Freedom and unmoved movers

Contemporary accounts of freedom understand it as self activity. Here’s why: all arguments against freedom would work just as well against the claim that anything moved itself. We would object just as much to a stone’s motion being insufficiently explained by its antecedent causal history as we would to a human choice.

This means our contemporary view of action and behavior is that everything in motion is moved by another. Given that Aristotle came up with this first, it seems to be in the running for one of the most certain axioms in physics. The possibility of self-activity (freedom) is therefore just what it has always been – it turns on the question of whether unmoved movers exist, and whether there can be more than one kind.

Unmoved movers exist if it is impossible that all movers be moved, and if not, not. The Aristotelian tradition framed their solution in terms of the impossibility of infinite series, in the sense of in-finite that rules out an arche or principle of some ordered progression. It is simply not clear what we think about this sort of argument – on the one hand our own science can be tortured into seeming to say that there are ordered progressions without arche: we have waves though nothing is waving (no aether) we have work done though nothing is working (energy is not a substance or form) we posit explanations of effects that we insist cannot be causes (abstract laws). Nevertheless, even raising these sorts of questions demands an ontology that is totally out of place in the scientific discourse itself. What physics text would take a break from equations to ask if energy was substantial? So our own science seems either baffled about whether all movers are moved or incapable of raising the question.

Let’s take our condition seriously and insist that we have nothing at all to say about the possibility or impossibility of freedom. Attempts to parlay contemporary science for or against free choice are, on this analysis, as impossible as trying to prove it from a pancake recipe or from the number of Legos in my couch. For the same reason, the sciences are neither determinist nor indeterminist. We are not compatibilist because we cannot establish that the possibility of determinism, we are not Naturalists because of methodological naturalism since the latter, in sufficing to explain the sciences, cannot suffice to solve the question of unmoved movers.

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