Because weekend posts never quite get the same numbers, I consider them slightly obligatory to my original mission (that will never change without disaster) of posting some selection of words every day about work that I’m doing. So in this case, I’ll post a short follow-up to Friday’s post, on the nature of determinism. Philosophy has often been described as a discipline of definitions; we work in inventing and solidifying and arguing over what the best possible definitions of words are.
So here are my working definitions for the key concepts in my thinking about the nature of scientific law, determinism, and freedom. Once they’re on the table, I think people (in professional philosophy at least) can understand why I never plan to write on the formal freedom/determinism problem.
Transcendently determined: Laws of nature are eternal, and exist in some form that transcends their articulation in particular events and movements.
Free: Not affected by determination, and in some of the strongest versions, not even affected by causality; spontaneous action, so much so that it borders on arbitrariness.
Traditionally contingent: An event that unfolded in freedom, understood insofar as it could have been otherwise.
Contingent: A body moves according to its tendencies, effected and conditioned by its history and the context and conditions of its present.
Determination by tendency: Bodies with regularity according to their structures and the circumstances in which they find themselves. We can predict these movements mathematically in the form of laws. But the laws are our tools. Bodies move as they will move, and one day, they may surprise us.