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2010-03-15
Can I deliberate about things I have no causal power over?
The following seems plausible to me:

D) I can't deliberate about whether or not X shall happen unless X's happening is causally connected to my deliberation in a way that gives me some degree of causal power over X's happening.

By "deliberate" here I mean "deciding whether or not to undertake actions designed to bring about X" for some X. Given that understanding of "deliberation," D) seems to fall out almost by definition. It's clear, for example, that on this understanding of "deliberation," I can't deliberate about whether or not the star Betelgeuse will go Nova tomorrow--Betelgeuse tomorrow isn't even in my light cone! Similarly, I can't deliberate about whether or not the third flight into Indianapolis will land as scheduled tomorrow. That matter simply isn't within my causal power, much less causally connected to any act of deliberation I may try to undertake concerning the matter.

But I can deliberate about whether my son will be picked up on time from school today. I'm the one who picks him up. I can decide, in this present act of deliberation, whether to undertake actions that will issue in his being picked up on time, or rather whether to undertake actions that will tend to delay my picking him up.

It seems clear--I can deliberate (in this sense of "deliberate") about what is within my power and is causally connected to my act of deliberation in a way that allows that power to be active. And if something isn't causally connected to my act of deliberation in that way, then I can't deliberate about it.

I thought.

But here's a scenario that modifies Newcomb's Problem, and which seems (to me right now) to make a problem for D).

You're on a beach, there are many stones on the ground, there is a box, and there is an alien talking to you. The alien, you know through considerable personal experience, has the power to travel through time. (Different from Newcomb's problem, which doesn't involve time travel.) And the alien is telling you that he's seen the future, and he knows that there is some number of rocks that you are going to pick up in the next few minutes and put in the box. He also knows that tomorrow, a man named Steve (you are not Steve) is going to win a lottery--and the number of stones you are going to pick up in a few minutes just happens to be identical to the number of millions Steve is going to win. This relationship between your stone up-picking and Steve's lotto winning is completely coincidental, just as it is a complete coincidence that the number of chairs at the table I'm sitting at nowin this coffee shop is identical to the number of children I have. The relationship between rocks and lotto is coincidental, yet for all that, is a real relationship. The two numbers are identical. The number of rocks you put in the box is the same as the number of millions Steve will win.

When I put myself in this scenario, I understand the following to be true. Steve's winning the lotto--and how much he wins--is not within my power to affect. Most importantly, it's certainly not within my power to affect it simply by putting rocks in a box. I can deliberate about how many rocks to put in the box, but that deliberation does not in anyway cause Steve to win however much he is going to win. The two matters are causally unrelated.

Yet, for all that, in complete violation of D) above, I can not shake the feeling that I can deliberate about how many millions Steve will win. In other words, when I am deciding how many (if any) rocks to put in the box, I can't shake the accompanying feeling that I'm also deciding how many millions Steve will win.

The problem (and this may just be a psychological problem for me rather than a philosophical problem for anyone!) is made even starker by the following modification to the scenario. Suppose Steve has already won or lost the lottery in question. I don't know Steve, and I have no access to how much he won (or whether he won at all). The alien has told me, though, that by sheer coincidence, it happens that the number of rocks I put in the box is the same as the number of millions Steve won. (Hopefully its clear that one possibility is that Steve won zero millions.)

What happened to Steve already happened. No one can have any kind of causal power over Steve's winnings. Not even the time-travel existent in this scenario obviates that fact--the alien doesn't constitute a causal connection going from present acts to past events, since all the alien is doing is reporting something about those past events to a person in the present.

And yet, even in this scenario, I can't shake the feeling that I can deliberate about how many millions Steve is to have won. (Took a bit of thought to decide what tense to use there!) It seems to m that when I am deciding what to do about the rocks, I am also deciding, via that deliberation, what shall have happened to Steve.

Steve's state is not within my control to any degree at all. Yet (it seems to me at least instinctively) I can decide how many millions Steve wins, in much the same way I can decide how many minutes shall have passed until my kid gets picked up from school.

D) seems utterly plausible to me--practically definitionally true--and yet at the same time I am convinced (not by argument, just by intuition) that I should treat a situation like the one I've just describd as a counterexample to D).

Perhaps I'm wrong in thinking I can decide anything about Steve's millions. Perhaps I should be like a two-boxer in the original Newcomb scenario and simply put (or not put) however many rocks into the box I'd like, without regard for Steve and his lotto winnings.

Or perhaps D) is simply mistaken.

Or perhaps there's something fundamentally incoherent about the scenario I described.

Or perhaps something else. What do people think?

