Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Quote of the Day

To be a determinist having some regard for the facts, one must be somewhat bolder than Laplace. Instead of maintaining that bodies are determined with respect to their positions and velocities, one ought to say that they are determined to do whatever they in fact do, whether this be to move or to think, to change a state or a position, to move at a steady or at an irregular rate. One will then achieve what is at once the most unyielding and most flexible, the most thoroughgoing and yet the most accommodating version of determinism. One would still be affirming, tacitly or explicitly, that there was a cosmic force, momentarily felt and suffered by passive particulars, but would credit that force with the ability to do more than make bodies move. As a result, one would trench on the Hegelian and Marxist theory of an over-all spirit of historical process which made itself manifest in countless ways to yield the rich world we daily know. Laplacianism is a thin view; Hegelianism takes in many more of the facts, since for it the single force makes things not only move, but eat, think and form a state.

A comprehensive determinism allows for assertions and denials; the thin view of Laplace grants the possibility of motions only. Since determinism is a theory which men affirm, only the more comprehensive scheme is significant, for only it allows for the possible formulation of a theory of determinism. The thinner the determinism, the less provision does it make for the possibility of its own formulation. Yet the more comprehensive the determinism, the more obviously is it untenable. In adjusting itself to the facts, it becomes so accommodating, as we shall see immediately, that it allows equal status to a denial and to an affirmation of itself. The statement that this was a deterministic world and the statement that it was not would, for a comprehensive determinism, be on a level, equally true and equally false, and therefore -- since truth and falsehood are mutually exclusive -- really incapable of either truth or falsehood.

If this were a deterministic world, both the assertion and the denial that it was so would be predetermined, unavoidable effects. Both would be necessitated to occur as they do by an alien force which was inevitably expressed in different men in these opposing ways. A determinist might say that those who did not speak as he did were mistaken, confused, unenlightened or misinformed, but that would just happen to be the kind of expression which was forced from the determinist when he was confronted with one who said the opposite of what he did. It is consistent -- in fact, it is required by the determinist's position -- that it might happen that he replies to his opponent with nods and a cry of "true!" Such a reply would be no less a determined result than the preceding one. When a determinist says that the determinist's position is fruitful, desirable, confirmable and so on, he is, according to his own theory, expressing something he had to say and which others could not say unless they had been similarly compelled. The determinist's theory allows one to say that there is nothing wrong or right in holding to the theory and nothing wrong or right in opposing it. The formulation of the theory and the acceptance or rejection of it are, by that theory itself, predetermined, unavoidable expressions of an external force, and any supposed comment or evaluation of them, favorable or unfavorable, is also predetermined by the alien power. The determinist can claim nothing; he can only exhibit the fact that an external force compels him to say something.

If this were a deterministic world, the statement that it was so would be followed by one set of occurrences here and by another there. In such a world there would also be occurrences following on the opposite statement, "this is not a deterministic world." If each statement were followed by statements of agreement or disagreement, there would be a semblance of discourse. Yet none of the statements would be judged or argued, if by judgment or argument we mean that which is deliberately affirmed in the light of what is meant. There can be no deliberately asserted truth in a completely deterministic world.

If a determinist is willing to affirm that his theory is true, he must affirm that it is something which can be freely considered and responsibly adopted, and thus that those who know it are so far not determined by an alien power. No matter how comprehensive the determinism, no matter how accommodating its scheme, it always leaves out at least the fact that someone is making a responsible judgment of its merits. If a determinist, on the other hand, denies that he freely considers and responsibly adopts his position, he denies that he has a view which opposes others; his view is then acknowledged to be but one verbal fact among a multitude, no better or worse, no more or less important, than any other.

The more convinced a determinist is, that he has a theory, that it is true, and that it is something other men ought also to accept, the more surely must he grant that it is false, since only thus can he expect to have someone pass a responsible judgment on its value and meaning, or follow the trend and evaluate the arguments on its behalf. If determinism rules the day, we cannot know that it does. We must wait for the course of events to make us say that it is true, without being able to judge whether it is or no. A deterministic world is one in which the deterministic thesis could not be offered as true because such a world allows no place for beings who are responsible for asserting truths.

Paul Weiss
Nature and Man

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