Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Philippe Beneton on Determinism

"Has anyone ever taken determinism seriously to its limit? Who ever lived as if all freedom were denied him? Certainly not the apostles of determinism, who behave as if they had been declared exempt by some official mandate. Deterministic theories are always, it seems, in the service of something else: theoretical ambition (’I am the master of meaning’), voluntarism (’workers of the world unite!’), irresponsibility (’society alone is guilty’)." [EQUALITY BY DEFAULT, ISI, p. 200, note 6]

Discussions - 12 Comments

I just got around to reading that book at the end of the academic year---it's worth quoting and reading carefully. I've gotten into the habit, following Beneton and Delsol, of using the term "late modernity" versus "post-modernity" properly stressing the hypermodern character of thought in the 20th Century.

Dear Professor Lawler

Of course determinists use determinism to push silly or destructive personal agendas. What choice do they have?

Determinism as a theory really does turn out to be a helpful case study in the human capacity for a kind of intellectual willfulness in the service of logical consistency or explanatory economy; in fact, the two main strains of anthropological analysis in modernity, mechanical determinism and individual autonomy, are both remarkably abstruse denials of real lived experience. One could say that the willful rejection of experience in favor of a deterministic account could only be made by a un-determined being--I would go even further than this and suggest that the endowment of consciousness required for this kind of question to even arise is evidence enough that we're not automata.

Would the diversity of deterministic explanations of human behavior suggest some some degree of free choice? It is of course possible that one of those explanations is correct, but how would anyone know it is the correct one? By definition, we would choose the explanation we were programmed (via biology, social conditions, whatever) to to pick, not neccesarily the correct explanation.

Sure but I'm suggesting that consciousness itself, and not any particular theoretical choice, contradicts any deterministic account of human action. A perfectly determined being, or a being perfectly absorbed into mechanistic nature, would have the sort of lack of self-awareness we find in Rousseau's primitive man. The imaginative capacity to distance ourselves from nature in thought seems to entail some corresponding capacity for free action---for the human being logos and freedom seem to go hand in hand.

So I think therefore I am, also entails I think therefore I have free choice?

The nature and depth of this conversation is determined at least partially by the medium. Our capacity to carry it out is determined by our inclinations and our intelligence. What we think about it is itself largely determined by what we have seen, read and experienced. It seems to me that the question should be if anyone has ever put foward a truth claim that is not deterministic. Ivan the K's claim about a perfectly deterministic account of human nature, sneaks determinism back into the picture with the claim that such a being would have the sort of awareness of Rousseau's primitive man. In other words far from invalidating the proposition that all antecedent conditions being the same it could not have been otherwise, it makes the claim that given certain antecedent conditions namely a mechanically deterministic consciousness that this is followed by an awareness similar to Rousseau's primitive man.

That may or may not be true, but if it is true it is a deterministic claim. Of course on one level it is only a deterministic claim in my immagination since what exactly Ivan K means by Rousseau's primitive man, an immage that deterministically speaking I am willing to hazard has greater meaning for Ivan the K than for myself with passing aquaintance, nevertheless has more meaning for myself than for someone who has never read Rousseau, albeit it may be possible that those who have never read Rousseau and have more of an aquaintance with the meaning of primitive may understand Ivan the K better than those have read Rousseau to such an extent that the primitive is a literary figment. In point of fact I tend towards laughing in Hobbesian fashion at high brow discussions by air conditioned modern man's conception of the primitive. You still use a Motorolla Razor? You are so primitive!

But I still read Ivan the K as making a deterministic argument because his argument holds that a perfectly absorbed naturalistic being would have the self awareness of Rousseau's primitive man regardless of his aquaintance with Rousseau or with primitive man. Or rather that his aquaintance with one is conflatable with the other. In other words it is a truth claim that acts independently of how such a naturalistic being would conceptualize the world for himself.

So the capability of speaking of conciousness pressuposed by asking about determinism itself requires making and giving deterministic accounts. And so what I see when Dr. Lawler says that the 1960's are important, what I see previous to a discussion on culture, are a series of deterministic accounts. What really strikes me as disturbing is how one could read someone like Toqueville as not being deterministic. Interestingly enough when I read Kant I stop at the introduction to the prolegomena to any future metaphysics. Here Kant already knows that the prolegomena will "not be understood...because people will be inclined to skim thought the book, but not to think through it; and they will not want to expend this effort on it, because the work is dry, because it is obscure, because it opposes all familiar concepts and is long winded as well."

So what I want to know is how if Kant wrote the book for a very serious and studious audience of german philosophers during the peak of the enlightenment and he supposed that even then it would fall deadborn from the press...what I want to know is how the hell someone writting in the age of multitasking internet modernity long after Toqueville noted the American proclivity for writting papers that were obsolete the next day...what I want to know is how given the culture and the constant arguments that the culture is important(which presupposes a determinism on the level of mores) can one reasonably hold that people under thirty cannot be trusted because they can't read Kant?

