Sorry not to have posted anything yesterday; I spent many hours on the road, as well as selling several to my employer.
Today also my muse appears to be silent, as happens from time to time — so, looking ahead to resuming our musings on free will, I will simply offer a couple of provocative thoughts about causation and possibility, lifted from Daniel Dennett’s book Freedom Evolves. I’ll just plunk them on the page, for now; they will provide useful material for subsequent conversations, I think.
The first has to do with necessity and sufficiency. Consider the following [p. 74]:
Everybody in the French Foreign Legion outpost hates Fred and wants him dead. During the night before Fred’s trek across the desert; Tom poisons the water in his canteen. Then Dick, not knowing of Tom’s intervention, pours out the (poisoned) water and replaces it with sand. Finally, Harry comes along and pokes holes in the canteen, so that the “water” will slowly run out.
Later, Fred awakens and sets out on his trek, provisioned with his canteen. Too late, he finds that his canteen is nearly empty, but besides, what remains is sand, not water, not even poisoned water. Fred dies of thirst. Who caused his death?
Next we look at an example from John Austin (Dennett [p. 75] quotes Austin’s 1961 paper Ifs and Cans) that bears on our sense that free will depends on it being the case that we “could have done otherwise”:
Consider the case where I miss a very short putt and kick myself because I could have holed it. It is not that I should have holed it if had tried; I did try, and I missed. It is not that I should have holed it if conditions had been different; that might of course be so, but I am talking about conditions as they precisely were, and asserting that I could have holed it. There is the rub. Nor does “I can hole it this time” mean that I shall hole it this time if I try or if anything else; for I may try and miss, and yet not be convinced that I could not have done it; indeed further experiments may confirm my belief that I could have done it that time, although I did not.
What does it mean to say that something “can” happen? This is not a simple question.