Friday, April 18, 2014

Thoughts on Lachmann, Determinism, and Free Will

In "The Role of Expectations in Economics as a Social Science", Ludwig Lachmann remarks about determinism,
Does Professor Hicks seriously maintain that the same individual confronted with the same kind of change will invariably react in an identical-and incidentally, predictable-manner? Only such invariability of reaction would entitle us to use intensity of reaction as a criterion of classification. (74)
Lachmann is conflating uncertainty with a lack of determinism. If the future is uncertain that does not mean that the events contained therein cannot be predeterimined given an identical starting state at time t. Some readers might remember that I have before made reference to historical time, making a similar claim as Lachmann here. Upon further reflection, I believe that I might have been making the same error.

If the future is uncertain from the point of view of human consciousness, but predetermined, it implies that free will as we conceive it is an illusion. I'm still not sure what to make of this conclusion, maybe more on that in the future.


  1. "If the future is uncertain from the point of view of human consciousness, but predetermined, it implies that free will as we conceive it is an illusion."

    Right: that is how we can tell that the future is not predetermined! (That, by the way, was first realized by Kant 250 years ago, and is not original to me.)

  2. Or, instead of illusion, you could say that free will is not a concept suited to detailed thinking. It would be trivial to say that a person chose Coke over Pepsi because of free will. Yet, it takes import when used, almost hazily, when discussing human rights. The haziness of its definition actually aids in the more detailed work that lessens its utility upon closer inspection.

    It's similar to a PhD candidate exploring the neurological process of love. Without the concept of love, the research is disorganized correlative points. But increased technical knowledge also reduces the semantic utility of love, at least for the level of analysis in which the doctoral candidate is engaged. Wittgenstein, daaaaawg!

  3. Gene: Kant discussed it and showed that human perspective is limited. He also had to posit forms that we have no proof of to hold on to a belief in free will (which was actually a self defeating strategy). Do you have something in mind that I am missing?

  4. I recommend reading Daniel Dennett's "Freedom Evolves" for an explanation of how free will and determinism can be compatible, despite the appearance of contradiction.

  5. I've actually read it and plan to go back to it in considering this issue. Fantastic book. I also highly recommend it to anyone interested in the matter.