Monday, May 17, 2010

Caused But Not Determined

This post is part of my series on free will.

To Ekstrom, here's how things look. I don't want my actions to be uncaused, because I want to be in control of them: I want them to be caused by me. But I don't want them to be deterministically caused, for the reasons outlined earlier. So Ekstrom endorses what she calls a Type 3 theory: free actions are indeterministically caused, in some manner involving the self.

Ekstrom needs to explain two things: what is indeterministic causation, and what is a self. She starts with indeterministic causation.

Not all causes (according to Ekstrom) are deterministic causes. She gives three examples of indeterministic causes.

  1. Contact with an infected person may be the cause of my getting a disease. This is so even though such contact does not guarantee that I get the disease - it only increases the probability of my getting it.
  2. A child's falling and scraping his knee may cause him to cry - even though he might not always cry from a fall.
  3. A Geiger counter exposed to a radioactive source and connected to a bomb may cause the bomb to explode. But if the counter is set up so that it only activates the bomb if a certain number of clicks occur in a given time interval, then it is undetermined whether the bomb will be set off.
I have some difficulty with these examples. In the first two cases, it may be that the outcome (getting the disease or crying) is a perfectly deterministic result of several causes. Being exposed to the disease is only one part of the overall cause, the state of my own health might provide the remaining necessary and sufficient conditions for my getting the disease. Likewise, the child's state of mind when he falls might determine whether or not he cries. Only in the third case is there true indeterminacy: the Geiger counter acts as an amplifier of quantum indeterminacy.

In fact, the only true indeterminacy that I know of is quantum indeterminacy. All other types of indeterminacy come from lack of information about some part of the system. (In quantum systems, even with the maximum possible information about the state of the system there is still indeterminacy.) It seems to me that if Ekstrom wants to succeed in this approach, she will have to track the indeterminacy down to some underlying quantum event (as Robert Kane does), or else show that there is some alternative source of true indeterminacy. At this point, however, she simply notes that others have given accounts of probabilistic causation and moves on.

So I will move on, too.

1 comment:

  1. In reading Ekstrom's examples of indeterministic causes causes, I came to the exact same conclusions you did in your following paragraph. The first two are clearly bogus. The third is definitely the only one that meets her criteria, it seems to me.