Go Back   Bloggingheads Community > Life, the Universe and Everything
FAQ Members List Calendar Search Today's Posts Mark Forums Read

Notices

Life, the Universe and Everything Post comments about everything else here.

View Poll Results: In which of the folllowing philosophical categories would you place yourself?
Metaphysical Libertarian - entirely free 1 33.33%
Compatibilist - free to act, but motives are determined 2 66.67%
Voters: 3. You may not vote on this poll

Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
  #1  
Old 03-27-2011, 10:44 PM
eeeeeeeli eeeeeeeli is offline
 
Join Date: Jun 2009
Location: Palm Desert, CA
Posts: 811
Default Compatibilism and Religion

I had originally posted this in the wrong section, so I'm re-posting it here.
---
Inspired by our great recent thread on determinism, I wrote the following bit on compatibilism and religion.
--
Soft determinism, or compatibilism, is the belief that while we all have an ability to make choices in life, the choices we make will always ultimately have been determined by genetic and environmental factors that have shaped who we are. It just feels like a kind of personal freedom. As Schopenhauer famously wrote, “"Man is free to do what he wills, but he cannot will what he wills". The Compatibilist calls this limited freedom 'free will'” As we learn and grow, our sphere of choice, or agency, expands or contracts, depending upon experiences. So, for instance, a self-reflective insight into one’s psychodynamic tendency to allow others to take advantage of oneself because of a history of ill-treatment by family members might enlarge one’s freedom, in the sense that in the future, this new consciousness will allow one to make choices that were before unknown. Or, in an opposite instance, a traumatic experience involving a breaking of trust between close friends might cause one to become overly skeptical of the motives of future acquaintances, and thus reduce one’s sphere of choice.

There are of course countless interpretations of the various religious doctrines. Yet what all religions have in common is their primary concern with the moral behavior of man. That is, they are concerned with right and wrong, good and evil. What they offer, their own unique claim, is a path towards moral righteousness. This assumes, at least, the conscious ability of man to make a moral choice.

This is not necessarily at odds with determinism. In the Eastern religions, where the concept of karma is the basis for reincarnation, one’s soul is on a journey towards ultimate enlightenment. Built into this notion is the idea that the Earthly experience, through which souls continuously cycle, is the plane of consciousness wherein souls will incarnate bodies in order to grow and ultimately transcend them. Implicit in this dynamic process is the idea that no soul should ever be able to go through this journey in a single lifetime, much less any given moment, when a choice is required for action. Because in doing so, there would be no point to the soul’s journey to begin with. The journey is thereby deterministic, in that a process of cause and effect is continuously occurring, such that each choice will have been influenced by the process of having grown and experience prior choices. This process of learning from and being influenced by the past is embodied in the concept of karma. The choices that we make become actions, which then have effects in the world which in turn inform our future choices.

Reincarnation, like any religious framework for morality, is a closed system. It is a natural law, an inescapable reality. One simply cannot step outside its boundaries – wherever that may be, depending on the religion. In the Judeo-Christian universe, the soul has but one incarnation, and one life in which to learn obey the religious teachings, moral and otherwise. This makes the concept of determinism more difficult. Unlike reincarnation, where the soul has in theory an infinite number of lifetimes to “get it right”, so to speak, emphasis is placed on the individual’s moral choices within one lifetime. This makes the logistics of learning and growth much more difficult.

One way that this problem is solved is by foregoing the notion of cause and effect almost entirely, at least in terms of moral justification. Moral questions are framed not in terms of a connection between the soul and an Earthly plane, where actions have real consequences, but between the soul and God himself. One does not necessarily follow moral law in the context of an Earthy cycle in which bad deeds create bad, while good creates good, and thus one’s actions are accountable – maybe integral – to a harmony in the universe. Instead, one’s actions are judged in relation only to whether or not they are morally correct. One does not do good in order to receive good, or so as not to spread evil in the world, but simply to follow the word of God as spoken.

The various Judeo-Christian faiths differ of course in their views on ultimate judgment and eternity. But they are unified in their monotheism, and their conception of the soul as having one lifetime within which to achieve moral righteousness. This has the effect of “upping the ante” on each choice, placing onto it the full weight of eternal consequence. (Having been raised in a quasi-Hindu family, I remember well my mother’s wry response to my expression of skepticism towards the faith, “That’s OK, son. You always have your next life to find the right path.”) So within reincarnation, enlightenment is inevitable. But within Judeo-Christianity, there simply is not the time to “get right with the Lord”, as it were. And in most popular sects, failure to choose correctly directly results in some form of eternal damnation and penance. There would seem to be no stronger opposition to determinism than the idea that one would spend an eternity in hell for a choice made in life. This would seem to preclude all such Judeo-Christian faiths from determinism, compatibilist or not.

