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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Power and Determination in the Consequence Argument

Just one more quick thought on the Consequence Argument. Consider the premise, "If we have no power over X, and X completely determines Y, then we have no power over Y." The logic of this statement seems to conflate power and determination.

One of the common ways "determinism" is defined is as follows: If you are given the state of all of the elements of the universe at any particular time, you can theoretically deduce any future state of the universe. The idea is that we, as investigators, can determine what will happen by looking at what has happened, or what is happening. Similarly, if determinism is true, then what happens is determined by what has happened in the past, which means that whatever happens is the necessary consequence of what has already happened. Determinism doesn't postulate some particular relationship of power between all past and future events. Nothing in the notion of determination implies anything about what events have power over other events.

The meaning of "power" is less clear. To have power over an event is, perhaps, to directly cause it to happen. If that is the case, then you don't need to determine an event in order to have power over it. Everything in the future may be determined by (i.e., be the necessary consequence of, be theoretically deducible from) what has happened at any particular time in the past, but only that which happens immediately before a future event has power over that future event. Thus, we can say that everything is determined by what has happened already, but that we still have power over the future because we directly cause future events to happen.

Alternately, perhaps "power" is supposed to mean "power to do that which has not been determined to happen." But in that case, the Consequence Argument is relying on a notion of power which is explicitly rejected by compatibilists. Compatibilists claim that free will only requires the power to act, and not the power to act in ways which were not determined to happen. So all the Consequence Argument shows (if it is a sound argument) is that determinism is incompatible with some non-compatibilist notions of free will. But the Consequence Argument was supposed to be an argument against compatibilism. So it fails.