generate Possibilities, then Evaluate Possibilities, then Think Again or Decision, then Undetermined Liberty or Self-Determination.


The process of choice and action


Non-Reductive Physicalism

A non-reductive physicalist explanation of choice and action describe how the following factors affect choice and action. Mental properties are causal systems that are not reducible to neurobiological systems. Consciousness provides survival and adaptive benefits. Beliefs play a causal role in behavior when sensory updating results in brain states that represent a readiness to act. Reasons play a causal role in behavior by being a contextual constraint on impulsive behavior. The understanding of logical principles can emerge from evolution and play a causal role in behavior if sets of propositions work in the world, while others do not.


Mental properties can be causal systems

Brain events don't just happen. They happen in the context of an environment and a history of prior experiences. The mental, then, is the context in which a brain event happens. The mental relates a physical function to an agent's broader needs and desires, in the context of what the agent is doing. From a systems point of view, then, the mental, indeed, has a causal role. The following quotes illustrate how mental properties can be causal systems:

Mental properties are contextualized brain events. (DMNMMDI, pg178)


Mental properties are higher-level properties because they involve the brain processes in relation to a broader, more complex system: the brain in the body in its environment and with a longer causal history. (DMNMMDI, pg178)


Mental properties are supervenient on brain events because their nature and significance can vary without a change in the base property (i.e., due to a change in their relationship to environmental circumstances). For example, a true belief may become a false belief if the world changes. (DMNMMDI, pg178)


The causal relevance of supervenient mental properties is a function of the way they serve to relate the neural base property to a broader causal system. It is in virtue of their informational, representational, semantic content that the base properties are able to play the causal role in the world that they do. (DMNMMDI, pg178)


It is in virtue of the mental properties that agents in the environment and subjects themselves have access to the neural basis. (DMNMMDI, pgs178-179)


Consciousness provides survival and adaptive benefits

Consciousness provides the ability to go meta. Humans can evaluate their needs and goals, then evaluate the evaluation, then evaluate again, to an unknown number of iterations. This ability to evaluate our evaluations allows us to replace our base physiological needs with more abstract goals. This ability to go meta gives us a wider range of options for action. If a wider range of options isn't freedom, then it's at least freer. This section will provide quotes which describe this concept:

This ability to represent to oneself aspects of one's own cognitive processes in order to evaluate them is what is called in cognitive science meta-cognition and what we shall call self-transcendence. Thus, what the chimpanzee seems to lack are important, very high-level supervisory systems (DMNMMDI, pg121)


As Daniel Dennett points out, the truly explosive advance in the escape from crude biological determinism comes when the capacity for pattern recognition is turned upon itself. The creature which is not only sensitive to patterns in its environment, but also sensitive to patterns in its own reactions to the environment, has taken a major step. Dennett's term for this is the ability to go meta, that is, one represents one's representations, reacts to one's reactions.  The power to iterate one's powers in this way, to apply whatever tricks one has to one's existing tricks, is a well-recognized breakthrough in many domains: a cascade of processes leading from stupid to sophisticated activity.  This is but one instance of the phenomenon, recognized by Alicia Juarrero, whereby higher-order systems constrain the behavior of their constituents, but the imposition of context-sensitive constraints greatly increases the degrees of freedom of the system itself.  (DMNMMDI, pg121)


They argue that a state of consciousness and its content (whether primary or higher-order) is a temporary and dynamically changing process within the cerebral cortex that is characterized by a high degree of functional interconnectedness among widespread areas. This functional interconnectedness is created by rapid, two-way recurrent (or reentrant) neural interactions. They call such a state of widespread functional integration a dynamic core. A dynamic core is a complex, highly differentiated neural state that, from moment to moment, includes different subsets of neurons or neural groups. It is the specific neural groupings involved, and the functional relations among the groupings, that define the nature and content of consciousness at any particular moment. (DMNMMDI, pg129)