2010-05-29
Can I deliberate about things I have no causal power over?
Reply to Kris Rhodes
I would offer the following suggestions to the article:
1) Treat 'deliberate' not as the act of deciding, which seems to be a will-act, but as the act of reasoning before deciding, which seems to be a rational process that can be undertaken even when eventually no decision is made.

2) Since the principle of contradiction requires same-timeness, that is to say that something be the case in the same respect and at the same time, any introduction of time-travelling or foreknowledge can lead to the assertion of theses that are contradictory if taken in present, but that not need to be so if taken at different times. In this case, in present D is true, since it is contradictory to deliberate (meaning: to think NOW about what to do, decide, choose...) and at the same time to believe that one cannot do X, the very same thing, action, event, about which one is deliberating. For this would amount to think at the same time that one can and cannot do X. I recall that on this line is Aquinas's argument to deny the possibility of deliberation about things impossible for us (STh., I-II, at some point in the first articles, 1-17, but not sure now). Which is to affirm D.

3) The hypothesis of foreknowledge by an alien is the old hypothesis of God's foreknowledge of contingent future events, and its being or not compatible with human freedom. This problem is impossible to solve in a thread (or anywhere perhaps). 

4) One can have the feeling, as you say, of truly choosing, and previously the feeling of true deliberation about open alternatives. But if the number of stones that I shall put into the box is already settled, as well as the number of millions that Steve is going to win or has won in the lottery, it does not matter whether or not you deliberate or just start to fill the box with rocks until you faint (we know that you will stop filling the box as soon as you reach the number of millions won by Steve). In this case, the fact that the number of stones is settled and that you know that it is settled (as well as the number of millions won by Steve) makes it impossible to deliberate in order to choose the number of rocks if you think that your deliberation and choosing is going to cause that number to be the case. But we do not know the number of rocks, and since to determine it requires to choose the quantity, it is clear that you can deliberate in order to choose the number of rocks (in the same way that Steve could deliberate to choose his lottery number, which in fact was going to be the winning number without him knowing; on the contrary, had he been told by the alien that he was going to be the winner, he could have chosen a number without deliberation —just picking numbers at random— precisely because he would have known that it was not within his power to loose the lottery). You cannot deliberate in order to choose a number of rocks that will be different from the number of rocks that the alien knows (as well as from the number of millions won by Steven). But since you do not know the exact number you need to choose a number, and hence you can deliberate, because the choosing is within your power. Once you deliberate and choose a number (even if one of your reasons was, for example, to make your friend Steven the richest possible, or, on the contrary, your foe Steven the poorest possible . . . within the group of lottery winners), you know that you have chosen a number and that the number you have chosen was already settled in the mind of the alien; but the number was not settled in your mind, and you needed to deliberate and choose in order to settle the number in your mind. In none of these cases are you deciding how many millions Steve would have won (I am assuming the second scenario, when he had already won, but only the alien knows that past result—the actual number of millions), but only how many millions you will know for sure that he won: if you choose to fill the box with 43 rocks, then you know that 43 was the number of rocks that the alien already knew and the number of millions that Steven already had won.

5) In a situation like this, by deliberating about a number and choosing the number you are not deliberating about the bringing about of an external event (Steven's winning X millions or your filling the box with X rocks), nor even about the bringing about of a choosing that has been decided by other (the alien does not decide, but only know the future: this leaves aside other problems in the hypothesis of God), but only about doing what is within your power —to choose a number— knowing that your choosing will coincide with the alien's knowledge, but that you will know the alien's knowledge only when you choose. And so here choosing a number is within your power of action, and to put your mind in one mind or in concordance with the mind of the alien is an effect of your choosing, but in no way have you effected the event of Steven's winning even if his winning X (instead of X-Y or X+Y) millions was for you a reason in your deliberation. For in the hypothesis it is irrelevant which reasons enter into your deliberation, since the outcome is settled. 

6) All these paradoxes derive from the fundamental incoherence of thinking a scenario in which time seems to enter and not to enter AT THE SAME TIME. For we say that the number of rocks will be decided in the future (and the number of millions will be won in the future, first scenario) and at the same time that the number is settled in the present (by means of the alien's having travelled into the future, things that happen only in America). Similarly, we say that the number of millions is settled because Steven has won already the lottery (second scenario), and that it is presently true that that number coincides now with the number of rocks that will be chosen by you in the future (but to choose is to make true at the time of choosing an alternative between open possibilities), so at the same time the number is settled in the present and will be settled in the future (i.e., was not settled in the past of that future, which is your present). This is a contradiction, and ex impossibilia quodlibet.   


 


2010-06-04
Can I deliberate about things I have no causal power over?
Reply to Kris Rhodes
Very interesting thought experiment!

