Can the ends justify the means?

I would say rarely if ever. Remember that the very definition of this term is (from Merriam-Webster): if “a desired result is so good or important that any method, even a morally bad one, may be used to achieve it…” The clear implication is that specifically morally questionable means are justified by a “good or important” end.

But that’s just hogwash. All intentions and subsequent actions must be guided by a moral framework, or morality just doesn’t exist. Folks will often rationalize immoral or destructive means to achieve a goal they believe is important — but rationalization is all they are engaged in, not serious moral reasoning. The value of an outcome is utterly compromised by such toxic self-justificaiton — the outcome cannot be evaluated in isolation from the means used to achieve it.

Imagine if you will the most beautiful sculpture ever created — let’s say it’s of a benevolent angel. The sculpture brings everyone to tears of awe when they see it, causes emotional wounds to heal, calms bitterness and hatred between angry combatants who enter into its presence, and even inspires people to perform profound acts of kindness and generosity after seeing it.

The problem? The sculpture is made from the skin, blood, and bones of a thousand children who were tortured and killed to provide those materials. Someone who confidently claims that “the end justify the means” could shrug that torture and murder of children off…but by any definition they would be considered a psychopath.

So when someone begins to tout that philosophy, be very wary. They are well on their way to amoral chaos or serious mental illness…if they haven’t already arrived there.

My 2 cents.

What kinds of limits, if any, on free speech should we accept in a free society?

The challenge as I see it is the weaponization of malicious deception through mass and social media. Take propaganda and disinformation. Before record broadcasts, mass media, and the Internet, this was limited to influencing those within hearing distance of a live speaker — or to those willing to read and absorb someone’s writing — and thus only seemed to propagate slowly over months and years. Mass movements were sparked by radical and revolutionary thought, to be sure, but the time these took to gain any substantive momentum in society afforded a modicum of wisdom, measured consideration, thoughtful discourse, and common sense to be injected into that process…well, at least most of the time. Humans have always been susceptible to groupthink and the lemming effect. But before the modern information revolution, the ability to hoodwink large numbers of people took some very committed effort and time.

Nowadays, however, disinformation disseminates in hours or days, capturing millions of uncritical and gullible minds so that substantive shifts in attitudes and behaviors can have a widespread — and often dominant — impact on communities and societies. I call this the superagency effect, and it is similar to other ways that technology allows us to project and amplify person or collective will in unprecedented ways…often facilitating great harm on an ever-growing scale.

So I think this change in the potential consequences of malicious deception — the amplification of harm, if you will — should inform our definitions of free speech, and the collectively agreed-upon ways we decide to manage free speech. I think this is part of what the Fairness Doctrine in the U.S. was intended to address: the advent of news media broadcasting to every home in America invited some sort of oversight to ensure what was being communicated in an ever-more-centrally coordinated way, by relatively few authoritative or trusted figures, offered equal time to multiple perspectives…and encouraged some of those perspectives to be controversial. Since the original Fairness Doctrine only applied to broadcast licenses, it of course would not have done much to curtail the explosion of propaganda and conspiracy outlets on cable and the Internet unless updated to address those new media (and there was, actually, a failed attempt to do this), but the point is that the concern about the ubiquity of these forms of persuasive communication has always been pretty obvious.

And of course this concern doesn’t only apply to ideological propaganda. It also applies to advertising, which has successfully convinced millions to buy things they don’t need, or become addicted or dependent for many years, or injure their health and well-being with caustic consumables. Again, all because of the power and reach of mass media.

So the vaunted ideal of free speech has to be understood in this broader context. The speed and destructive power of malicious deception in the current era cannot be understated. It has undermined legitimately elected governments, endangered individual and collective human health, propagated irrational fears and hatred that have lead to human tragedy and death, and wreaked havoc on the ecology of planet Earth — all with astonishing swiftness and scope.

Therefore, some sort of collectively agreed-upon mechanism — and ideally one that is implemented and managed by an informed democratic process — should be put in place to ensure some standard of truthfulness and fact-checking, representation of diverse and controversial perspectives, and diffusing or disabling of disinformation and malicious deception. The key, again, will be in the quality and fairness of the “regulatory” process itself — aiming for something more democratic and not autocratic.

My 2 cents.

What does it mean to be true to liberty?

For folks like Frederick Douglas and Abraham Lincoln I think “being true” meant to be loyal, steadfast, committed, uncompromising, self-sacrificing, and universal in liberty’s championing and application — and most particularly in the context of how liberty is defended, reenforced, and facilitated through prudent and generous governance, and a wise shaping of the rule of law. Such passion and devotion to human liberty was, after all, one potent impetuous for the U.S. Constitution itself.

Being “true to liberty” today, however, apparently has much more to do with one’s “right” to:

- Consume conspicuously and destructively

- Maintain unearned, inherited privilege and wealth

- Be free from any consequences or accountability for wrongs committed

- Provoke acts of violence, hatred, and vicious racism and xenophobia through “free speech” across social and mass media

- Hoard military style weapons of mass lethality

- Whine constantly about being a “victim” while perpetrating horrific abuses and unlawful acts

- Proudly promote policies that undermine one’s own fundamental civil rights and economic interests

So things are a bit upside down today, at least among those who bray the most loudly about being true to “freedom” and “liberty” as they have redefined it.

