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.

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Agency, Ordinary Free Will, & Free Will of Love

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