As we have argued, the primary causal role of consciousness is to provide information relevant to an organism's action. Consciousness provides flexibility in modulating one's behavior that is not available to more primitive organisms. It allows for the prioritization of needs and drives. An earthworm is hard-wired to withdraw when it is touched, and has no need for pain sensors. More complex organisms have pain sensors that dispose them to avoid harmful stimuli while not determining a withdrawal. For an example, an animal may tolerate a degree of pain in order to satisfy a powerful feeling of hunger or to continue a fight with a rival. However, consciousness would allow the individual to risk pain, hunger, or violence for a distantly perceived goal that may be an abstract ideal. (DMNMMDI, pg191)


So one of the functions of consciousness is to provide what we might call second-order knowledge. A conscious organism not only knows things about its environment, but it also knows that it knows. (DMNMMDI, pg191)


The conscious perception of objects can lead to action that would not otherwise occur. (DMNMMDI, pg191)


The anti-reductionist does not need to be committed to saying that all qualia play a causal role in an organism's behavior, only to saying that some do, and being able to explain how. The qualities of qualia that provide no information may indeed be epiphenomenal. For example, it does matter that red and green look different to us, but it may not matter causally that they look different in just the way they do. (DMNMMDI, pg192)


Beliefs lead to a readiness to act

Perceptions lead to internal adaptations which represent a conditional readiness to act. This internal adaptation leads to shifts in our mental states called beliefs. Beliefs are stored in the part of the brain that starts the process of acting. Thus, beliefs lead to a readiness to act. The following quotes denote how this process occurs:

to perceive something…is to respond by internal adaptation to it (setting up conditional readiness to avoid it, grasp it, describe it, etc. in case of need). (DMNMMDI, pg137)


Beliefs are represented implicitly by the conditional readiness's that result from, and are left after, the episode of (sensory) updating. (DMNMMDI, pg138)


The essential character of language and thought is their intentionality, their being about something. (DMNMMDI, pg133)


Representations are stored not, for instance, in parts of the brain that produce visual images, but rather in brain systems whose function is to initiate action. (DMNMMDI, pg138)


Dretske has argued that we find the source of intentionality in indexical (or what he calls natural) representation. (DMNMMDI, pg139)


Type III systems of representation are those in which the sign exhibits intentionality because of the function it serves in an animal's behavior. (DMNMMDI, pg140)


Reasons play a causal role in behavior

At any given time, humans have some set of behavioral alternatives which they can perform. A biological need drives first-order behavior. A reason is a higher-order contextual constraint that supervenes on first order behavior. Reasons are causal by allowing a range of behavior that is greater than first-order biological needs. Reasons constrain impulsive behavior. The following quotes illustrate the causal role of reasons:

In general, intentions are not just triggers of actions but operate as contextual constraints that provide behavior with continuous ongoing control, modifying in real time the probability distribution of behavioral alternatives. (DMNMMDI, pg198)


A person's general state of mind is a high-level distributed organization; its attractors represent available act types. Feedback between external circumstances and internal dynamics can drive neural dynamics far enough from equilibrium so that one attractor becomes an intention, reorganizing the landscape. (DMNMMDI, pg198)


In short, proximate intentions are dynamical attractors that function as top-down control operators entraining other subsystems, including (in the case of behavior) motor control. These second-order contextual constraints restrict some of the motor subsystems potential as these become entrained to the intentions organization. (DMNMMDI, pg198)


Logic is a causal influence on behavior

Logic amounts to a process of analyzing patterns among sentences. Some patterns work in the world, and other patterns do not work. The ability to go meta, talked about earlier, when applied to sentence formation, provides obvious benefits when trying to act, or model off-line action before committing in real time. The following quotes describe the causal influence of logic:

Some sets of sentences or statements work in the world, in the field of action. Sets of sentences such as the following receive positive feedback from the environment: (1) If it is raining, the streets will be wet. (2) It is raining. (3) The streets will be wet. Other sets, such as the following, result in negative feedback: (1) If it is raining, the streets will be wet. (2) It is not raining. (3) The streets will not be wet. A goal, such as keeping one's feet dry, is either met or frustrated. (DMNMMDI, pg201)


Daniel Dennett emphasizes the advances made possible by turning our pattern-recognition capacities to monitoring themselves. To know what modus ponens means is to have acquired the ability to recognize a particular pattern among sentences. (DMNMMDI, pg201)


The Cogito Model

The Cogito Model from The Information Philosopher website uses a 2 stage model of free will to explain human action and choice. Philosophers struggled with the concept of possible alternatives because they reduced the decision process to a single moment. The key to the dilemma is to recognize that the decision process is, indeed, a process. It occurs through a period of time. So instead of having decision, you have instead evaluate alternatives, and then decide. This addition of evaluate alternatives before the decision is what is meant when philosophers talk about a two stage process. The following quotes illustrate the process details developed by the Cogito Model:

The Cogito Model of human freedom locates randomness (either ancient chance or modern quantum indeterminacy) in the mind, in a way that breaks the causal chain of strict physical determinism, while doing no harm to responsibility.


The Cogito Model combines indeterminacy - first microscopic quantum randomness and unpredictability, then "adequate" determinism and macroscopic predictability, in a temporal sequence that creates information.


The temporal sequence of free will: Fixed Past, then Generate Possibilities, then Evaluate Possibilities, then Think Again or Decision, then Undetermined Liberty or Self-Determination.

The first stage of The Cogito Model is all about generating and evaluating possibilities. The model posits three sources of alternative generation. The following quotes highlight these three alternative sources:

The first source is the external world that arrives through our perceptions. It is perhaps the major driving force in our lives, constantly requiring our conscious attention. Indeed, consciousness can be understood in large part as the exchange of actionable information between organism and environment. Although the indeterministic origin of such ideas is outside us, we can take full responsibility for them if they influence our adequately determined willed actions.


The second source of options is other persons. The unique human ability to communicate information means that alternative possibilities for our actions are being generated by our reactions to other minds. Peter Strawson's reactive attitudes come to mind.


Finally, and most importantly, our Micro Mind generates possibilities internally. These are the possibilities that truly originate within us (Aristotle's ?? ?µ??).

Testing of the following freedom requirements must be validated in order for the Cogito Model to hold true:

Chance exists. Indeterminism is true. Our Actions are Unpredictable (even to ourselves) (in the sense that we can't predict the new ideas that our mind creates). Our actions are up to us. We have alternative possibilities. After the fact, we could have done otherwise. We start new causal chains. We create new information.

Testing of the following will requirements must be validated in order for the Cogito Model to hold true:

Adequate determinism is true. Chance must not be the direct cause of action. Our will is adequately determined. Our actions are causally determined by our will.


  1. Information Philosopher, Two-Stage Models
  2. Information Philosopher, Cogito Model
  3. Information Philosopher, Temporal Sequence
  4. Information Philosopher, Conceptual Analysis


What are the requirements for moral responsibility?


Non-Reductive Physicalism

Non-Reductive Physicalism uses the following quotes to define morally responsible action:

Recall that our definition of morally responsible action (following MacIntyre) is action undertaken on the basis of evaluation of one's goals in light of a concept of the good. (DMNMMDI, pg220)


Responsible action, as here understood, is that which is consequent upon the ability to represent to oneself what one is doing and why one is doing it. (DMNMMDI, pg22)

Given the definitions above, Non-reductive physicalism asserts that 6 requirements must be met in order for a human to be an agent with moral responsibility (DMNMMDI, pg211):

1. A symbolic sense of self (different possible futures for me)

2. A sense of the narrative unity of life (to imagine myself moving forward from the present; nearer and more distant futures).  

