Philosophy, Film, Politics, Etc.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Consequence Argument

I recently wrote about the consequence argument and suggested that it might involve a notion of power which we don't necessarily need in order to have an influence over the future. I just came up with a much better response to the argument, however, which does not require any fussing over the word "power."

The consequence argument is as follows: If we have no power over X, and X completely determines Y, then we have no power over Y. Since we have no power over the past or over the laws of nature, and the past and the laws of nature together completely determine the future, then we have no power over the future. Thus, free will and determinism are incompatible.

The problem with the argument seems to be that it regards agents as existing outside of the causal nexus comprising the past and the laws of nature. If we think of ourselves as part of the past and the laws of nature, and we accept that the past and the laws of nature determine the future, then we are part of what determines the future. To the extent that we are part of what determines the future, we have power over the future. This looks pretty obvious.

The problem is the desire to situate ourselves entirely in the present, as if there was a decisive break between the past and our present moment of reflection. On the one hand, when we reflect on ourselves as rational agents, we are reflecting on the past as well as the present. We might thus put it this way: The past and the laws of nature determine the future via the present. Therefore, what exists in the present determines the future.