Thank goodness for the edit feature.  On first appearance I wanted to reject the conclusion of your experiment, but on second thought I'm inclined to accept it.  It's clear to me that you can gather reasons pro and contra as to why the man should get more or less money (e.g., you may try to find out whether the man deserves all that money or not, and whether he is likely to do more good than bad with it), and in that sense you do deliberate.  There are other more obvious cases where we can deliberate on things over which we have no causal power.  Like deliberating on the principles of justice that are meant to govern the basic structure of society, or offering reasoned advice to someone who refuses to heed the reasoning.  
Perhaps there is more involved in the case of deliberation in your thought experiment, than the sense of deliberation in which one finds good reasons for or against adopting a particular course of action or a rule governing a practice, etc.  But the "more" is hard to pinpoint.  Let us know if you find out! 





2010-06-07
Can I deliberate about things I have no causal power over?
Reply to Boram Lee

This is a reply to Boram Lee.

In my view, to 'deliberate' has a strict meaning in the classical philosophy of action, which is to reason about what to do, to consider different means to an already stated end. In this context, we deliberate only about things we can do. In the thought experiment, you deliberate about how many rocks put into the box, which is what you can do. The experiment links what you can do to other changes in the world that do not depend on your causal powers, but that will be related to what you do. So it appears that you deliberate about something you have no power to affect.

In a broader sense, however, we can implicitly place ourselves in the minds of whoever has to decide about action, as, for example, in the mind of a constitutional assembly drafting a constitution, or any other example: in the mind of a legislature deciding on a new law, a friend thinking on whether or not to go to the war or to marry, a judge deciding a difficult case, or the representatives of the parties in the original position behind a veil of ignorance. In all these cases, on which we are not going to exert any influx, we can be said to deliberate 'vicariously' as it were, since we think about what to do and have reasons to consider. I think that this is the way in which counsel works, as you say.

And then in a similar way we could extend the meaning of the word to mean even to 'deliberate' as just 'think about' which facts or changes in the world would be good if they were real, brought about, etc., by whatever agent power (v.gr., whether it would be good or bad for X to win the lottery and become a millionaire). And in this last sense, I agree with your comment.

Lastly, perhaps (I would suggest), the 'more' that you mention, in this thought experiment, is not related to the meanings of 'to deliberate' (which can extend in the way you point to), but to the interplay between being, time and knowledge. This results in the paradox to which I called the attention, that from impossible or contradictory premises (that something is AND is not settled at the same time: in present) whatever conclusions may follow. 

But I suppose that this might seem a little bit dismissive of a difficult question, a deeper one, which I am missing. I am sorry that some very contested issues and XX Century thought experiments and their derivatives seem so muddled from the point of view of an old-fashioned, ancient-medievallly oriented scholar. Anyway, I enjoy this thinking together. Thank you very much!

 


2010-06-19
Can I deliberate about things I have no causal power over?
Reply to Kris Rhodes

I think the original thought experiment is quite interesting.  Here’s a shot at a solution.

Someone might say: “D as it stands cannot be right.  For I can surely deliberate about things I believe I have causal power over, even if I in fact do not.  So, for instance, I can deliberate about whether to take my kids to the playground, if I do not know that the playground has been destroyed by a tornado.”

Kris might respond to such a person in two ways.  He might accept that in that case I do deliberate, or he might stick to his guns and say that the original D was correct.  Either way, we have a solution to the original problem.

 

Horn #1: Allow that I can deliberate about X if I believe I have causal power over X, but in fact don’t.

On this horn, we modify D to D* :

 D* I can't deliberate about whether or not X shall happen unless I believe that X's happening is causally connected to my deliberation in a way that gives me some degree of causal power over X's happening.

 I think D* provides a solution to the problem.  For the question now is, do I believe that I have causal power over Steve’s millions?  And the answer, I think, is that insofar as I am deliberating, I must.  If what I am doing is thinking, how many millions should Steve get?  Does he deserve 7 or 8, or shall I leave it at 1 or 2?—I am thinking of myself, and my thoughts, and my movements of rocks, as having an impact on what happens with Steve.

 You reply: but the alien has told me that it is already fixed, that he has already won whatever he has won.  My answer is: self-deception.  Insofar as what I’m doing is deliberating about how much money it’s right for Steve to receive, or to have received (and I share Kris’ intuition that this is possible), I am also believing that I have causal efficacy in this matter—though in this case I am believing it in the face of decisive evidence to the contrary.  Thus my deliberation is (epistemically) irrational, since it entails holding at arm’s length my belief that I cannot influence what happens with Steve, but it is possible, and is consistent with D* so long as self-deception is admitted as a way of believing both p and not p simultaneously.  (For what it’s worth, I think an agent in this scenario could avoid irrationality by simply deliberating about how many rocks to put in the bucket, on grounds that have nothing to do with Steve, e.g., he can decide the question on the basis of how many rocks he needs to put around his campfire, which was, perhaps, his original purpose in gathering rocks, before he was interrupted by the alien.  My point is not to insist that someone in this situation must deliberate about Steve, but simply that we can allow that that is a possibility, and still preserve D*.)

