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William James

1) Distinguishes between determinism and indeterminism

a) Determinism “professes that those parts of the universe already laid down absolutely
appoint and decree what the other parts shall be. The future has no ambiguous
possibilities hidden in its womb: the part we call the present is compatible with only one
totality. Any other complement than the one fixed from eternity is impossible. The whole
is in each and every part, and welds it with the rest into an absolute unity, and iron block,
in which there can be no equivocation or shadow of turning.” (294)

b) Indeterminism “says that the parts have a certain amount of loose play on one another,
so that the laying down of one of them does not necessarily determine what the others
shall be. It admits that possibilities may be in excess of actualities…. Of two alternative
futures which we conceive, both may now be really possible; and the one become
impossible only at the very moment when the other excludes it by becoming real itself….
[Indeterminism] says there is a certain ultimate pluralism in [the world]; and, so saying, it
corroborates our ordinary unsophisticated view of things.” (294-295)
2) How do we choose which to believe?
a) Which ever view makes more sense to us. That is, which ever we judge more rational
3) James supports indeterminism.
a) Indeterminism involves chance, “and chance [some say] is something a notion of which
no sane mind can tolerate in the world.”
b) But James argues that chance is a useful, negative concept. “All you mean by calling
[something] chance is that this is not guaranteed, that it may also fall out otherwise.
c) For the system of other things has no positive hold on the chance-thing. Its origin is in a
certain fashion negative: it escapes, and says, Hands off! coming, when it comes, as a
free gift, or not at all.” (296)
4) If determinism is true seem to be in a quandary about reactive attitudes like regret.
a) We regret bad things we have done or the terrible things that have happened to others or
us. But if determinism is true, they could not have been otherwise, and regret is not
appropriate. But insofar as these occurrences cannot be seen as evil, then the regret itself
is a bad thing. “We have got one foot out of the pessimistic bog, but the other one sinks
all the deeper.”
5) James thinks that determinism does not sufficiently explain regret and how it is able to
change future actions. Chance is the only thing that allows for a more interesting world.
Richard Taylor

1) Taylor wants to figure out if determinism is true.

a) Whatever we decide about determinism must adjust our theories to fit our data and not try
to adjust our data to fit our theories.
b) There are two things that he is certain about which he thinks makes determinism false.
i) He knows that he deliberates
ii) What ever he decides to do is up to him.
2) Soft Determinism has 3 aspects
a) Supports the thesis of determinism: all human behavior is caused and determined.
b) Voluntary behavior is free to the extent that it is not externally constrained or impeded.
c) In the absence of external constraints, voluntary behavior is caused by certain mental
states, or events within the agent.
3) Taylor thinks that Soft Determinism does nothing to explain the problem, it only disguises it.
a) If determinism is true, as the theory of soft determinism holds, all those inner states that
cause my body to behave in whatever ways it behaves must arise from circumstances that
existed before I was born; for the chain of causes and effects is infinite, and none could
have been the least different, given those that preceded. (305)
i) Is this correct?
b) So, soft determinism does nothing more to solve the problem because it is merely
determinism in disguise.
4) The antithesis of determinism is indeterminism.
a) Taylor rejects simple indeterminism.
i) Simple indeterminism supports the view of chance.
ii) Chance implies that some events have no causes at all.
(1) This doesn’t help solve the problem either, for it does not attribute responsibility
to an agent. Chance implies that some of my actions are going to be random and
that all I can do is to wait and see how I behave in the future.
5) So, Taylor thinks that both determinism and simple indeterminism are false because they do
not fit our data.
a) If determinism is true, then how is it that I am able to deliberate? I know that I deliberate
and I know that the choices I make are completely up to me, so determinism and simple
indeterminism are false.
i) Is this correct? Are all of our choices completely up to us? Do we actually engage in
completely free deliberation?
(1) Can’t we predict the choice that our close friends and family will make before
they actually decide?
ii) Simple indeterminism is incorrect because it requires us to be passive observers of
our own behaviors.
(1) This is similar to children thinking that they are controlling an arcade game
without inserting a quarter.
6) The only theory that fits our data is the theory of agency.
a) We are self-determined beings. Beings that are sometimes the cause of their own
b) This theory involves two metaphysical notions that are not applied to anything else in
i) Self or person: self-moving being.
(1) From this view, a person and not merely some part of him or something within
him causes her own activity.
ii) Involves an extraordinary conception of causation.
(1) The agent is the cause of her own actions.
(2) Instead of saying ‘cause’ we should say that actions ‘originate’ from the agent or
that the agent ‘initiates’ or ‘performs’ an action.
c) Even though this is a metaphysically odd conception of what a person is, it nonetheless
fits our data.
7) Taylor practices epistemic humility
a) He says that the data might simply be an illusion.
b) Our common sense might not be a reliable guide
i) We saw this with Hume’s conception of cause and effect.