3. The ability to run behavioral scenarios (magination) and predict the outcome (knowledge; attach probabilities to the future results).

4. The ability to evaluate predicted outcomes in light of goals.

5. The ability to evaluate the goals themselves (alternative sets of goods-different possible modes of flourishing) in light of abstract concepts.

6. The ability to act in light of 1-5.

The following quotes illustrate how a symbolic sense of self may be considered a valid concept:

1. Patricia Churchland views the awareness of self as a function of the self-representational capacities of the brain, and lists some of the brain systems known to be involved—for example, representation of the internal milieu of the viscera via pathways to the brain stem and hypothalamus, and autobiographical events via the medial temporal lobes.   (DMNMMDI, pg212)

2. Thomas Metzinger describes self-awareness as a form of consciousness that involves a model of the self (the phenomenal self-model) embedded within, but differentiated from, the organism's model of the external world. Intentionality is formed by a relational vector between the self-model and various aspects of the model of the external world. (DMNMMDI, pg212)

3. Lewis describes two stages in the origination of the idea of me, of explicit self-consciousness. The first is physical self-recognition, which generally appears around 18 months of age. It is tested by putting a spot on the child's nose to see if the child reacts to it in a mirror. Chimpanzees also have this ability. A more advanced form of self-awareness appears during the third year of life and is measured by the ability to engage in pretend play and by the use of personal pronouns. This capacity is closely linked to the development of a theory of mind-that is, the ability to attribute thoughts and feelings to others. (DMNMMDI, pg212)

4. Leslie Brothers reports on research showing that we come well equipped neurobiologically to develop and use what she calls the person concept. (DMNMMDI, pg212)

5. However, Brothers notes that there is another dimension to the concept of person, which is the ability to locate ourselves in social networks of morals, reasons, and status. (DMNMMDI, pg213)

6. Terrence Deacon emphasizes the essential role of language in the development of this symbolic self-concept: Consciousness of self in this way implicitly includes consciousness of other selves, and other consciousness's can only be represented through the virtual reference created by symbols. The self that is the source of one's experience of intentionality, the self that is judged by itself as well as by others for its moral choices, the self that worries about its impending departure from the world, this self is a symbolic self. (DMNMMDI, pg213)

7. M. R. Bennett and P. M. S. Hacker point out that to have concepts is to know how to use words. The idea of me is thus dependent on the ability to use the words I and me. These words cannot be used correctly without acquisition of a system of words including second- and third-person pronouns, which depends on the ability to distinguish other people from inanimate objects. (DMNMMDI, pg213)

The following quotes illustrate factors necessary for the narrative unity of life to be a valid concept:

1. “Understanding of the narrative unity of our lives depends on the existence of a long-term memory for events from our pasts that is accessible to consciousness. This sort of memory is called episodic memory (memory of previous life episodes) or autobiographical memory (memory of one’s own autobiography). Episodic memory is our recall of the events of our past that are marked in our recollection by specifics of time and place.†(DMNMMDI, pgs213-214)

2. “The capacity to imagine and describe a “stretch of time†extending “backwards†to long before the beginning of our own episodic memories allows us to place our stories in the context of longer histories, of family, nation, and now even of cosmic history. More important for present purposes is the fact that it allows us to consider the distant future consequences of our current actions.†(DMNMMDI, pg215)

The following quotes illustrate how running behavioral scenarios and predicting outcomes might be considered a valid concept:

1. “…we characterize perception (following Donald MacKay) as a conditional readiness to reckon with what is perceived, and a belief as a conditional readiness to reckon with something that is not immediately present.†(DMNMMDI, pg217)

2. “Such off-line processing means for Metzinger that organisms (presumably humans) can “engage in the activation of globally available representational structures independently of current external inputâ€. (DMNMMDI, pg218)

3. “Rick Grush’s distinction between representations and emulations highlights the value of being able to manipulate internal representations in order to plan action.†(DMNMMDI, pg218)

