Why Ron Paul believes in free will

[originally from December 12th, 2014]


“Imagine that somebody wrote:
Some of my friends support Ron Paul. I think that’s wrong. After all, he’s a libertarian, and Wikipedia says – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libertarianism_(metaphysics) – a libertarian is a person who believes in free will. But free will is impossible in a deterministic universe. Ron Paul’s belief in free will is clearly why there are so few Swiss people among Ron Paul supporters, since Swiss people are Calvinists and so understand determinism better.”

Of course political libertarianism (belief in deregulation and the right to make voluntary contracts) is linked to philosophical libertarianism (belief in the existence of the free will). The former is impossible without the latter, although pol-libertarians may not even realize that since phil-libertarianism is the implicit default for nearly everyone on this planet: it fells like you’re making decisions, so everyone assumes they do.

If you believe in the duality of spirit and matter, believe that there’s a spirit that makes decisions – although based on the information available to the physical brain, but ultimately orthogonal, not determined by it – it’ very easy to see why the right of people to make whatever decisions they make should be protected at any expense. You make a trade-off between the comfort of the spirit itself, and merely a body that hosts it – the choice is obvious. On contrary, if the decisions are determined by the input information, it’s very hard to argue that the freedom should be protected, even if you value the agents. Suppose you have an expensive self-driving car, which you definitely value. And it’s definitely capable of making decisions – determined by its inputs. But if this car is making bad decisions, you just go ahead and fix it, instead of saying “well, that was bad, but the car decided so by themselves, and I respect their will”. Saying that the universe is random on the quantum level, which is why human brain has the free will due to randomness, and the algorithmically driven car hasn’t won’t help either: if you add a random number generator to it, it won’t magically give it free will, although it may either improve of worsen the decisions it makes. It is believing that there is some kind of spirit that may interact with the physical brain through randomness can make randomness matter.

What’s even more interesting is that the force that opposes political libertarians is actually quite similar to the force that opposes philosophical libertarians. That is, large parts of modern left-wing discourse revolve exactly around the determinism of the mind. I find it particularly fascinating how political ideology on practical level is so unlinked from ontology, and yet they do conflict even on the levels of abstraction that high. Earlier – http://squid314.livejournal.com/354385.html – Scott theorized that the concept of privilege boils down to the dependence of the life outcomes on implicit external factors, determined on one’s social group. But that’s only half of the story. The other half is that even when the bad outcomes are due to bad decisions, it’s important to remember that decision-making is determined by one’s life. If the brain is not the bridge between matter and spirit but rather an information processor, there’s no way it’s gonna make good decisions without being preconditioned to do so. Short exposure to the information that theoretically could be useful to make better decisions is not an excuse if the brain is not trained to make use of the information. The idea that mind is shaped by environment, and therefore applying the same standards to the minds from different environments is unfair is very very pro-determinism and anti-libertarianism.

The problem is that left-wingers only went halfway down the road to determinism. They still believe in and highly value the concepts of responsibility, fairness, justice, autonomy, consent, identity, and many others, that are ultimately dualistic. Even though in other contexts they already agreed that the mind is deterministic. But they shouldn’t be blamed for that. For practical purposes, you need some kind of ethics. Nearly every ethical system that I’m aware of sits on top of Hume’s law, which is ultimately dualistic. Even the damn preference utilitarianism, which came from the most deterministic circles, starts glitching when you allow the engineering of preferences. Or, to put it another way, the whole idea of having nominative ethics as a separate branch of knowledge rather than a part of descriptive psychology and sociology works if and only if “ought” doesn’t boil down to “is”. Otherwise it just doesn’t work. Whoever tries to create ethics, is a deterministic mind too, being subject to the laws of physiology. Figuring out how to live in a deterministic universe is hard. I haven’t. Neither did the majority of philosophers, and blaming a political movement that they didn’t would be rather… ignorant of the determinism of mind.


2 thoughts on “Why Ron Paul believes in free will

  1. Of course political libertarianism (belief in deregulation and the right to make voluntary contracts) is linked to philosophical libertarianism (belief in the existence of the free will). The former is impossible without the latter [. . .]
    I don’t think that’s quite right; political libertarianism definitely requires a rejection of hard determinism, but I’m not convinced that anyone with more than minimal functionality actually alieves in hard determinism anyway. And political libertarianism is, it seems to me, perfectly compatible soft determinism.


    1. I suppose if you consider it from social engineering perspective, and make a convincing argument that it’s net positive given all the information about human behavior and emergent properties of the economy, you could make a case for it even from purely deterministic perspective. But that seems unrealistic, because we don’t have a good enough understanding of that, and more ofthen that not argumnets for economic policies boil down to ideology and deontological claims about ethics. Do you think it’s possible to argue for the freedom of choice as the ultimate ethical value when free will is a very fuzzy concept?


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