Monthly Archives: January 2024

Agency, Ordinary Free Will, & Free Will of Love

This post elaborates on Example of Agency At Work. One main contention of that post is that we as agents, as agent causes, are a crucial factor in both making a decision about how to act and then initiating the action. For all that we know, agents are basic entities in reality. Even if agency emerged after living systems reached a certain level of complexity, the point of recognizing them as emergent is to recognize a new type of entity in reality. What emerges is not reducible to that from which it emerged. The basic property of agents is to form intentions, i.e., to will, to seek goals. At a first level the agent is not conscious of it’s agency. Conscious agency emerges from at a greater degree of complexity than elementary forms of agency. The type of agency capable of love as spelled out in Freewill Necessary and Sufficient for Love emerges at some high level of complexity.

A second crucial contention of Example of Agency At Work is that consciousness of choosing is not always the operation of agency. Rather it is the consciousness of the working of agency after the working of agency. At the end of this post, it is brought out that consciousness of the choosing in the highest type of choosing, the choosing in love or choosing the good of the other for the other, is inseparable from choosing to satisfy an inclination for the good of the other. It is only by an inference that we can make a probable judgement that we chose the good of the other for the sake of the good of the other.

As a Catholic philosopher untrained in physics, chemistry, biology, psychology or sociology , I have no objection to accepting so-called emergent features as directly created by God when the appropriate level of complexity has evolved. I think that direct creation of types of goal seeking is preferable to saying the new feature emerged from complexity. “Emergence” suggests that the new feature was already present potentially and, if so, something genuinely new did not come into existence. In any event, I will continue to use “emergence.”

Very importantly for my task of modeling Satan, direct creation of agency by God does not require agency to be based on physical complexity. For natural organisms God chooses to link agency with physical complexity. However, God need not choose to link all agency with something physical. Hence, the concept of agency is logically consistent with the concept of disembodied agents, viz. angels.

I appreciate, though, that people working in a scientific field, should be very reluctant to accept any phenomena as emergent. I believe that if I were a scientist, apparent emergence would be a challenge to” explain away.” Bertrand Russell once quipped about postulating least upper bounds when trying to construct the real number system from a rational number system “it has the advantages of theft over honest toil” People working in a science might well say the same of accepting emergence. I acknowledge that my discussion of agency and freewill assume the scientifically controversial reality of emergence1.

If we grant genuine agent causality, we cannot hold that prior to any decision of an agent factors determined the intentions the agents would produce. That is tantamount to denying that there is agency or setting agency aside as an irrelevant epiphenomena. Now any case of agent causation is a type of freedom of action. It would be inaccurate to say “freedom of will” when there is no consciousness on the part of the agent. For instance, the various bugs which go scurrying for shelter when I pick up a flat rock in my garden are freely seeking their various goals to restablish the security they had under the rock. It is not inaccurate, though, to say that the bugs intend to get wherever they are going

The disturbed bugs just select one of several choices open to them. The selection of one of the options is the new contribution of the agent. It is unpredictable from the state of the agent and inputs into the agent. The essence of agency is selecting an option. Agent causation fills in the gap between state of the agent, its inputs and its action outputs. To accept agency is to accept these gaps and that selecting of the agent is the causal factor, the efficient cause, in filling the gap. Acceptance of agent causation is acceptance of some very significant factors in any philosopher’s metaphysics. It may not require accepting that nature as a whole has goals. But it does require accepting that some systems within nature have goals: final causes.

Individuals in a type of organism which exercises agent causality are agents. Agents are agents from their beginning: when the DNA, genes and epigenetic factors which sets their level of complexity is formed. Thus, a human is an agent from the moment of its conception. It is far simpler to assume that there is direct creation of a type of agent once a level of complexity evolves than assuming a direct creation for each organism as it grows to a level of complexity. Thus, I assume that agency is inherited.

This is not the forum to investigate all types of of agency. This is a form for characterizing two types of human agency: Ordinary human choices and the choices in love. Ordinary human choices are the vast majority of our choices. They are choices we make to satisfy our inclinations. “Inclination” should not be construed as indicating what satisfies our sensual desires. Humans are frequently inclined to choose what even the most prudish would consider noble. Most of the time, people are conscious of their choices and they are free to carry them out. So, a type of freewill is very common in human affairs. Our choices a free in a twofold sense. As simply being agent choices they are free and as not being compelled by any physical or mental force. The reality of ordinary freewill is not problematic. It is almost the type of freewill that so-called soft determinists accept. However, soft determinist do not accept the elementary freewill of simply being an agent because they are determinists who reject emergence of agency. So, the problem of freewill is not a verbal problem. There is a disagreement about what can be in reality. It is an ontological disagreement about the possibility of agent causality.