4. “…we noted Andy Clark’s concept of external scaffolding—external devices we can manipulate in order to increase our capacity to predict consequences of action. Symbolic language is one of the most important sorts of external scaffolding for mental operations.†(DMNMMDI, pg218)

The following quotes illustrate how agents may be able to evaluate predicted outcomes in terms of goals set:

1. “Much human evaluation of predicted outcomes of behavior is done primarily at the emotional level. Michael Lewis reports on the development in children of “self-evaluative emotionsâ€â€”shame, pride, guilt, and embarrassment.†(DMNMMDI, pg219)

2. “Robert H. Frank, reporting the work of Jerome Kagan on moral development in children, maintains that the desire to avoid negative emotions is the principal motive force behind moral behavior.†(DMNMMDI, pg219)

3. “Thus, the experience of the emotional responses of our bodies (“gut reactionsâ€) is important in translating moral reasoning into adequate practical behavior.†(DMNMMDI, pg219)

4. “Sophisticated language allows not only for understanding a variety of abstract possibilities, but also for second-order evaluations of one’s own evaluative processes.†(DMNMMDI, pg220)

The following quotes illustrate how it might be possible that agents can evaluate goals in the light of abstract concepts and develop new goals:

1. “We have already noted (in Ch.3) that even quite simple organisms have the capacity to abandon the pursuit of one goal (e.g., getting a drink of water) in favor of a more salient goal (e.g., avoiding a predator).†(DMNMMDI, pg220)

2. “Animals also have the capacity to evaluate goals in light of the fact that their pursuit is turning out to be either unattainable or simply too costly…â€. (DMNMMDI, pg220)

3. “One can act for a motive without having the concept for denoting such a motive, but one cannot know that one is acting for such a motive. Moral responsibility, then, depends on the capacity to use moral concepts to describe (and in so doing to evaluate) one’s own actions, character traits, dispositions, and so on.†(DMNMMDI, pg221)

4. “Responsible action, as here understood, is that which is consequent upon the ability to represent to oneself what one is doing and why one is doing it.†(DMNMMDI, pg221)

5. “This means that as soon as the suspicion of social determination arises for the agent, he is able to transcend that determination.†(DMNMMDI, pg224)

6. “There is no limit, other than lack of imagination, to the ability of the agent to transcend earlier conceptionsâ€. (DMNMMDI, pg224)

The following quotes illustrate some of the concepts that determine the ability to act:

1. “What are the necessary conditions for enacting our intentions?†(DMNMMDI, pg224)

a. “The first, obvious one is that one not be physically constrained in any way—bound and gagged or paralyzed.†(DMNMMDI, pg224)

b. “On the positive side, we have presented the hypothesis that our ability to get ourselves to do what we know we should do is dependent in part on self-talk.†(DMNMMDI, pg224)

2. “The weakness of will as temporal discounting: A long-standing interest in the philosophical literature is the problem of akrasia—that is, weakness of will.†(DMNMMDI, pg225)

a. “Ainslie provides several speculative accounts of why both humans and animals might have come to be biologically pre-disposed to discount the future in this way. When life is typically a struggle to survive (long enough to reproduce), it makes sense genetically to opt for the bird in the hand—one may well be dead before the two in the bushes can be caught.†(DMNMMDI, pg227)

b. “So akerasia can be seen as a simple case of maximizing expected reward, given the way we perceive nearer rewards as greater than more distant ones.†(DMNMMDI, pg228)

c. “Ainslie says that we can understand a great deal about the exercise of will if we think of ourselves as a temporal series of selves who have to bargain with one another.†(DMNMMDI, pg228)

d. “In general, knowing that the later self is likely to do, the current self can set up external constraints to foil the later.†(DMNMMDI, pg228)

e. “So another strategy for increasing self-control is to recognize the effect of a single lapse as a self-fulfilling predictor of failure and to make the behavior in question a matter of principle. The longer one adheres to the principle, the greater stake one has in not violating it, and the greater confidence one has that the long-term reward will be forthcoming. Such principled action greatly increases motivation.†(DMNMMDI, pg228)

f. “This is yet another example (as we suggested in sec. 3.4) of humans’ capacity to “go metaâ€. Consciousness of patterns in one’s own motivational systems allows for higher-order evaluation of the patterns, running scenarios off-line, and setting up contingencies to cope with self-defeating patterns.†(DMNMMDI, pg228)