 

Horn #2: Stick to D as Kris had it.

If Kris makes this move, he understands deliberation differently: he is an externalist about deliberation.  He says, in the example I gave above, that I don’t deliberate about whether or not to go to the park, though I might think I do—he would have to distinguish apparent deliberation, (which may look for all the world like deliberation to the agent at the time in which he is engaged in it) from real deliberation (which turns out, as a matter of fact, to have causal efficacy).

 On this view we often are not engaged in deliberation when we take ourselves to be—an externalist has got to accept that this is a perfectly natural way to describe human beings, much of the time.  So there should be no problem with understanding the agent who (apparently!) deliberates about Steve in this way.  This is once again a solution to the original paradox: I am not deliberating about what Steve will receive (since I am not in a position of causal influence over Steve), though I may (wrongly) take myself to be deliberating.  D is preserved.

 

yours,

Agnes Callard


2010-06-19
Can I deliberate about things I have no causal power over?
Hi Cristobal, thanks for your comment!  I don't know about old-fashioned, but certainly not outdated!  E.g., the ancient-medieval problem of divine foreknowledge does seem relevant to the one that Kris raises, though I'm not sure exactly how.

I agree with you too that "deliberation" has all those different meanings, so perhaps Kris's (D) is more clearly put in terms of "decision", in the sense in which it is an act of will helping to determine a state of affairs by choosing an alternative that will lead to it.  The puzzle, then, is that there seems to be a way in which one can help determine a state of affairs even though there is no causal connection between one's act of will and that state of affairs.


I think I can identify the precise sense in which my act of choosing the number of stones non-causally "determines" how many millions Steve will win.  The relevant sense is that of counterfactual correlation.  How much Steve wins counterfactually covaries with how many stones I put in my bucket, and vice versa.  Counterfactual correlation can seem very much like causation (indeed there are folks who analyze causation in terms of counterfactual dependence), so it can seem very much like how many stones I put in determines how much Steve will win.  Let's dub counterfactual correlation without causation as "shadow influence" (like how my shadow seems to lift the shadow table when I lift the table in my room... like a fake diamond which is not really a diamond, shadow influence is not really a way of influencing outcomes).


It seems to me that Kris's thought experiment can be extended to cases of widespread and systematic shadow influence.  E.g., replace what the alien tells me with Leibniz's theory of pre-established harmony (that there are two kinds of substance, mind and matter, and that there is no causal interaction but counterfactual correlation between mental events and physical events), and suppose that theory to be true.  Replace Steve's winnings with physical events, and my decisions with mental events.  If we are inclined to judge in Kris's experiment that I can decide how much Steve wins, then we should likewise be inclined to judge, in this extended case, that my mind can decide through acts of will what happens in the physical world.  It also seems that we can make good and bad decisions, and thus be responsible for what happens.  So, what the thought experiment seems to establish is that shadow influence, not real causal influence, is sufficient for moral responsibility or attributions thereof.  


I too enjoyed thinking through this together, so thanks!

2010-06-19
Can I deliberate about things I have no causal power over?
Reply to Kris Rhodes
I can deliberate about wether to offer you a green or a red tie and at the same time be sure that my choice will make you happy (you might even feel moved by my forgetting of your birthday). At best am I *indirectly* deliberating about a thing I have no causal power over, but the stones remain stones and the millions what they are too.

2010-06-27
Can I deliberate about things I have no causal power over?
Reply to Kris Rhodes
Agnes, how would you feel about taking the totality of events to be the object of your deliberation instead of that particular event? The externalist dichotomy could then vanish while D wouldn't have to mention belief anymore. D could be reduced to:

D': I can't deliberate about whether or not the class of events will contain X unless X's happening is causally connected to my deliberation.

This doesn't impede a certain focus on your part but your action is seen in perspective without appealing for determinism. Anyone is deciding for the whole world in each moment and the number of causal steps that link a decision to an event describes responsibility (1). Otherwise would the internalist have to deny the fact that each decision affects the whole world? Would the externalist deny that she is talking about symbols more often than facts (2)?

(1) This calculation might be theorical only and at this stage I would welcome factors representing belief, concurrent causes, etc..
(2) From a modal point of view 10'000 bucks in world 0 could be worth more than 2 millions in world 2.