The Monkey and the

The Monkey and the Typewriter

The monkey/typewriter hypothesis is invoked to prove that things that appear to be designed can result from chance. Since all the possible combinations of letters are finite, and ordered letters are one possible combination of letters, then whatever creates all possible combinations of letters can create the ordered ones. Since all combinations of letters (and for the modern reader, this includes spaces and punctuation) can be created by brute random repetition, it seems to follow that a monkey, or a pecking chicken could create all possible literature, if we only gave them enough time, or enough luck.

This example requires that we regard words as one possible combination of letters. This is of course true enough, but there is obviously more to being a word than being a combination of letters, otherwise there would be no difference between words and mere gibberish, like the thing I’ll create now by banging the keyboard:


So there it is, “one possible combination of letters”. If I tried this long enough (or just let the monkey do the thankless task), I might very well get:

midway on our life’s journey

I found myself in a dark woods

the right way lost.*

So there it would be, one possible combination of letters, created by chance. Right?

One particular combination of letters might come to be by chance, and in this sense they can be viewed as “created randomly”. But no word signifies a random thing: “a dark woods” has one exact meaning, or a small cluster of meanings, that it was intentionally created to signify. Words are artifacts, and therefore cannot be understood separately from the mind of an artisan.

That a monkey might type out the beginning of the Divine Comedy (or any other thing, written or yet to be written) is a coincidence. This is to say that the monkey’s letters might happen to coincide with an order that already has been given by a mind. In the case of the above example, the monkey makes something that coincides with the order already given by Dante’s mind, and even if the monkey created a poem that had never existed in a language, his words would still coincide with words that were already created and coined by the minds of the people who made the language. In other words, the monkey at the typewriter, even if he were to create individual instances of all the works of literature, would create nothing but things which coincide with an intelligible order that is already given, things that cannot be defined apart from that given intelligible order.

The monkey/typewriter example, when properly understood, ends up proving the exact opposite of what it is usually taken to prove. While the example is taken to show that order is a mere appearance that can be accounted for by chance, what it actually proves is that the things created by chance presuppose an order that is given by intelligence, and cannot be defined apart from the actions of mind. The words of the monkey do not create order, but rather they can only at best “fall into” or coincide with an order that is already given by mind. The monkey/ typewriter example, properly understood, does not confront us with an analogy for a senseless world that must be accepted, but with an intelligible order governing all things. The example, properly universalized, is a proof for the existence of God.

Free Will and Free Choice

Free Will and Free Choice

(hastily written, but I’ll stand by it)

At first glance, the concepts “free will” and “free choice” seem to mean the same thing. A little reflection shows they are not. We cannot understand “a free choice” without thinking of an object, but we can understand “a free will” without necessarily considering an object. There is also an argument from common experience: It is common in philosophical discussions to hear of people discussing free will, but it is relatively rare that you hear the same persons speak of “free choice” as though it were the same concept.

We speak of “will” when we consider the power of willing separately from the knowledge of an object, and thereby frame our consideration separately from any account of knowledge (whether by sense or reason). But when we consider choice, the object of choice is simply given as known and must be either sought, or ignored, or rejected.

The freedom of the will is best seen when we arrive at it through freedom of choice. It is given that there is some object of the will, regardless of whether we think it is free or not. But notice what happens when we ask about the object, sc. “what is the object that the will relates to?” The answer gets confusing, because there doesn’t seem to be any content to what we meant by “an object” other than it is something that exists. To speak of “objects” as such is to speak of no particular object, but rather only what makes all objects to be objects, sc. that they are apprehended in some way. Any limitation of the freedom of choice could only follow upon a limitation in the species of objects, but to place any limitation on objects would be to loose the very idea that we have of an object, sc. that it is anything that is apprehended. Because we apprehend an object, and we have a will, there is also the necessity of the freedom of the will. Again, The necessity for the freedom of the will follows from the indeterminate character of an object. Because the object of the will, considered as an object necessarily has an indeterminate character, the will must also have an indeterminate character, and so much as this is the case, the will must also be free.

The confusions about whether the will is free always proceed, one way or another, from confusions between sense knowledge, which can only know particular objects, and intellectual knowledge, which can know objects as such, i.e. it can know an object as an object. As soon as this confusion is made, you can sit around and wait for the person to become a determinist.

One confusion often happens when people confuse our willing of a particular thing with our willing of a particular thing qua particular. It is true enough that we may choose some particular thing, but it does not follow from this that we wanted because of its particularity. We can will to grasp it simply as an object, or under the proper account of its being a good thing. In fact, it follows from the truth of “I did it because it’s good” or “I looked at her because she is beautifull” or “I know it because it is true” that the will is free. The only other possibility is to explain the transcendentals away- a task that is unthinkable, unpleasant, and impossible.

(although it can often be spoken of, since we are free)