So what Judeo-Christian interpretations would be compatible with a determinist view? A good place to start would be as far away from anything like eternal damnation as possible. Likewise, one must also avoid the concept of eternal reward, or heaven. A determined choice would mean that the moral consequences of the religion must not exist as ends unto themselves. For if a soul’s fate has already been determined, then what sense is there in rewarding or punishing it for something it had no choice but to do? If the goal is merely to pass a test of obedience, the idea that the will to choose is not really free would make the test meaningless.

In the Eastern concept of reincarnation, the act of choosing would be compatible with morality because it is process-oriented, not result-oriented. That is, by going through the process of spiritual awakening, lifetime after lifetime, the soul gradually finds itself in something like unity with the spiritual universe. To achieve sudden enlightenment would not only be impossible, but it would defeat the internal logic of reincarnation.

Something like this can be found in Judeo-Christian religions. If the emphasis is placed on the process of living, in that there is learning to be had, then it would not ultimately matter if we were to have been determined. If “getting right with God” does not mean merely following a linear set of rules so as to earn eternal salvation, but instead to open one’s consciousness to a higher reality and experience of the “divine”, then a soul could be entirely determined yet still able to fulfill it religious destiny.

If religion is compatible with determinism, there are still many questions to ask. For instance, why would some souls be destined for such short lives of seeming misery, in which little is learned? Why are other souls allowed to live lives of sheer ignorant bliss? Yet these are questions that must remain within each faith, asked and answered by those who accept that particular universe. From an outside perspective, the question is one of finding common ground, and whether it is possible that the ways in which we are all trying to find our own paths in life might overlap in more ways than we might assume.

Scientific materialism cannot help but find more and more evidence of a determined world. And the study of the human mind will undoubtedly be no different. We know more about the ways in which we are determined, or at least limited and stimulated, than ever before. This will increasingly place science at odds with those for whom the idea of a determined life clashes against ancient traditions, philosophical and religious assumptions. There will no doubt be gaps that remain forever unclosed. But we may find that instead of gulfs between us, they lie only at our side, and our paths point towards the same horizon.
__________________
my blog
Reply With Quote
  #2  
Old 03-27-2011, 11:07 PM
eeeeeeeli eeeeeeeli is offline
 
Join Date: Jun 2009
Location: Palm Desert, CA
Posts: 811
Default Re: Compatibilism and Religion

I goofed up the poll. There should have been 3 options:
- metaphysical libertarian (entirely free)
- compatibilist (free to act, but motives determined)
- hard determinist (entirely unfree)

I think it's debatable whether hard determinists are really any different than compatibilists. Depending on language, you could agree with both. But it's a fun poll nonetheless!
__________________
my blog
Reply With Quote
  #3  
Old 03-31-2011, 10:49 AM
badhatharry badhatharry is offline
 
Join Date: Jul 2009
Location: eastern sierra
Posts: 5,413
Default Re: Compatibilism and Religion

just found this quotation from E.O.Wilson:

Quote:
So there can be no simple determinism of human thought, at least not in obedience to causation in the way physical laws describe the motion of bodies and the atomic assembly of molecules. Because the individual mind cannot be fully known and predicted, the self can go on passionately believing in its own free will. And that is a fortunate circumstance. Confidence in free will is biologically adaptive. Without it the mind, imprisoned by fatalism, would slow and deteriorate. Thus in organismic time and space, in every operational sense that applies to the knowable self, the mind does have free will.
__________________
"By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it." Adam Smith
Reply With Quote
  #4  
Old 03-31-2011, 11:44 AM
eeeeeeeli eeeeeeeli is offline
 
Join Date: Jun 2009
Location: Palm Desert, CA
Posts: 811
Default Re: Compatibilism and Religion

Quote:
Originally Posted by badhatharry View Post
just found this quotation from E.O.Wilson:
edit: That was a great quote. I had to go and find the original passage because I was interested in more context. I think he's exactly correct in pointing out how difficult it would actually be to "map" the mind. And he's probably correct that you get into quantum indeterminacy issues by the act of "seeing" each neuron. But that seems a severely pragmatic (unpragmatic?) problem. The idea of determinism is theoretical. You would face similar quantum issues involved in mapping every electron in say, a classically deterministic process like a ball rolling down a hill.