The freewill of love, freedom to love, is different from ordinary freewill because it assumes a different input into human agents. The novel input is the good of the other. The goodness of the Basic Human Goods is an input available to for ordinary choices. For instance, the goodness of life is readily recognized. People naturally desire these basic goods. In most cases, the final cause, the goal, of a choice of basic human goods is to satisfy our inclination for those basic goods. For instance, a father who chooses to promote the education and health of his children has an inclination toward having those goods in his children. With ordinary freewill he seeks satisfaction of those paternal inclinations which pursuits have the side effects of those goods existing in his children. We can imagine some ungrateful adult children dismissing the efforts of their father by saying “He didn’t really love us. Given his traditions and inclinations, he was just doing what he wanted.” We have to concede that those ingrates have a point.

The freewill of love requires a higher level of agency than that needed for ordinary freewill. For ultimately, all choices of ordinary freewill are to satisfy inclinations. A capacity to select a goal regardless of any inclination for it is required.2 We need a capacity to choose the good of an other regardless of any inclination for the good of the other. This capacity for love is a condition of these higher level agents. There is also a need for inputs for this higher level of agency. What is good for the other needs to be presented to agents as good regardless of any inclination for it. For a man to love a woman, he needs to perceive what is good for her regardless of any inclination for her having that good, the capacity to choose that good in her regardless of any inclination to do so and then to carry out a course of action with the intention bring about that good in her. This freewill of love usually occurs in a context in which he acts lovingly with ordinary freewill. He has an inclination for her to have the good and he acts with the intention of satisfying his inclination for her happiness, i.e., rejoicing in the good he provides for her.

Love’s imperceptibilty now confronts us. We cannot be conscious of any difference between willing the good of the other regardless of any inclination for it and willing to satisfy an inclination for the good of the other. The free choices of love, if any, are free choices of which we are not conscious. when we make them. It is in retrospection of fairly long periods of our past about which the best explanation is that the choice we made for the good of another would have been made regardless of any inclination. I don’t like philosophical aphorisms. But: Love is inferred; not perceived.

A subsequent post brings out that an inference to a judgment that humans can love carries with it an inference to the supernatural dimension of human nature.

  1. From reviews I have read, viz. “The Fate of Free Will,” by James Gleick in Jan. 18, 2024 New York Review of Books, the metaphysics I sketch may have resemblance to that of Kevin J. Mitchell in his book Free Agents: How Evolution Gave Us Free Will, Princeton U, Press 2023. But Mitchell’s rigorous work is not to be blamed for my speculations.
  2. I will not digress into any Kantian interpretation. But Kantian moral freedom is analogous to what I am calling freewill of love. Kantian moral freedom requires a capacity, sense of duty, to choose what is right regardless of any inclination to so choose.

Example of Agency At Work

In my construction of a model of what it would be like for there to be Satan, freewill is a fundamental “buliding block” of the model. For any Satan worthy of the name has to exercise freewill in defiance of his Creator. The notion of personal agency is crucial in the concept of freewill. So, a paradigm of agency is helpful. I chose this example from my experience because on this occasion I realized that an act of agency, free choosing, is separable from being conscious of it.

On Wednesday afternoon, January 3, 2024, while standing for about an hour ironing some clothes I started to feel very tired with aches throughout my body. I thought that I might be getting a flu although I had been recently vacinated. I did not sleep well Wednesday night. I frequently awoke and noticed that 5:55AM, the time at which my alarm was set, was rapdily approaching. I dreaded the prospect of getting out of bed to began my schedule for Thursday morning. I outline my schedule to bring out that I have the character of a man who pushes himself hard at 88. That outline supports a prediction about how I might likely respond to a challenge about facing a physical hardship. But plausible predicatability is not evidence against freedom of a decision; let alone that it was not I who made the decision.

The schedule was to bring my wife coffee at 6:15AM, talk a bit, recite Matins with my wife, walk about two miles, bike a mile to my parish church for 8:30AM mass and then bike six miles to work until 1130 AM at a St. Vincent de Paul free clothing store. Then I would bike another six miles to home. The temperatures were in the low 30s. I felt very sick but I could not say clearly what was wrong: no sore throat, no fever, no coughing.

