Free will and final causality

Sam Harris’s argument against free will starts with the interior observation that thoughts just come to us from we-know-not-where or fail to come to us for we-know-not-why. What could it mean to choose something deliberately or be responsible when the parameters of choice are not given to us, nor the various possible motives we might act from?

As mentioned in the past, all contemporary neuroscience-informed arguments against free choice confuse Buridan’s Ass Decisions with rational-moral ones, the former which need to be made by humans, animals, and even computers while we treat the latter as made by only humans. There is, however, another element that neuroscience is noticing but which it might not have the tools to recognize: the universal determination to arete or the striving in all agents to be the best of their kind.

In the ancient-medieval scheme, free choice was only a deliberation over means. The end was given, and any end that wasn’t could only be a means to a necessarily willed end about which neither man nor God had any say whatsoever. Since means are ontologically posterior to an end (even if they exist first in time) free choice is ontologically posterior to something that is not an object of choice.

The problem is that when we lose sight of the universal determination to arete then the end is still seen as determined, but lost sight of as good. But then, in good logic, all the means to it cease to be good as well and one is left only with a structure that comes out of nowhere and in which we make meaningless determinations on the basis of arbitrary criteria. The structure of decision is no longer an order to goodness, but then deliberation loses any possible object or even reason to exist.

The modern sense of determinism is therefore immediately implicit in the denial of final causality in nature.


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