The particular notion of fatalism expressed in your quote was also interesting. I do wonder what a brain might do if confronted with the total knowledge of all its processes. I'm actually not sure if it would really operate any differently, to tell the truth. We still make cost/benefit analyses of every choice we make. And just like IBM's Watson, knowing the extent to which we are choosing one choice over another wouldn't seem to affect the reality of there still being a set of choices.
---
Fatalism seems one of the biggest concerns of those who are skeptical of determinism. But I have two problems with it. First, I think we can't help but act as if we have free will. This is compatibilism. We know we can make choices, but we know those choices will have been determined by a sum of processes we can't possibly have known.

Second, the fatalist worry is that this knowledge of ultimate determinism implies that there is "no point" in acting, or at least acting morally. Yet again, we must act (literally, we must move our muscles), and therefore must base our choices on something. There is no reason why the calculations that otherwise go into moral behavior, or any other, for that matter, wouldn't apply to a determinist. I'm reminded of the fallacy that religion is required to be moral.

Interestingly, there are actually many situations in which we realize that our free will is severely hindered. For instance, when we get into a heated argument, one strategy we use is to walk away, acknowledging that our capacity for critical thinking is severely diminished by emotion. I would say that the compatibilist position actually provides a healthy reminder that our free will - our capacity to think freely - is constantly hindered by any number of unconscious processes. Therefore a healthy skepticism is best. I suppose you might call this "soft-fatalism"! Or I suppose simple humility.

Further, and what I think I appreciate most - is the implication in our dealing with others. Their capacity for free will is likewise hindered. I find this a very useful reminder when in conflict situations. I obviously don't have to know the whys - the sum of processes determining their behavior - but I can know that in theory, they are acting like they are for a perfectly good reason. This alleviates much frustration I otherwise feel. I know, because this understanding is something I often forget, certainly when I am in a "reactive" mode. It is a good reminder to try and empathize, and try to see things through their eyes.
__________________
my blog

Last edited by eeeeeeeli; 03-31-2011 at 11:55 AM..
Reply With Quote
  #5  
Old 03-31-2011, 01:55 PM
badhatharry badhatharry is offline
 
Join Date: Jul 2009
Location: eastern sierra
Posts: 5,413
Default Re: Compatibilism and Religion

I like the bit about the notion of free will is adaptive.

I have linked to Daniel Wegner a number of times so forgive me if you've already seen this. He wrote a book called The Illusion of Conscious Will which is very interesting.
__________________
"By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it." Adam Smith
Reply With Quote
  #6  
Old 03-31-2011, 02:02 PM
badhatharry badhatharry is offline
 
Join Date: Jul 2009
Location: eastern sierra
Posts: 5,413
Default Re: Compatibilism and Religion

Quote:
Originally Posted by eeeeeeeli View Post
---
Further, and what I think I appreciate most - is the implication in our dealing with others. Their capacity for free will is likewise hindered. I find this a very useful reminder when in conflict situations. I obviously don't have to know the whys - the sum of processes determining their behavior - but I can know that in theory, they are acting like they are for a perfectly good reason. This alleviates much frustration I otherwise feel. I know, because this understanding is something I often forget, certainly when I am in a "reactive" mode. It is a good reminder to try and empathize, and try to see things through their eyes.
Yes, it sometimes easy to regard others as cardboard cutouts. Never changing, easily sussed out. (another adaptation?) But the most accurate way to view others is just like you with all of the same ingredients of talents and foibles (Only you're just a little bit better!).

Another thing I have often said here and I think even promised to never say again is "we're all bozos on this bus."
__________________
"By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it." Adam Smith

Last edited by badhatharry; 03-31-2011 at 02:14 PM..
Reply With Quote
  #7  
Old 03-31-2011, 08:54 PM
eeeeeeeli eeeeeeeli is offline
 
Join Date: Jun 2009
Location: Palm Desert, CA
Posts: 811
Default Re: Compatibilism and Religion

Quote:
Originally Posted by badhatharry View Post
I like the bit about the notion of free will is adaptive.

I have linked to Daniel Wegner a number of times so forgive me if you've already seen this. He wrote a book called The Illusion of Conscious Will which is very interesting.
Yeah - I've seen you mention him before. I'll have to check it out.
__________________
my blog
Reply With Quote
 


Currently Active Users Viewing This Thread: 1 (0 members and 1 guests)
 
Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump


All times are GMT -4. The time now is 05:26 AM.


Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7 Beta 1
Copyright ©2000 - 2020, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.