6. Juarrero explains akrasia in the terms of a dynamical process: (DMNMMDI, pg228)

a. “…how does it happen that our intentions are sometimes not enacted? The answer involves the shape of the agent’s dynamical probability landscape. Self-organized systems’ basins of attraction are intertwined. If the basin of attraction representing the intended act is shallow and there are other deeper attractors nearby, one of those other attractors may succeed in pulling behavior into its basin.†(DMNMMDI, pg229)

b. “The belief that one will succeed or fail is one of the factors that re-contours one’s dynamical landscape.†(DMNMMDI, pg229)

b. “Self-organized systems tend to have shallower topographies at the beginning but to lock in features over time. This explains the fact that people’s character becomes more set with age. An old dog learning a new trick requires a catastrophic transformation of neural dynamics.†(DMNMMDI, pg229)


The Cogito Model

The Cogito Model describes the following factors as necessary for moral responsibility:

1. “Since we always have Alternative Possibilitiesâ€

2. “Since we can knowingly say, we Could Have Done Otherwiseâ€

3. “Since our Actions are Causally Determined by Our Will and are Up to Usâ€

4. “We are Morally Responsible for our Actionsâ€


Information Philosopher, The Requirements for Free Will



The Cogito Model describes choice as a temporal process where alternatives are generated, evaluated, and a decision is made. Praxeology tells us that choice is a necessary logical implication of action. Non-Reductive Physicalism describes how it is possible that humans can be agents and have the capacity for agency. If choice and agency exist, then both theories describe the requirements necessary for moral responsibility. The following definitions describe the Non-reductive Physicalist and Adequate Determinist accounts of “free agency or free choice†(DMNMMDI, pg233):

Choice: “Fixed Past, then Generate Possibilities, then Evaluate Possibilities, then Think Again or Decision, then Undetermined Liberty or Self-Determination.â€
Information Philosopher, Cogito Model

Agent: “The one who is able to evaluate that which moves her to act (Frankfurt’s lower-order desires included), on the basis of reason (Kant), especially moral reasons (Taylor, MacIntyre); who is furthermore not unduly influenced by the judgments of others (autonomy in the first sense), nor prevented from acting according to that evaluation by weakness of will or overpowering emotions (Mele; autonomy in the second sense) is indeed an agent, the primary, top-down cause (agent causation of her own actionsâ€. (Did My Neurons Make Me Do It, pg305)

Free Agency: An agent is the primary cause of its own behavior (Did My Neurons Make Me Do It?, pg305); “…an agent’s capacity, as a dynamic system, to redesign her own character through many instances of responsible action.†(DMNMMDI, pg24) “…“We shall suggest that free will be seen as a holistic capacity of mature, self-reflective human organisms acting within a suitable social context.†(DMNMMDI, pg232)

Moral Agency: a person's ability to make moral judgments and take actions that comport with morality

I conclude, then, that free will, viewed through the paradigm of agency, exists. Humans can not only develop it, but the process can be interfered with. Free will has very definite limits. If the limits proposed above are verified, then I’d expect this knowledge to ripple through other parts of a world view like deontology. 


Additional Reading

  1. Tse, The Neural Basis of Free Will 
  2. Doolittle, Mind: Against the Puppeteer 

Contributors to this page: toddj and rohit .
Page last modified on Monday 27 of June, 2016 15:16:43 CDT by toddj.

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