UCSB Philosophy Blog

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Friday, October 14, 2005

Omniscience --> ~Free Will?

In light of Luke’s latest urgings, I’ve decided to “blog” a bit about an issue that I’ve been contemplating recently in relation to the material being covered in Tony B’s “Freedom and Determinism” class. Ok, here goes.

Suppose a being named TONI exists. Let’s further suppose that TONI, by nature, possesses the following basic attributes: (a) TONI is omniscient in the sense that she knows everything and all her beliefs are true beliefs; (b) Moreover, TONI is not temporally bound in the same way that we (normal beings) are temporally bound, so TONI’s omniscient powers allow her not only to know everything about the past, but everything about the future as well. Let’s also assume that TONI’s knowledge of the future is not restricted to various “soft facts” about the future, but is such that she is able to know “hard facts” about the future as well.

Now, consider the following scenario. Suppose TONI knows at t (= 10.14.05) that Luke Manning (the ‘one and only’ Luke Manning) will win the California state lottery at t* (= 10.20.05) by going to the 7-11 store in Goleta and purchasing a “quick pick” ticket. Given this supposition, is it possible that Luke Manning could have done otherwise? Is it possible that Luke Manning will not win the lottery on 10.20.05? Is it possible that Luke Manning will win the lottery on 10.20.05 by purchasing a “quick tick” instead of a “quick pick” ticket? Or would Luke Manning’s very ability to do otherwise in this situation (whatever that may be) necessarily falsify TONI’s omniscience? Given TONI’s attributes, is it even possible to falsify TONI’s omniscience?

Well, that’s it for now. I’m not exactly sure what to say about such a case. I have some intuitions, but I’d like to hear some commentary from the “peanut gallery” before I lay all of my cards on the table. Anyway, that's my first contribution to this burgeoning blog site. Have fun!


  • At 3:31 PM, Blogger Luke Manning said…

    Nice post, Chris. So let me see if I have this straight. All substitution-instances of this schema are true: P <--> KP (i.e., if P, then TONI knows that P, and vice versa). This is irrespective of whether P concerns the past, present or future. It's true that Q (Manning wins the lottery at time t*). The (first) question is: is it possible that ~Q, i.e. that Manning doesn't win the lottery at time t*? The short answer: yes.
    If it were not possible, then [(Q <--> KQ) & Q] would imply ~<>~Q. Here's a countermodel.
    In the actual world (@), Q and KQ. In world W1, ~Q.
    If we modify our suppositions about TONI such that it is necessary that she knows everything that's true, then there's still a countermodel: the above model, plus the specification that in W1, K~Q. In every world, if P then KP, for all substitutions on P. Therefore all substitutions of this axiom-schema are necessary. In worlds where P is false, the principle does not imply that KP.

    Now you may have had in mind that since TONI knows Q at t < t* (t* being the time of the event Q is about), then this knowledge necessitates Q. If we have "Necessarily: Q <--> KQ", then we still don't get "Necessarily Q" unless we have "Necessarily KQ". I don't see the justification for saying that TONI necessarily knows that Manning will win the lottery at t*. Perhaps it is necessary that she will know this IFF it is true, but that's weaker.
    I can see a related intuition that might have been factoring into your questions. It's the idea that if anyone were to know (have entirely reliable beliefs about) future events, then they could only know them if these events necessarily followed from something presently knowable. For example, if I knew that the sun will explode in the year 2525 (P), then you'd think I know that on the basis of something, say Q, such that Q strictly implies P (in other words, Q entails P). That would be a reasonable guess concerning my sources of knowledge, but we never specified TONI's sources of knowledge. If she knows that Q (a proposition about the future) on the basis of P and [P entails Q], and P is some proposition about the past or present, then TONI's omniscience includes knowledge of a deterministic fact. But it's not true because TONI knows it; she merely knows all and only the true propositions. At least, we haven't said that it's true because TONI knows is. From that supposition and the explicit supposition that it is possible that TONI know (or believe, if that suits us better) something that's false, only then would we have a possible case where Manning could do something contrary to TONI's knowledge.
    But even in that case, would Manning be falsifying TONI's omniscience? TONI just wouldn't be omniscient if she "knew" something that was false. Let's not get confused about causation and the ability to cause propositions to be true. On one model of that, I could cause (P --> P) to be true, and just by doing anything. On another model, the cause of some event or fact has to be such that if it were not present, the event would not have occurred. This brings in some heavy modal action that could perhaps motivate the conclusion that omniscience entails fatalism. I haven't tried to work it out. Do you think that some kind of modal notion of causation is required to adequately capture the intuitive argument, or am I totally off-track?

