Are our choices unavoidable, given our reasons for making them? If our choices follow our reasons strictly, one might worry about whether our reasons proceed from sources that do not depend on us, such as our innate dispositions, our upbringing, and particular events that happened to us shortly or long before we made a choice, determining the choice unavoidably. In contrast, if our choices do not follow our reasons strictly, then they are irrational. In either case, free will is threatened, and apparently moral responsibility with it. These concerns are one way of approaching the traditional problem of free will and determinism, which we call the problem of intellectual determinism.
I have to admit I never considered having reasons for choosing as grounds for doubting my free will in choosing. But how exciting, once the idea is raised! Whereas the ordinary objections to free will seem obviously self-defeating -- that from brain science or physics we must deduce that events including all our actions are determined by material forces and arrangements of matter, asking one, on the basis of observation of natural phenomena, to reject an even more basic natural phenomenon on which the latter observations rest -- this one works from the other direction...
Scene: A corner of a country bar or inn, two chairs drawn up to a fire in the hearth.
Skrignov (tapping his pipe on the arm of his chair): ...I will concede, if only for the moment, that fMRIs do not show that the clusters of molecules arranged in the forms of "me" and "Old Harry" delivered the pint of bitter into my glass rather than the stout, without any power of will on his or my parts. (As a philosopher myself I am not, after all, a registered congregant at the First Church of Science!).
Simplicius (warming his hands around his mug of vin chaud over the fire); I am very glad to hear it, dear boy. I don't see how you do that consistently of course, given your long and frankly embarrassing flirtations with David Hume.
Skrignov (ignoring this unfair and snide remark): But I put before you the following problem in which, unlike in the case of the materialist determinists, it is up to you and not me to defend your position. (Takes a long, deep draw from his pipe). You claim to choose freely, that you are the one making decisions as to your actions, deserving praise or blame in proportion to their being attributed to you and your will. For example, you wish to attend the Erasmus Lecture in Manhattan: you deliberate whether to drive or take the train, considering the monetary costs, the difficulty of finding parking, walking distances, amount you would be permitted to safely drink, and so on, at the end of which you "choose" to take the train. (The footman will await your return to the Peapack-Gladstone Station).
Simplicius (raises eyebrows): My good man, I'm not quite sure you've not forgotten which side your arguing for here.
Skrignov (smiles beneath his bushy mustache): Indeed. But--
Skrignov: But! the very story you have accepted does not seem to me to narrate a choice that was all that very free.
Simplicius: The elasticity with which you tie your own reason into knots never ceases to amaze me. How do you arrive at this, er, flexible conclusion?
Skrignov: Be honest, sir, if not civil. Who has a higher regard for Reason than I? I even capitalize it, and not just at the beginnings of sentences. But consider: have you chosen well, chosen rationally, I mean?
Simplicius: I suppose so...
Skrignov: Then the resulting decision followed inexorably from your reasons. Your will played no part in the matter that I can see. (A satisfied draw-and-puff follows from this).
Simplicius: Oh that's very neat, sir, very neat indeed. Now let me think. (Rolls some wine about in his mouth).
Skrignov: An excellent change of plan, if you will permit me to commend your new resolution.
Simplicius: Now who is being uncivil? But hang on a minute. You're making it out that my own reason constrains my choices, and so I don't have free will?
Skrignov: You, my good man, are the one claiming to have this power. I merely and politely ask you to articulate just how it works. You will note that this time, I have made no recourse to materialism of any kind, nor even asked you to doubt the existence of your self or other persons? (Puff).
Simplicius: (A longish pause). Not bad, old thing. But I believe you've missed something, or craftily left it out apurpose. My choice of the train over the car was not an automatic calculation.
Skrignov: Oh no?
Simplicius: No indeed. How would a calculator weigh the value of money against the value of time saved, or convenience, or the feeling of being able to leave at one's leisure? The scale wouldn't work because it is being asked to weigh different kinds of value. 'Tis a qualia thing, not a quantity thing.
Skrignov (his mustache accentuates his frown): Pray, explain.
Simplicius: My reasons didn't lead inexorably to my decision. Or at least that is an insufficient narrative. In fact--that is, in this fiction--I chose particular aspects to consider based upon their value to me. I may not have considered all possibilities, or even all values. In fact, with my limited mental capacity (Skrignov sniggers). Oh you know what I mean.
Skrignov: Believe me, I do!
Simplicius : Aaannyway,...The fact that I use my ratio on a limited number of considerations, in part because I am unaware of the possibly unlimited number of factors and in part because I attend to the ones I think most valuable (and the ones that I am able to remember during the process of consideration) -- as I say, this fact of limited considerations does not occlude the operation of a free will. Rather, I deliberated, I assembled the relevant reasons, and chose that which seemed to me best. Therefore the calculation presupposed the willing. I used my will, because in deliberating I actually calculated not only means but also ends: I considered the means to the end of listening to the Erasmus Lecture (itself perhaps toward further ends of truth and joy), but also other ends of stewarding my property in order to care for my family, of the uses to which I could put the time driving vs. riding the train, and even of using my time for an entirely different profit that night -- as in doing a bit of gardening back home instead of going into the City at all.
Skrignov: I'm not sure you've quite wriggled free, dear boy. Quite apart from your ridiculous proclivity for wallowing in filth out in your garden, there are two places, I think, where you invite us to skip a step on the staircase. First, the various qualia you weigh in your deliberation -- the value of money, of time, of liberty to indulge in the libations -- are not after all arbitrarily chosen. Even you would concede as much being a hylomorphic realist. Granting for the present that there's a "you" there and that the mind-independent world exists and is intelligible, your reason allows you to grasp the most relevant qualia. This is, again, not an arbitrary choice. The mind-independent relation of these quantities and qualities to your end of reaching the Union Club in time for the lecture leads you of necessity to your "choice." The fact that your powers of reason is a complex scale capable of weighing irreducibly distinct qualia needn't worry us here.
Simplicius (eyes his now-empty mug with mild disappointment): A fair rejoinder, even if I think we could return to it and investigate whether or not you use terminology to freely and loosely. But you said I skipped a step in two places. What was the second?
Skrignov (smiling not unwickedly): The second, my bibulous convinion, is that in asking us to grant that for any given end, there may be multiple reasons assembled and even perhaps to speak of these as different ends, you simply push the problem back a step. These other ends -- are they too not provided to you by nature--that is, by the sum total of your nature and history as well as of all other people and things involved in your trip to Manhattan? It is, I believe, an analogy in time of how you cannot help but grasp mathematical and geometric truths. You don't choose to see that, given two angles of a triangle add up to 120 degrees, the third measures 60; in an analogous way, you didn't choose to attend the Erasmus Lecture.
Bartender: Gentleman, I'm afraid you'll have to finish your percolations another time. The bar's closing.