Laws, Mind, and Free Will

Laws, Mind, and Free Will

Steven Horst
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: MIT Press, Bradford Books
Pages: 296
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    Laws, Mind, and Free Will
    Book Description:

    In Laws, Mind, and Free Will, Steven Horst addresses the apparent dissonance between the picture of the natural world that arises from the sciences and our understanding of ourselves as agents who think and act. If the mind and the world are entirely governed by natural laws, there seems to be no room left for free will to operate. Moreover, although the laws of physical science are clear and verifiable, the sciences of the mind seem to yield only rough generalizations rather than universal laws of nature. Horst argues that these two familiar problems in philosophy -- the apparent tension between free will and natural law and the absence of "strict" laws in the sciences of the mind -- are artifacts of a particular philosophical thesis about the nature of laws: that laws make claims about how objects actually behave.Horst argues against this Empiricist orthodoxy and proposes an alternative account of laws -- an account rooted in a cognitivist approach to philosophy of science. Horst argues that once we abandon the Empiricist misunderstandings of the nature of laws there is no contrast between "strict" laws and generalizations about the mind ("ceteris paribus" laws, laws hedged by the caveat "other things being equal"), and that a commitment to laws is compatible with a commitment to the existence of free will. Horst's alternative account, which he calls "cognitive Pluralism," vindicates the truth of psychological laws and resolves the tension between human freedom and the sciences.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-29574-1
    Subjects: Philosophy
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-x)
  3. Preface (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. I Laws and the Mind:: Philosophical Issues
    • 1 Laws and the Mind (pp. 3-14)

      Since the seventeenth century, our understanding of the natural world has been one of phenomena that behave in accordance with natural laws. While other elements of the early modern scientific worldview (i.e., that of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries) may be rejected or at least held in question—including the metaphor of the world as a great machine, the narrowly mechanist assumption that all physical interactions must be contact interactions, and the idea that matter might actually beobeyingrules laid down by its Divine Author—the notion of natural law has continued to play a pivotal role in actual...

    • 2 Laws, Vindication, and Ontology (pp. 15-26)

      For several decades it is has been commonplace in philosophy of the human sciences to claim that those sciences differ from the physical sciences in the types of laws they employ. Typically, the claim is that the natural sciences employ laws that are “strict and exceptionless,” while the human sciences have only “ceteris paribus” laws. This claim involves both an informal insight and a particular logical machinery for casting that insight in more precise terms. The informal insight might be stated as follows: Physical laws, such as those of gravitation and electromagnetism, can be formulated exactly and apply always and...

    • 3 The Received Solution in Computational Psychology (pp. 27-36)

      Many in philosophy of psychology and cognitive science would regard the Davidsonian Problematic as having already been satisfactorily resolved. Among philosophers of mind influenced by functionalism and the computer metaphor, at least, there is a kind of received solution (RS), advocated by Fodor and others, that seeks to show that the contrast between the laws of physics and those of psychology need not imperil either the status of psychological laws or the legitimacy of psychological kinds. (See especially Fodor 1974.)

      The core of the RS is that psychological kinds are functional kinds that are multiply realizable in different kinds of...

    • 4 Cartwright, Universal Laws, and Fundamentalism (pp. 37-48)

      The Davidsonian Problematic for philosophy of psychology is set up in terms of a contrast between two, purportedly different, types of laws: those that are “strict and exceptionless” and those that are hedged by “ceteris paribusclauses.” This distinction may seem clear enough, but we might do well to ask what it really amounts to and whether a substantive assumption about the nature of laws is lurking under the guise of an innocuous distinction.

      It is quite natural to view theceteris paribusclause itself as the distinguishing feature: Whereas strict laws simply take the form “L,”ceteris paribuslaws...

    • 5 Empiricism and Laws (pp. 49-60)

      In the preceding chapter, I discussed Nancy Cartwright’s critique of the Empiricist account of laws. That critique is an important contribution to the philosophy of science, and if I have interpreted Cartwright correctly I think it contains sound arguments. Nevertheless, Cartwright’s arguments against Empiricism have not gained universal acceptance, nor has her alternative account. Indeed, many of her critics claim to have difficulty understanding what she is arguing at all, and many others interpret her in ways significantly different from the interpretations I have suggested. Moreover, while I agree with the general spirit of Cartwright’s alternative interpretation of laws as...