See how this applies to the likable but quite contradictory Douglas Hofstader statement Peter Schramm links to below. A.I. scientist(I presume) Hofstader is glad we haven't stumbled onto A.I. YET, but makes that deterministic leap of faith that we eventually will, and his gladness has to do with the dignity of the human machine being far more complicated than we might have thought. But we will figure it out, because it is a machine, so it's like he's saying, "whew, I have a lot more respect for the determined human machine now that I know its determined nature is super-duper complicated." But essentially, this dignity is like that of a very detailed baroque palace as opposed to the modded-out minimalism of, say, an international-style skyscaper. It is a matter of meaningless (and determined) taste to like the fact that human machines are quite complex.

Or maybe, his gladness has to do with not having to fully face and admit the deterministic conclusion that he believes in, since he now calculates he will die before we get to the slam-dunk proof of determinism that he (rightly?) assumes genuine A.I. would be.

So his gladness is precisely the sort he is working asiduously to prevent all future humans from enjoying. But, hey, he's determined, as is the human drive toward A.I., so what else can he do? But then why be sad about its outcome? Or about anything?

So I can see why Schram likes the all-too-human incoherence of this guy.

The John Lewis view is powerful and pretty common among a certain kind of intellectual that reads blogs like this one. The DH arguments seem rather sensible given modern, Cartesian "ghost in a machine" premises. Everyone nowadays knows ghosts aren't real, just as the freedom described by Locke, Rousseau, and Kant--being unnatural--may well not be real. If nature=machine, as Locke, Kant, and Rousseau think, then the illusion or reality of freedom has a limited future. But the truth is that nature doesn't = machine, even in the simple Newtonian or complicated Darwinian sense. Recovery of the true view that there's a ground for our personal freedom (and love) in nature requires a recovery of Thomism or something like it, as our philosopher-pope has reminded us.

Dear Professor Lawler,

Does this recovery of the reality of freedom and love require the belief in a personal God (if not neccesarily a personal experience of divine revalation)? Is this recovery compatible with the views of the Greek philosophers that the world is somewhat morally intelligible while rejecting the personal God? Whatever elese they disagreed on, could Thomists and Aristotelians agree that humans have some degree of free choice and a moral responsibility to choose rightly?

I still am not done with you guys yet. If my view of Hegel is correct then the problem is precisely that there are two possible Consciencenesses as they relate to authority which seem to mitigate against your suggestion. Critical conscienceness and acceptance of the authority of the way of the world. Obama is a perfect example of critical consciencesness as it relates to faith. In the Audacity of Hope he says that he came to religion because "It was because of these newfound understandings--that religious commitment did not require me to suspend critical thinking, disengage from the battle for economic and social justice, or otherwise retreat from the world that I knew and loved--that I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity United Church of Christ one day and be baptized."

In other words Obama came to God because God agreed with Obama. I firmly believe this to be the case and it is on a certain level so evident in its implications that the Reverend Wright ordeal shouldn't have an impact upon those who are actually paying attention. (of course since I happen to know that should's don't necessarily rule politics, or rather they do but not in any simple way I can take a guess at those for whom such sophistication is too much to ask.) In other words critical consciousness is still primary with Obama, which means that he only gives in to authority when he has come to make his peace with it. On the other hand the authority or way of the world that Obama has made his peace with is in point of fact nothing more than critical consciousness itself. Yet Obama is himself aware of tensions put foward by this problem in his faith and politics, which in my view is sufficient to say that he is Hegelian, because he comes to grapple with the problem between critical consciousness and authority, and this tension is prevelent in the Audacity of Hope in his discussion of citizenship and faith. In other words the question is the possibility of obeying on the basis of correctness, which is a similar question to what Toqueville says requires aristocratic lawyers. If each man is a law unto himself then there is no law, if no law then no state if no state then no hope for virtue, but Critical Consciousness is the law of the heart and mind of the individual, and in a democracy with active citizens probably the last court of appeal. In other words with Obama Critical Consciousness makes peace with the way of the world by becomming one with it, and Obama's Audacious hope is that Critical Consciousness comes to rule the way of the world more completly. Thus Obama as a politician represents both critical consciousness and the way of the world and in this respect poses a challenge to the notion that Critical Consciousness could be ruled by the pope(and indeed for Hegel Critical Consciousness and protestantinism are no accident.) In other words my reply to Dr. Lawler is that all politicians who are Catholic will necessarily run into "a way of the world" that itself demands of them a critical consciousness that they are already inclined to have.(which is to say that they will have to battle the idea that they take orders from the pope.)

Ironically Obama is protected from Reverend Wright accusations because of his critical consciousness...Interestingly enough McCain is also protected from Republicans because of his perceived critical consciousness...and conservatives will be asked to lay aside critical consciousness in order to vote for McCain as a way of the world.

Pete: no, no, yes

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