A little while ago, I mentioned that I was interviewed for a second appearance on philosophy-oriented podcast Diet Soap. (First one is here.) Anyway, I think the episode with the second appearance on it is going to be coming out within the next couple weeks.
As I emphasized then, I'm happy to be on there. Diet Soap is a podcast I listen to regularly--in fact, lately, it's been the one I've listened to the most regularly that isn't about hockey--and I almost always find it interesting, entertaining and thought-provoking. You should listen.
Anyway, despite having been a normal weekly listener for most of the last bunch of weeks, I somehow missed Episode 91, which was (among other things) about Deluze. Since the most recent episode was a different perspective on Deluze, and the show notes referred to the previous one, I thought I might as well go back and listen to the first Deluze discussion.
...most of which was interesting enough, but towards the end, the host and his guest touched on fatalism and free will in a way that made me want to rip my iPod out of my ears and throw it against the nearest wall in frustration. (I didn't. It's an expensive iPod--one of those tiny little "nano touch" thingies--and what with me being in Korea and all, it'd be even more expensive to replace. Plus, of course, despite my frustration on this particular point, I was still interested to hear the rest of what they had to say.) I've touched on this complaint before, after host Doug Lain brought it up in a previous episode, but I want to take another, more careful crack at it here. Here's what I said about it before:
(2) In the discussions about free will and fatalism, there's a lot of running together of two quite distinct claims:
(i) That there are facts about what will happen in the future, such that some statements about the future are true and some are false, and
(ii) That some being knows which statements about the future are true and which ones are false.
Clearly (at least given the orthodox assumption that truth is a necessary condition for knowledge), (ii) entails (i), but (i) can absolutely and obviously be true without (ii) being true. By analogy, consider Claim C (about the past, rather than the future):
C: "Alexander the great's maternal grandmother's paternal grandmother accidentally cut her toe on a rock when she was six years old."
C is pretty clearly either true or false. Whatever one thinks about reference failures and all of that (i.e. whether a statement like "the present King of France is bald" is true, false or neither, given that there is no present King of France), Alexander the Great clearly had a maternal grandmother, and she clearly had a paternal grandmother, and at one point she was six years old. During that year, that lady either did accidentally cut her toe on a rock--in which case C is true--or she didn't (in which case the negation of C is true), and none of this is remotely philosophically controversial. Given atheism (and the absence of time machines) no one is in any position to have epistemic access to the fact of the matter here, but no one thinks that there isn't a fact of the matter about this issue. Why on earth should it be any different, re: future facts and the absence of any being with epistemic access to those facts?
(In the comments on that post, a friend of mine who's working on free will for his doctoral dissertation put the point rather more vehemently than I would.)
Expanding a bit now:
Lain expresses the point in terms of "truth claims", which I find slightly confusing, just because it's not terminology that I'm used to, but I think it's fairly clear in context that it just means "claims that are true." (For the sake of simplicitly, let's make that "true statements.") He's responding to Taylor's classic argument for fatalism (the idea that the future is "fixed" in some way that gets in the way of some important intuitive idea of free will). That argument is spelled out formally by Taylor, and Lain is looking for a way out. So far, so good.
On the philosophical substance here, my own very strong view is that (a) there are lots of ways out, even if Lain's favored one is as problematic as I think it is, but that (b) no matter what your favorite conception is of free will, "fatalism" shouldn't be a problem. We can come back to that in a bit. Meanwhile....
Lain's move is, basically, to leverage atheism against fatalism. If Taylor's picture has it that there is an infinite set of every true statement about the future--and therefore that, for every prediction you could make about the future, either its in that set or its not, but one way or the other, there's a fixed fact of the matter about whether the prediction's going to come true--Lain wants to dispute the claim that there is such a set of true statements. After all, in the absence of an omniscient God, no one is in a position to claim all the infinitely many true things about the future.
In his most recent statement of all this, in Episode 91, Lain made a special point of saying that something can only be a statement if someone has said it, written it down or thought it. I think this might have been a way of side-stepping the way I'd previously expressed my objection, quoted above--in terms of "some statements being true and others being false" vs. "some entity being in a position to know which statements are true and which are false"--and I guess it does, but in a way that I think misses the point.
Think about the past. That's definitely "fixed" and at this point unchangeable in just the sense that anyone worried about fatalism is worried that the future is "fixed", right? Well, even if the past is finite (different physical cosmologies have importantly different results on that point), in a universe without any God-like entities, surely no one is in any position to know, or state, every true statement about the past, right? That is, however, just obviously utterly irrelevant to the pasts' "fixed"-ness.
The reason its irrelevant is that the issue isn't so much about statements as it is about facts. Even if I hadn't come up with the particular example I used in the comments--C: "Alexander the great's maternal grandmother's paternal grandmother accidentally cut her toe on a rock when she was six years old."--and indeed if no one had ever said or thought of that statement (as is extremely likely that no one would have) the lady in question, and all events in her life, would still exist, and either include or fail to include the described incident. Even if one thinks that sentences per se rather, than say, propositions, are the only things that can be "true" or "false", and even if a sentence describing the incident doesn't exist, either the incident occurred or it didn't.
Now, one could make a really radical move here and just deny the existence of un-described facts--if no one has ever commented on or thought about the number of empty bottles on the floor of the basement of the frat house, then there isn't a certain, definite, objective number of bottles there!--and that would sort-of-help here, but, in the end, it wouldn't help much. Not only would this move distance you so much from any remotely recognizable sense of the meaning of the word "truth" as it's used pre-philosophically in ordinary everyday conversations that it's no longer clear to me what we're talking about when we talk about whether some statement is "true" or "false", but even if we make this move, it won't get us off the fatalist hook.
For one thing, we can always reconstruct the fatalistic stuff in terms of hypothetical statements--e.g. "for any possible future event, if one were to make a prediction about it, that prediction would either be a true prediction or it wouldn't be"--and for another, even if we couldn't (and, again, we pretty clearly can), that wouldn't matter very much.
Forget "the future" as a vast (possibly infinitely extended) category, and re-ask yourself why you're concerned with fatalism in the first place. Presumably, it's because we want to think we have the power to change things with our idividual or collective choices, or at the very least that (even if we don't think it's a matter of choice) certain future possibilities we care about are still "open."
The problem is that, for any given future possibility we care about the openness of, we can just construct a sentence about it. For example:
"Doug Lain's great-grandchildren will live under precisely the sort of anarchist-socialist utopia he advocates."
"An anarchist-socialist utopia will never come about."
"Doug Lain will murder someone on July 15th, 2058, and be executed for that crime."
"Doug Lain will never kill anyone."
....or whatever. Whether or not there's an infinite set of true statements for any of these these statements to be part of (if any of them are true) or to be fail to be part of, we hardly need an infinite, omniscient mind for these particular statements to exist. (Check them out! I just wrote them up!) Given that they exist, they're either true or they're not, which is presumably just as much (or, of course, just as little) of a problem for the "openness" or undecidness or whatever of these future possibilities as them being or not being part of some infinite set of true statements would be.
Now, like I said earlier, I tend to think that both (a) if one thinks that its important to avoid this fatalistic result, there are plenty of moves you could make that do so, even if the move under consideration has prospects as dim as I think they are, and that (b) it's actually not important to avoid it (the future is every bit as much "up to us" and to our free choices with or without the kind of 'openness' anti-fatalists tend to be concerned with). That is, though, as they say, a-whole-nother discussion, and one probably best reserved for a blog post of its own, this one being as long as it is already.
So let's do that in a couple weeks. Meanwhile, stay tuned for the long-delayed Part IV of the Liar Pardox posts next Wednesday!