    • 6 Laws and Idealization (pp. 61-86)

      My intention in this chapter is to lay out a view of laws that will capture what was right about Cartwright’s analysis, but also to move beyond it in the ways I described at the end of chapter 4. In its basic orientation, the view is cognitivist, pragmatist, and pluralist. It is cognitivist in that is looks at laws as they are encountered within the cognitive task of modeling features of the world. It is pragmatist in that modeling is viewed as a kind of action performed by a thinking organism in ways that seek to optimize particular interests (even...

  5. II Laws and Freedom
    • 7 Laws and Freedom (pp. 89-106)

      We now turn to a second question concerning laws and the mind: whether our actions are all causally determined by natural laws and prior events, or whether at least some of our actions involve free will.

      This chapter will discuss the relevant notions of freedom and determinism, and then explain why belief in laws of nature is sometimes thought to entail determinism and hence to threaten freedom. Chapter 8 will assess whether a commitment to laws really implies a commitment to determinism. I shall argue that it does so on the Empiricist account, but not on causal accounts, of laws....

    • 8 Freedom, Determinism, and Two Accounts of Laws (pp. 107-120)

      The preceding chapter suggested that one important reason that the assumption of human freedom has been called into question over recent centuries is that people have believed that the discovery of natural laws has proved freedom to be impossible. A law-governed world, it is claimed, is a deterministic world. And determinism is incompatible with (libertarian) free will. Since we have good reason to believe that there are indeed natural laws, we thus have good reason to suspect that our actions cannot truly be free.

      But in previous chapters, we examined two alternative accounts (or families of accounts) of the nature...

    • 9 Three Appeals and a Kantian Conclusion (pp. 121-140)

      The preceding chapter was an extended argument for a fairly modest point: that being committed to scientific laws does not entail a commitment to determinism and hence is compatible with free will. This does not mean that an analysis of scientific laws commits us to the existence of free will, either. But if the reader has independent reason to believe in free will, scientific laws pose no direct threat to that belief.

      One might be satisfied to stop there and leave it at that. Indeed, I suspect that some readers who came to this book looking for a way to...

  6. III Case Studies of Explanation in the Sciences of the Mind
    • 10 Psychophysical Laws and Models of Early Vision (pp. 143-178)

      The chapters in part I of this book compared different theoretical resources for talking about the nature and status of laws in the physical and the cognitive sciences, and their implications for familiar problems in philosophy of mind. In writing those chapters, I opted to conduct the discussion at a purely philosophical level, without appeal to case studies. This was, in part, because the main burden of those chapters was to apply well-established ideas from philosophy of science to philosophy of psychology and philosophy of mind, and detailed case studies were not called for in the course of that argument....

    • 11 Modeling Cortical Dynamics (pp. 179-226)

      Whereas the preceding chapter concentrated on psychophysical laws and the circuit-like feedforward models appropriate to retinal processing, this chapter will examine models of visual processes located in regions of the visual cortex and their feedback relations with one another, with other cortical areas, and with the thalamus. Such models are dynamic rather than linear: the things they model are not arranged in a simple feedforward architecture, but involve complicated feedback connections between different areas. As a result, they proceed on different principles, and they involve an additional type of idealization significantly different from those types observed in models of early...

    • 12 Belief-Desire Psychologies (pp. 227-262)

      The disciplines examined in the preceding two chapters—psychophysics, neural localization, and neural modeling—all fall squarely within the bounds of familiar forms of science. They proceed from experimentation and empirical data, and they aim toward the production of formally exact models, some of which are also quantified. Philosophers of science have discussed potential methodological problems for these disciplines, some of which we have now discussed; however, the criticisms that have been leveled at belief-desire psychology require a separate discussion.

      The most basic difference lies in the difficulty of pinning down what it is that we are talking about when...

  7. Notes (pp. 263-266)
  8. Bibliography (pp. 267-274)
  9. Index (pp. 275-277)


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