Friday, June 26, 2009

Common Man Argument for Libertarian Free Will (rebutted)

Paul Manata has an interesting, if somewhat philosophical, post that seems to sum up most of the major arguments responsive to the "Common Man" Libertarian Free Will (LFW) argument (link). It's a good article, and I encourage folks who think that there is some merit to the "common man" argument for LFW to read it and be disabused of such an idea. I have a couple minor nitpicks.

1) Manata mentions, but I would more heavily emphasize, that the common man's definition of "choose" is better represented by essentially the Least Common Denominator of dictionary definitions than by simply the first entry of the most popular dictionary. As such, the common man's definition does not have as a core aspect the "possible" element that is so key to the Libertarian (in the philosophical sense) argument.

Thus, for example, if one goes to Princeton's Wordnet and punches in "choose" one gets:
# S: (v) choose, take, select, pick out (pick out, select, or choose from a number of alternatives) "Take any one of these cards"; "Choose a good husband for your daughter"; "She selected a pair of shoes from among the dozen the salesgirl had shown her"
# S: (v) choose, prefer, opt (select as an alternative over another) "I always choose the fish over the meat courses in this restaurant"; "She opted for the job on the East coast"
# S: (v) choose (see fit or proper to act in a certain way; decide to act in a certain way) "She chose not to attend classes and now she failed the exam"
Notice that none of these definitions included the word "possible" or an equivalent concept.

Likewise, Webster's New World Collegiate Dictionary provides:
transitive verb chose, chosen cho′·sen, choosing choos′·ing

1. to pick out by preference from what is available; take as a choice; select to choose a book at the library
2. to decide or prefer: with an infinitive object to choose to remain

Etymology: ME chesen, cheosen < OE ceosan < IE base *ĝeus-, to taste, relish > L gustare, Goth kausjan

intransitive verb

1. to make one's selection
2. to have the desire or wish; please do as you choose
Same thing. "possible" is not part of the definition, although in one case the word "available" is there, which might arguably be an equivalent concept.

One certainly can find dictionaries that include "possible" in the definition of choose (The first - and only the first - definition in the American Heritage dictionary, for example, has this feature: "To select from a number of possible alternatives; decide on and pick out" - I've added the emphasis), but such a feature that is not found in most dictionary definitions of a word can hardly be viewed as the actual "common man" meaning of the term. A better way to assess the "common man" meaning is to look for the commonalities and overlap of the many dictionary definitions.

2) What's up with the gratuitous reference to Michael Sudduth? :)



natamllc said...

Well, has it been noticed that the common problem with this common man use of a dictionary is no common man wrote the book of definitions and supposedly amongst themselves they do not all agree with common man definitions of what is common? I would have to say that is a common trait with those who undertake writing a dictionary and defining words and meanings of words or how they apply to common or uncommon situations, such as this matter of rebutting the truth about whether or not LFW is! Is it a matter of what the definition of "is" is?

I have been in the company of Millioniares. Each of them were of a common state of being, being rich with money and things, property and leisure. One time a man flew in to meet with us who was purported to be a billionaire and his thought of these millionaires was no common thought to himself though they were common to him, seeing he surrounded himself with millionaires. How do I know? Because he made mention of it.

How common is that, first of all, that I could have such an experience? I would have to say that experience was indeed uncommon to me, uncommon to them amongst their millionaire's club "group" of friends and finding it quite uncommon for the billionaire to come down a notch or two and share dinner with commoner millionaires seeing he surrounds himself with them so as to keep himself aloft of their state of being as millionaires.

Anyway you shake it out today, being a millionaire is uncommon in the 6 billion common souls of humanity scheme of things these days. To be one of those billionaires is even more uncommon than being one of a group of those millionaires!

Me, well, that's another uncommon story! Would you like me to take some liberty now and share it with you? :)

As for your last question, ah, I dunno!

Paul Manata said...

Thanks TF,

Re: your "minor nitpicks"

1. I made this point to Dan a while ago. I cited numerous dictionary definitions which did not go Dan's way.

2. If you read his forthcoming book on Natural Theology, I think you'll be surprised to see his gratuitous references to Turretin. :-)

Turretinfan said...

As to (1), yes I thought you must have, and you alluded to it in your post. I just wanted to emphasize the LCD aspect as the way to decide between the competing definitions; and

As to (2), Touchée!