  • At 5:09 PM, Blogger Luke Manning said…

    I mis-typed a sentence about 3/4 through the penultimate paragraph. I was hoping I could just edit my previous comment, but I don't see a way to do so. It should have read:

    At least, we haven't said that it's true because TONI knows it.

  • At 3:34 AM, Blogger Robert said…

    Who do you think has free will? You might say everyone; I would say no one. The Wikipedia Encylopedia describes free will …. The question of free will is whether, and in what sense, rational agents exercise control over their actions and decisions. Addressing this question requires understanding the relation between freedom and cause, and determining whether or not the laws of nature are causally deterministic.
    To the average person that is probably correct if a bit incomprehensible and vague. But that in reality barley touches the answer. Free (Not in bondage to another) will (Faculty by which a person decides or conceives himself as deciding upon & initiating action). The first requirement to having free will is to be able to think and be aware of yourself as an entity (I think therefore I am). That would rule out all of the animal kingdom. The second requirement would be intelligence (that is understanding not cleverness) or the question is meaningless. The third would be to question and ask yourself if you had free will. The forth would be not let emotions have any bearing on all actions and decisions. For example, a parent has an adult child that has carried out many horrendous evil acts and is obviously mad. The way the parent views her/his child is very much influenced by the emotional fact that he/she is the parent. The parent does not have free will; the parent is in bondage to the fact that they are a parent. It is clear that if you have a mental problem you do not have free will. You cannot have free will for part of the time only. To have free will means that you have it continuously. It is logically correct to say that if you are not interested to know if you have free will, you do not have it by definition. At this point, I would guess that I have eliminated 95% of the world’s population as not having free will. If you react instantly with an emotional response to ANY situation without correction, you do not have free will. I would say that raises it to 99% of the population without free will.
    At this point, consider the importance of free will. Without it all the ugliness and badness in the world is explained. Without it what is the difference between you and ALL the ugly predators that have inhabited the planet since life started here. You might say I am good and believe in God or I am a good atheist who wants the world to be better. But without free will, you are only a pawn/player in this world of ugliness.
    If you are an adult you have been in affect been severely brainwashed by everything that has taken place in your life. Your country of origin, culture, parents, friends, religion, education, books read, films, art, music, radio, TV, newspapers etc have all played a major part in your identity and how you view the world and your existence. Imagine that you suddenly came into existence with no previous identity or memory but you could think intelligently, read write and talk. You would have NO preconceptions at all. If in that theoretical situation and with free will what you make of the world and civilisation, what obvious conclusions would you come to? What would your first impressions of the world be? Would it be a world of intelligence, harmony, love or the complete opposite? Would each individual be concerned and want the best for every other individual. Would all share lovingly? Would there be no anger, hatred, murder, torture. Would there be an absence of greed? Would there be an absence of nonsense puerile religions? The answer is obvious. You would find a world of chaos with an awesome history of violence, pain and suffering. THINK, in your theoretical uncontaminated position could you possibly say that any one of them had free will? Do you think that the person who designs and makes nuclear weapons has free will? Do you think that the men and women in Russia who make the hundreds of thousands of Kalashnikov rifles that are used to kill have free will? Do the millions of men and women in the west who buy their pampered pets expense food while people starve have free will? Does the leader of a country or the head of a religious organisation living in luxury while others have only poverty with no hope have free will? Does the suicide bomber who blows himself up and everyone in his vicinity and thinks that he is going to paradise to be served by servile virgins have free will? Do the millions who smoke, over indulge in alcohol or are addicted to drugs have free will? Do ALL the six billion plus people on this planet who go about their daily lives and cannot see anything clearly have free will? The list could go on and on and I’m sure that you would be in there somewhere.
    If a just one person said to me..this world is ugly and worthless and if I could not change it completely I would without pain to anyone remove it I would know two things. The first is that the person would be intelligent (have understanding). The second is that while he might not have complete free will he/she would be more than half way there.
    If you reply that, the answer is a man called Jesus or Muhammad not only have you not understood any of the previous and have no free will but you also have no intelligence.
    Why is the world as it is? Why do people cling on to the lie that there is more good than bad when it is obviously not so. Why do people think that they have free will when they do not? That is catch22. Only by having free will can you know and understand the answer to that question. If you do not want to know, you do not have free will and you are the same as the lion, tiger, monkey, dog, flea etc.. What a sorry uncorrectable state you are in. Also, if you are religious consider God and Satan (if you believe that they both exist). Both want you to admire, genuflect and worship them and for you to be in their control. Anyone man, woman or whoever who wants another to worship them is mentally ill and most certainly does not have free will.
    Robert robert77@fsmail.net


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