Soft Serve Determinism: Definitions, Jamming, 31/08/2013

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.

1 comment:

  1. Not sure if you are simply pointing to existing usage patterns or trying to nail down these concepts for your own purpose. If the latter, a few suggestions:

    Contingency is often plagued by the confusion over the version that requires an object (contingent on) and the version that doesn't (just contingent). It seems to me that even very educated people only ever think in terms of the former -- things are always "contingent on". My MA thesis was a theory of contingency in modernist aesthetics. At that time, I used exclusively the latter, but now I think it just creates more confusion. If I had my time back, I would just say, "non-necessary" or something like that. Isaiah Berlin's idea of negative liberty vs positive liberty seems to tread the same ground and connects to your notion of free (from determination) vs spontaneously free.

    Out of curiosity, I wonder if I'm correct in understanding the latent idea here: in everyday terms, the issue is whether things are the way they are because there is so much inertia surrounding existing configurations or whether things are actually quite susceptible to change and alternative arrangements.

    If that's the case, it seems to me that you can take the strong determinism end of the equation off the table as an unknowable and think more in terms of counterfactuals?