Friday, August 02, 2013

Debating Darwinian Liberalism (5): The Absurdity of Menuge's "Free Will"

Beginning with Darwinian Natural Right in 1998, I have often responded to the charge that I promote a biological determinism that denies the moral freedom presupposed by classical liberalism and traditionalist conservatism.  As I have indicated many times, I deny that human beings have "free will," if that is understood in a Kantian way as an uncaused cause that transcends nature.  I have argued that human beings have the natural freedom of deliberate choice, which can be understood as a product of the emergent evolution of the primate brain once it passed over a critical threshold of size and complexity in the human frontal lobes.  As I said in Darwinian Natural Right, "the uniqueness of human beings as moral agents requires not a free will that transcends nature but a natural capacity to deliberate about one's desires" (83).

Beginning in 2008, Stephen Dilley has written a couple of papers criticizing me for not realizing that moral responsibility is impossible without a "free will" that transcends nature.  He claims that I promote "determinism of the mind and the disintegration of morality" in a manner that denies the human freedom required for classical liberalism.  In 2008 and 2010, I wrote a series of blog posts responding to Dilley, and he wrote a reply, which can be found here, here, here, and here.  Now, Angus Menuge has written a chapter ("Darwinian Conservatism and Free Will") in Dilley's new book that repeats Dilley's criticisms.  Menuge is oddly silent about my responses to Dilley. 

Countering Menuge's chapter, Shawn Klein has written a chapter for Dilley's book arguing that classical liberalism presupposes that individuals are capable of self-directed action, and that this is consistent with an evolutionary account of volitional consciousness.  Although I agree with most of what Klein says, I don't agree with his identification of volitional consciousness with "free will," because I reject the common understanding of "free will" as uncaused cause.  I also disagree with Klein's insistence that philosophy must be absolutely separated from science.  I know that this has been a standard assumption of Anglo-American analytic philosophy.  But it has never made sense to me. 

Menuge begins by quoting Friedrich Hayek on moral responsibility as indicating that conservatism presupposes the belief that people have "free will" (93).  This reliance on Hayek is strange.  If Jay Richards is right that Hayek was "a broad-minded materialist rather than a theist" (84), then I don't see how Hayek supports the argument for "Christian classical liberalism" or for the "unashamedly dualistic philosophy" of Kant that Menuge promotes (100).

Menuge also relies on John Locke (101-102).  But this is even more strange.  According to Locke, to ask whether the will is free is an "unintelligible question" (Essay Concerning Human Understanding, II, ch. 21, secs. 7-31).  Locke believes "that a man is not at liberty to will, or not to will, anything in his power that he once considers of; liberty consisting in a power to act or to forbear acting, and in that only" (sec. 24).  Jonathan Edwards elaborated Locke's position in arguing that liberty is the power to act as one chooses, regardless of the cause of the choice.  Such freedom of choice is not an uncaused cause, because whatever comes into existence must have a cause.  Only what is self-existent from eternity--God--could be uncaused or self-determined.  Thus, the idea that human beings could have "free will" in this sense is contrary to Biblical religion, which teaches that God is the only uncaused cause.

Edwards was arguing against the Arminian notion of moral freedom as the absolute self-determination of will.  That same Arminian notion of "free will" as separated from natural causality was adopted by Kant.

I agree with Locke and Edwards in denying that it makes any sense to think that human beings have "free will" as an uncaused cause.  The very idea of "free will" comes from the biblical conception of God.  As Martin Luther observed, "free will is a divine term and signifies a divine power."  Against the absurd idea that human beings could have such a divine power of "free will" as uncaused cause, I suggest that we affirm the common-sense notion of freedom as the power to act without external constraint, which constitutes deliberate choice.

We hold people responsible for their actions when they act voluntarily and deliberately.  They act voluntarily when they act knowingly and without external force to satisfy their desires.  They act with deliberate choice when, having weighed one desire off against another in the light of past experience and future expectations, they choose that course of action likely to satisfy their desires harmoniously over a complete life.  Such deliberation is required for virtue in the strict sense, although most human beings most of the time act by impulse and habit with little or no deliberation.

Children and other animals are capable of voluntary action.  But only mature human adults have the cognitive capacity for deliberate choice, because only they have the fully developed prefrontal cortex that makes this possible.  The prefrontal cortex is not fully developed until the third decade of an individual's life.  (See my previous post on Joaquin Fuster's lecture on "The Neurobiology of Liberty" at the MPS conference in the Galapagos.) 

That's why every human society makes some kind of distinction between children and adults, in which children are not held fully responsible for their behavior and are put under the guardianship of their parents or other adults.  Locke emphasizes this in his Two Treatises of Government, arguing that children are not born free and equal, because it is only the mature development of their cognitive faculties in adulthood that enables the power of deliberate choice that gives them their natural freedom and equality with all other normal adults.  Sandefur points to this in his contribution to Dilley's book (264).

In contrast to Locke, Menuge makes no distinction between children and adults in defending "libertarian free will" as belonging to "the self as continuant" that never changes.  Does this mean that children have the same "free will" as adults, and so children have the same moral responsibility as adults, because "the self as continuant" is unchanging?  Is "the self" responsible for itself, for being the kind of self that it is?  So, must the self create itself? 

What Menuge calls "libertarian free will" seems to be an uncaused cause, which is exactly the divinization of human will that Locke and Edwards rightly rejected as absurd.

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