I chose to go back to bed at 6:30AM. But that is not the free choice I want to exhibit. Before going back to bed, I asked my wife to wake me up by 8AM; at which time I would decide whether to bike to mass and then to the Clothing Center or stay in bed and have my wife contact the Clothing Center to report my absence. (She planned to drive to the Center to drop off some clothing donations.) It was warm and comfortable in bed. But I slept fitfully thinking about whether or not to stay in bed all morning or bike to mass and work at the Clothing Center.

Myriad pros and cons went through my mind. I thought about being comfortable. Staying in bed would be comfortable but boring if I could not sleep. On one hand, I worried that I would be giving into weakness. On the other, I worried that I would be giving in to vanity about being tough if rested all morning. Irealized that vanity should not mislead me into prolonging whatever this sickness might be.There were moral thoughts about not spreading whatever my sickness was. There were contrary moral thoughts about the need for people to staff the Center. There was, however, no decisive moral claim. This was not to be a moral decision. I simply could not decide what I was going to do. Or better: I was not conscious about how I was to decide

About five minutes to eight, I heard my wife coming up the stairs to get my decision. What was I going to do? I was not sure even as she came through the door. Then I threw the blankets back, sat at the edge of my bed and said that I was going to bike to mass and the Clothing Center. I had the intentions of facing the cold and going ahead with my regular Thursday morning plans. That was my choice and I was conscious of it. I was not so much conscious of it as a free choice. I was mostly conscious of it as the choice I made. I was even a bit surprised that I made the choice to keep my schedule; and rather proud of myself for making the choice to confront physical discomfort.

What is the relevance of this example for freewill? Most importantly, the example shows that consciousness of the choice does not make it my choice; let alone make it a free choice. Self consciousness only reports that I made the choice and apparently could have chosen otherwise, viz.,formed an intention to stay in bed. Conscious choosing, or better, consciousness of choosing, could occur after I have chosen, as some controversial research suggests.1 The important fact reported by consciousness is that of my agency: I was conscious that I stood up with the intention of carrying on my regular Thursday routine. I was not conscious of any freedom to carry out my intention. I could have fainted upon standing, as has happened. Then my wife would seriously restrict my activities that morning. If I had fainted, I would not be the agent of my fainting. (One could be the agent of their own fainting by standing up quickly to produce orthostatic hypotension.)

What is my interpretation of my behavior? Although we consciously entertain many thoughts while deliberating, making the choice is not another conscious thought in the deliberation. The thought of making the decision comes after we make the decision. The choice is made by ourselves as agents. As agents we create something new in reality, viz., an intention to act a certain way. The intention is created ex nihilo by the agent. An intention is a thought but a thought with causal force; intentions are dynamic. Thoughts of the pros and cons of getting up do not get me up or keep me down. The thought which is the intention to get up is the thought which gets me up. The previous thoughts or physical states are relevant to the intention I form. The previous thoughts and physical states are necessary for whatever intention I form; they set severe constraints on the kind of intention I form. But they are not suffficient for it. Action of me as an agent is the factor which is the efficient cause in this situation.2

It would be inaccurate for me to say that my brain formed the intention and made the decision.

It would be inaccurate to say that an entity apart from my brain, which is my self, formed the intention and made the decision. My awareness that I made the decision is not awareness that warrants any analysis of what kind of being I am; only that I am the agent, the maker of certain decisions.

I close with an aphorism: Consciousness of choosing freely is not freely choosing. Consciousness of freely choosing only reports the fact of an agent freely choosing.

1 Libet, B., Gleason, C.A., Wright, E.W. & Pearl, D.K. ‘Time of conscious
intention to act in relation to onset of cerebral activity (readiness-potential).
The unconscious initiation of a freely voluntary act’, Brain (1983)106: 623-642. A clear summary of this investigation is in Faraday Paper 17 by Peter G.H. Clarke

2. I have been influenced by John Mackie’s notion of an INUS condition. It is a term” coined byphilosopherj John Mackie to describe a condition that is necessary but not sufficient for an outcome, and is part of a complex condition that is sufficient but not necessary for the outcome. For example, an electric short circuit is an INUS condition for a house fire, because it needs flammable material to cause the fire, and the fire could also be caused by other factors. In the case of my example, the forming of the intention to get up is like the short circuit. I formed the intention to get up before I became conscious of my intention.