But there is such thing as chance, and how different chance events can cause different outcomes.
The quickest and simplest way to put this is to imagine the world in not our three dimensional view, but to think in higher dimensions. Often philosophers feign to acknowledge such truths.
Frankly, we perceive a fourth dimension—a temporal dimension. But scientists have speculated how higher temporal dimensions allow for different timelines, where different events have occurred. If time is perceived as a line, could it not also follow that there can be a temporal dimension where multiple, different possibilities from a single event can be seen? We affectionately call this the reality of “all possible outcomes,” but do we truly understand what this means?
If determinism is correct, and there is absolutely no free will, and things are all pre-determined, then all realities will be the exact same. The classical approach I take is this: let’s say I have the option of choosing ice cream or cupcakes. I choose ice cream in this instance. The hard determinist will say, because I chose ice cream in this instance, there had to be a chain of events—a set psychological, environmental, physical set of circumstances—that led to my choosing of ice cream. For this reason, I will always choose ice cream in this exact same scenario. If we play this event in this exact timeline over and over again, each time, because I am the exact same person with the exact same psychology in this exact same environment, I will make the exact same choice. This is essentially what we call ‘hard determinism.’
That seems all fine and such, but let’s look at it from a different angle. Sure, we know that the events we have perceived thus far in our lives have causality—if I hit one billiard ball to another, the other one will move—there is clearly no physical free will in this sense because we cannot simply defy the laws of physics whenever we want. But wait then, how would the higher temporal dimensions be possible?
If everything was in a hard deterministic view, then all reality will always occur the exact same way. It is indeed, predetermined. In that higher dimension with “all possible outcomes,” does it not follow that the hard determinist will believe that all possible outcomes is only that singular outcome? But we know that this is not the case. We know that different versions of the same reality are plausible, perhaps even definite. If such different realities exist, I assert that hard determinism fails to explain why this is so.
Different realities are caused due to different chance events occurring at different times on the timeline. Perhaps in one reality, one event occurs and causes another event, while in another reality, that event simply did not occur altogether. This is how alternate realities and alternate “dimensions” can come about. Hard determinists will say that everything is predetermined, and in a single dimension, this is potentially true. One event leads to another, and if we keep replaying that event with the exact same set-up, the exact same premises and context, it will always occur that way. There is thus, no such thing as “free will.” But now take into account the idea of different outcomes, due to chance. The butterfly effect, chaos theory, etc. Because the universe acts in so seemingly random ways, chance leads to the changing of the premises of an event. Because the premises have changed, the outcome can change too. Thus, we reach the existence of different realities, and thus the idea that there is pre-determinism is false. We simply cannot calculate all the different possibilities of chance, and for that reason, we do not have the power to say that events are indeed predetermined.
One of the reasons ‘hard determinists’ might accept your conclusion is that it doesn’t undermine their ‘final’ conclusion.
Put it this way: many determinists are not so much interested in Free Will as an ends in itself, but merely how Free Will (or lack thereof) would mean that we are or are not morally responsible for our actions. The basic line of thought is as follows:
P1) We can only be held morally responsible for our own actions
P2) If determinism is true, all of our actions are caused by things that are not our actions
C) We cannot be held morally responsible for any of our actions
The reason I say that the conclusion above still lends itself to a ‘deterministic’ view of free will and moral responsibility, through the following analysis:
If we look at something like chaos theory, it is usually exemplified by saying “a particle has a 50/50 chance of spinning one way or the other, and there is nothing that causes it to spin one way above the other - it is wholly random”. There are two aspects to the counter-argument here: If the way the particle spins is actually determinable, then clearly determinism holds and we cannot have free will or moral responsibility. If, however, the way the particle spins, is indeterminable, then how can we attribute moral responsibility in any case - the cause of the actor’s actions is not their own free will, but chance. In either case,
A second objection to the chaos theory, and similar, arguments, is that while they might work on a micro scale (for sub-atomic particles, perhaps), they don’t necessarily have a governing role to play in the interactions of humans. If we are looking for free will such that we can attribute moral responsibility to people, then the actions of the people need to be undetermined - which isn’t necessarily going to be the case, even if a particle can randomly spin. People are still a product of their influencing factors: their parents and environment, their culture and society - stretching back indefinitely.
Regarding the Butterfly Effect (crudely characterised as “if a butterfly flaps its wings in Arkansas, it causes a hurricane in Jakarta), the above logic might hold, but it is also important to note that it could just as easily be that there is a definite causal chain of events that ties one to the other. Even if we, as humans, are unable to logically comprehend the infinitely small possibility and complex sequence of events that would cause the butterfly’s wings to create a hurricane halfway across the globe, that doesn’t mean that it can’t happen deterministically. Unless I’ve misrepresented the Butterfly Effect, in which case feel free to correct me ;)
If we then take a look at the overarching objection, that there are infinite universes that split at each point a ‘new’ action can be taken and thus there is the possibility of acting ‘freely’ because of which universe one is split into. The argument here is that “humans cannot comprehend infinite universes created at any given moment in time; there would be a staggeringly massive number of events happening at every moment that would give birth to new universes for every possible outcome”. Firstly, simply because we cannot comprehend it does not prove things one way or the other - we cannot say predetermined events are impossible, just because we can’t imagine them.
We can bypass this, however, if we simply view the deterministic path as whichever universe ‘line’ we follow. In other words, my actions in this universe as I live in it now are the product of the path taken at every previous junction of events - it is still not my ‘choice’ to do any action, it has simply been determined for me in this universe as that which I must take. In the ‘other’ universe, it would have been the same: “option B” would have been the determined one. The universes would not have to be identical for us to hold determinism to be true - perhaps not as a ‘hard’ determinist position, but as a ‘medium’ deterministic position that still doesn’t try and prove the existence of free will (as a compatabilist would do). As mentioned above, determinism may hold for ‘this dimension’ - but we are always in ‘this dimension’, even if other dimensions exist, and they are always determined by causes in ‘that dimension’.
In summary, even if there are other universes, I had no free will in my actions in this one and thus I cannot be held morally responsible for my actions.
In the philosophy course I took, we looked at a few viewpoints on it: Appiah’s introduction of the debate (from which most of the above analysis comes), Stace’s version of compatabilism, Frankfurt and Wolf’s expansions, and Libet’s scientific approach to the problem (as well as Bennett and Hacker’s opposition to his conclusions). Apparently Hume would have some interesting things to say on this subject, but I haven’t really read any of his work, so I’ll leave that as a suggestion.
… And then there’s the realisation that you don’t really need to look at free will/determinism/libertarianism when it comes to moral responsibility. If you look at it more pragmatically and argue along the lines of legal, rather than a strict ‘moral’, responsibility, we can have a perfectly functioning society without the ‘moral responsibility’ defined in the libertarian/compatabilist/determinist debate above.