That argument again…

Just a quick summary, because apparently I’ve been lumped in with silly determinists who have entirely different arguments from mine.

  • To choose is to act one way rather than another, for reasons.
    • For an action to be intelligible as a choice, it must be intelligible to ask the agent, “Why did you choose to do that? What was your reason for acting that way rather than another?”
  • Reasons are any of those things that could intelligibly answer the question, “Why did you choose to do that?”
  • Logically, reasons must either be chosen by the agent or not chosen by the agent.
  • If one’s reasons for choosing are not themselves chosen by the agent, the decision is determined by factors outside of the control of the agent.
  • If one’s reasons for choosing ARE chosen by the agent, there is a prior choice regarding which to enquire: “Why did you choose to have those reasons, rather than others?”
  • One must choose between an infinite regression of “I chose to want to choose to want to choose to want to choose to want to choose to want to choose to want to…” or one’s reasons for acting ultimately being themselves unchosen.
  • Therefore, ultimately, one’s acctions are determined by factors outside of one’s own control, BY DEFINITION.

In other words: If it’s willed, it’s not free. If it’s free, it’s not willed.

In other words: I can choose to do what I want, but I can’t choose what I want to do.


  • This argument is NOT “we don’t make choices”. Clearly we do. For reasons.
  • This argument is NOT “everything is determined, therefore so is human action”. Quantum indeterminacy has no effect on logic.
  • This argument is NOT “there is no right and wrong”.
  • This argument is NOT materialistic – we could all be spiritual beings or whatever, and the logical necessity would still be there.
  • This argument does NOT entail “life is not worth living”. To me, life is very worth living. I choose to live every day. FOR REASONS.


  • Emotive appeals to how awesome you think Nelson Mandela is do not address this argument. In fact, I don’t even see what the problem is with saying that Nelson Mandela had reasons for acting the way he did.
  • Emotive complaints about not being able to praise heroes have no effect on truth.
  • Emotive accusations that pointing out reality “excuses depravity” have no effect on truth.
  • Emotional attachments to “blame” and “praise” have no effect on truth, though I’m not convinced that the facts about choice really destroys the notions at all.

A brief example from Not PC’s post:

Free will at its root is that process of choosing to focus, of deciding first of all to lift our level of awareness from a lower level to a higher one (or to decide not to), and then directing our focussed attention to something on which we’ve determined we need to pay attention.

Why did you choose to focus? What were your reasons for choosing this? Did you choose to have those reason? Or did you not? If you did choose your reasons for choosing to focus, why did you choose to have THOSE reasons? Or did you not? And so on.

4 Comments That argument again…

  1. The Morgan

    Anyone who doesn't realise that this argument amounts to little more than a philosopher circle-jerk should stay well away from the "discussion" (a discussion which in fact generally amounts to a series of monologues).

    What is the conclusion of the argument? No change, just more talk. Forever. Nothing else is possible with philosophers.

  2. martin english

    Be very careful when playing with sophistry like this.

    It reminds me of the situation that the Quirmian philosopher Ventre found himself in. His position was "Possibly the gods exist, and possibly they do not. So why not believe in them in any case? If it's all true you'll go to a lovely place when you die, and if it isn't then you've lost nothing, right?" When he died he woke up in a circle of gods holding nasty-looking sticks and one of them said, "We're going to show you what we think of Mr Clever Dick in these parts…"


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