Wednesday, December 16, 2020

The Original Person

The following is a chapter taken from How Can We Love? that I originally wrote in 2014. Since then, my views have changed in some ways relevant to this, and I will discuss those changes at the end. I will also discuss how I find the ideas in this useful in 2020. (So if you clicked on a link to this page from somewhere else on the blog, you may find what you're looking for there most directly.)


[Chapter title:] FREE WILL

Defined: A determination is that which decides how things will be.

Defined: A will is the part of a personal being that decides how things will be -- the personal determination.

Defined: Freedom is undetermination.

Assumed: Everything needs a determination, or is an undetermined determination, or determines itself and other things. (Perhaps there are things that are undetermined and determine nothing else, but these are left aside as they affect nothing and are affected by nothing and so are effectively not part of our universe.)

Is the universe an undetermined determination? It is said that the physical universe began with the Big Bang (or a Big Bang). That cannot be explained. It simply is. Why did the Big Bang unfold in the way that it did? How can one reason from the singularity at the inception of space and time to all the particularity of the present world? But let us say there is some rule for this. Then what explains that rule? Perhaps it is "the very nature of reality" -- then what determines that? Something just is just the way it is.

Under this story, of materialism, it seems impossible for the human will to be free. This human will emerges from the interaction of determined physical particles. Therefore it must obey the one true undetermined, the Big Bang (or if there's anything more primary than that, then that reality). Or there must be some kind of intervention, some way in which the neurons can rebel, apart from that which emerges from the Big Bang. And we don't see any physical evidence of such an intervening thing existing, and anyway, where else would that intervention have its determination but from the one true undetermined -- the Big Bang or whatever might come before it?

But materialism may not be true.

Is there a hard logical reason to suppose that there is only one undetermined thing? It seems as though there can only be one thing that is completely free. Otherwise, some equal thing could impinge on its freedom. Of course, if that equal power had the same will, then there never would be an impingement. In that case, there would be only one will which was completely free.

Concluded, then?: There can be only one completely free will.

But could there not be a number of partially free wills? That is, wills that can be limited in scope by outside determination.

We could picture the universe as being a field in which wills or determinations interact. There could be one primary determination that brings about the existence of numerous derivative determinations without determining their natures. If one undetermined thing exists, why not a number of others, if not powerful enough to resist all influence, at least possessing some originality of determination? And then all of these free or partially free determinations could interact, to produce all the rest of the universe's development.

(Think of a board game. Each player is constrained by the rules of the game and the structure of the board, but each makes some choices as to what his or her piece does, and these pieces interact with each other to form the development of that particular playing of the game.)

But how can this primary free will give birth to more free or partially free wills? If it creates them out of some material, won't that material have to have been made the way it is by the primary free will, the creator? And thus determined by the creator. It seems a will that is built by another will cannot choose against how it's built.

But what if the primary free will makes them out of its own uncreated nature -- and that very nature entails freedom of the will? It does not create it by writing its essence down as instructions in the pages of a book, but by offering pages out of itself -- the real thing that makes a thing the way it is is its material, not its abstract definition.

The human body is like a machine, and so I suppose that God created the body like a mechanic designing and interconnecting the parts of a machine, bringing into physical reality a pattern only existing, before, in the mechanic's mind. But the will of human beings, if nothing else, cannot be created in that way. Instead, God gives himself into a limit, a finite pond washed up by an infinite ocean. (In the Hebrew of the Bible, humans are both "made" and "created".)

Because this human free will is limited in power, it cannot rule the entire person, and so humans have only partially free will. There is an aspect of the human's nature which does come from a friend or a parent or the physical body or some accident of the weather or digestion or physical illness. Yet "the pond within" is a piece of God, and cannot be denied its "little God"-hood. It is materially free.

Can God be free? If freedom is an inexplicable quality and therefore objectionable, then which is worse, that the Big Bang has it, or that God has it? Freedom has to exist, magical as it is.

But can God impart his own material into a limit? How can an infinite being separate a finite reality from itself? The Big Bang singularity is said to exist without time and space. Can there be limits to a physical entity without time and space? No spatiotemporal limits, at least. So the singularity somehow falls out of its own infinity into limitation. This is inexplicable to me -- perhaps it is only "magical" and is explicable to some other human being. But explicable or not, it happened. And so if that is possible for the Big Bang singularity, then what would make such a move impossible for God? He could impart himself into limited regions of space-time, numerous times, and thus create us.

And so I see a way in which, if God exists, there can be human free will.


One thing that this says, that I want to bring into 2020, is that free will is something that can't have arisen from a mechanistic process. If we really do have free will (in other words, if we do anything at all, rather than forces outside us acting on us), then that capacity to be ourselves must have come directly, imparted as one would split water off from the ocean to make a tide-pool. This is a way of saying that the origin of the personal must be the personal. So we descend from some original person.

I suppose I could add the original person to the list, along with the metaphysical organism, the Speaker, and the Father of legitimism, all as names for the same being. So it might seem I ought to change "MSLN" to "OMSLN". I'm considering doing a clean-up of all the terminology that I use philosophically, if there comes a time that I consider myself to be markedly more ready to try to promote MSLN, but until then, I will not change "MSLN", because of the work involved in doing so.

I don't keep up very carefully on cosmology, so either a) what I wrote above about the Big Bang might not be what people thought then or b) it might not be what people think now.

In the past, I wanted to defend the description of God that included "actually infinite" in its list of properties. I don't currently think that the description of God needs to include "actually infinite", and I am not sure that there is such a thing as actual infinity. I would tend to think that there is not (nothing in our experience is actually infinite) -- except in the case of everlastingness (e.g. processes which have always lasted a finite amount of time but which never stop increasing in duration). But I have not fully explored the question yet, and probably should in some other post.

"The real thing that makes a thing the way it is is its material, not its abstract definition." is an interesting statement. If I want to defend my past usage, I would say that what I probably meant was "abstract definition" (formal cause?) does make something the way it is, but "material" (material cause?) is the truer root of what makes a thing the way it is. I think in context of How Can We Love?, the emphasis on spiritual material over constructedness is fitting. How Can We Love? is about change in material, in part.

I think this charitable interpretation has some evidence in its favor from the original text, in the case where humans are implied to have been both "made" and "created". If God both made and created us, perhaps by "creating" us he was putting us into the finite ponds, and by "making" us he was making our bodies (including our brains and that which our brains determine about who we are).

What makes us "really" who we are? Our constructedness? The many layers of mechanism which determine many of the facts of our life and how we behave and appear to others? Or the fact that we are free, that we exist at all as persons?


If I title this post "The Original Person", then maybe I ought to give some thought as to what this argument can tell us about God.

A short way to put this is: We are persons, not wills and consciousnesses. Persons have wills and consciousnesses. We do things, we make decisions, knowingly, as opposed to being forced to by mechanistic forces. We exist, as persons. We exist, as partially undetermined beings. It is in our undeterminedness that we do things. So the question is not "free will", but "free persons". Free persons descend from a free person. They can't be fully determined by anything else, so their undetermination must come from undetermined personhood.

We get the whole of personality from a personal source. People are different -- have different "constructednesses" or are "made" different ways. But what we all have in common is our material. The original person is a person in the most minimal sense, has will, consciousness, and preferences. He has a constructedness which differs from each of us, but whatever is necessarily a part of all personal being can be found in him. I'm not sure at the moment what, if anything, to add to "will, consciousness, and preference" among the foundation of personhood, but perhaps there are more features to be added.

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