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Normative Values and Determinism

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The question of determinism as normally considered in the analytic tradition of philosophy does not consider values; the focus of the determinist discussion as I have found it so far tends to be purely on physical process and the logical analysis of alternative possibilities. After a focused study of this in the last semester, I have begun to wonder if the usual view of determinism is complete. What follows is a sketch of this relatively recent question in my own thinking.

Even with the limited exposure I have to the vast literature in both the analytic and Continental fields, after the works we read from Robert Kane’s text “Free Will,” we also read Roman Ingarden; they were very different in approach. In reading Karol Wojtyla, Person and Act (in an Italian translation in the recent anthology of Wojtyla’s work Metafisica della Persona), I see that as well. Contrasting Ingarden and Wojtyla’s works with the analytic works, different questions are asked and answered, and it isn’t easy correlating the two methods.

Ingarden’s paper started me thinking about the role of values in the decision process, along the lines of this thought from the determinist argument: things happen for a reason. I noted that mental causation was critical to Ingarden’s argument, and that surprised me; few in the analytic tradition would make that move. That difference intrigued me. As I’ve understood so far, questioning the possibility/actuality of mental causation is much more a focus of the Anglo-American analytic tradition, not of the Continental phenomenological tradition. Yet, in considering Harry Frankfurt’s Deep-Self after reading Ingarden, I noticed that desires are pivotal in Frankfurt; they are the basis of second order volitions. I eventually came to see Frankfurt’s Deep-Self as partially mapping with Ingarden’s Ego, and that opened up further thought on similarities between the two, which then led to mapping with Susan Wolf’s sanity argument, etc.

In the analytic literature I’ve read, mental causation seems to be frequently associated with some form of dualism, the traditional form of which is increasingly under pressure with current scientific discoveries in the nature of the human person, and there has been significant effort to try and locate the mental in/on the physical. Yet, while that debate has gone on, Ingarden and others, not asking the same questions, have considered things from a very different view. Ingarden assumed the mental as a functional subsystem of a person and went on to consider its role in free will. After getting past my initial difficulty with the Ingarden, what began to sink in was the role of values in his model, in contrast to the other works we read. As Ingarden well noted, responsibility is unintelligible without values.

The more I considered values, the more they seemed to be key in the question of free will. They are not causally effective in the same way that walls are in directing my path down a corridor, or Black’s mental doomsday device ready to intervene on Jones, but they do exert a sort of mental truth-force. It seems significant that values can be seen as psychologically determining, though perhaps not in the same way that walls are if I try to ignore them. I make decisions for reasons which frequently have normative components as part of their determination. As a Frankfurt Deep-Self, my second order desires and volitional choices are based on values, and I am the one that chooses the values that I want to effectuate. Yet, even if the process of choosing is determined, which seems to be Ingarden’s view, normative values still play a causal role.

This seems to make intuitive sense considering my own first person experience. Considering the discussion from the materialist world-view, which view seems to drive toward a reductive physicalism, the mental that seems so intuitively central suddenly has little more substance than a fleeting wisp. The two different views have very different starting points, and they end up in different places. That seems to be the story of philosophy; where one begins is crucial to where one ends.

If I consider values as having some sort of causal mental force that influence a person’s actions, then I think values are part of the determinist discussion, and the question must be expanded to the metaphysical. There does not seem to be a good way to integrate the discussion of values with the traditional form of the materialist discussion that either reduces or identifies the mental on the physical or considers the mental as epiphenomenal.

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2 Responses

  1. pmrodden
    | Reply

    I know this is a long time after it’s posting, but but do you know if is there anything else written about this very subject anywhere, please?
    I am interested in the work of Wojtyla and Frankfurt, and where they might overlap.

    Thank you.

  2. Michael
    | Reply


    Unfortunately I’ve not run across anything along these lines since my post. Your investigation of an intersection between Frankfurt and Wotyla sounds very interesting; please feel free to post links here to anything else you might find or write.

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