My 2 cents.

Which principle should a society put as priority first, freedom or equality?

This is a funny question. Why? Because:

1. You can easily have lots of freedom without equality — if you are rich, or if you exit society altogether. So a society that places “freedom” first, without establishing equality, could just be an oppressive, classist, plutocratic society that alienates all the poor people into running away from it.

2. Although it is much more difficult, it is possible to engineer a society that has a lot of equality, but a lot less freedom — to the point of being oppressive. This is what science fiction novels about dystopian futures warn us against, and what propaganda about former Soviet countries has harped upon.

3. Therefore, the only formula that will really work for those who want a society that has both freedom and equality is to place the highest priority on “equality of freedom.” If everyone’s freedom is equal, then that constitutes true equality…and maximizes freedom to the greatest degree. As to how to achieve this, here is an essay that discusses a possible approach: The Goldilocks Zone of Integral Liberty: A Proposed Method of Differentiating Verifiable Free Will from Countervailing Illusions of Freedom

My 2 cents.

Does equal opportunity lead to equal outcomes?

One way to approach this question is to ask: “Do outcomes differ based upon available resources, opportunities, conditions and relationships?” And the answer to that is an unequivocal “Yes!”

Okay, then if we aim to “level the playing field,” so that everyone in society has (roughly) equivalent quantities and qualities of resources, opportunities, conditions and relationships, will this result in a greater “equality of outcomes?” Well, it will — and does — tend to provide a higher probability that more people will achieve the same fulfillment of personal agency in measurable accomplishments. Essentially, it helps remove barriers that otherwise would — and do — exist. At the same time, this aim is a rather herculean task in the context of deeply persistent cultural racism, classism, sexism, ageism, and tribalism. It is, frankly, nearly impossible to “level the playing field” when any of these cultural prejudices are in play — because they will override and negate any and all “equality of opportunity.”

So then the question becomes: how can we encourage attenuation of these deep-seated prejudices? And for me, that is the much more interesting (and relevant) question.

My 2 cents.

Can liberty and justice be quantified? If yes, what units could we use to measure them?

There have been several attempts to do this already, using different approaches and metrics (influenced by different ideological preferences). Some examples below.

Freedom House offers three different reports on different measures of freedom — political freedom and democracy; freedom of the press/media; and freedom of the Internet: Reports | Freedom House

Reporters without Borders offers a “World Press Freedom Index:” 2019 World Press Freedom Index | Reporters Without Borders

The Heritage Foundation offers an “Index of Economic Freedom:” Promoting Economic Opportunity and Prosperity by Country

The CATO Institute offers a “Human Freedom Index” that combines their metrics for civil and economic freedom: Human Freedom Index

I have been playing with ideas about individual and collective agency, and how we might approach creating metrics for them — this is related because both liberty and justice seem directly tied to this. Here are two essays that explore these ideas:

The Underlying Causes of Left vs. Right Dysfunction in U.S. Politics

The Goldilocks Zone of Integral Liberty: A Proposed Method of Differentiating Verifiable Free Will from Countervailing Illusions of Freedom

I hope this was helpful.

What does personal liberty have to do with individualism?

Individualism and personal liberty can intersect, but they can also contradict and interfere with each other. So this can be a complex subject to parse. If I insist, for example, that my individual liberty always outweighs my social or civic responsibility, then I may end up interfering with other people’s liberty (and, consequently, invite interference with my own liberty, if I support such a society). Maybe I want to drive on the wrong side of the road, or take things from stores without paying for them, or pee in my neighbor’s fountain. To assert that I have the “right” to do these things despite social agreements not to do them is an extreme individualistic assertion.

In reality, no personal freedom would exist at all unless everyone else in my community or society agrees that it should — this is the error of much individualist thinking. When individualism places personal agency above everything else, it defeats the conditions that permit freedom to exisst at all.

At the same time, if I sacrifice all of my personal agency in service to collective systems and expectations, then I have also extinguished my personal liberty. By denying any importance of my own individuality — and supporting such a view as the status quo of my community and culture — I have done just as much harm to freedom as if I overemphasized my individuality.

So perhaps you can see the conundrum.

There is a balance between too much individualism and too much collectivism — both of which can extinguish personal liberty at their extremes — and a correlation between too little personal liberty and too little collective agreement.

I wrote an essay about this topic a while back that may be of interest: The Goldilocks Zone of Integral Liberty: A Proposed Method of Differentiating Verifiable Free Will from Countervailing Illusions of Freedom

My 2 cents.

Can the human condition accurately be viewed as living in a prison?

Thanks for the question Joel. Well it certainly often feels — subjectively and collectively — like we are living in various prisons. For example:

1) The prison of our economic system, and our status within it (conspicuous consumption, wage and debt slavery, striving for affluence, “greed is good” acquisitiveness, etc.)

2) The prison of cultural expectations (getting married, procreating, achieving self-sufficiency, going to college, etc.)

3) The prison of conceptual dualism and its inevitable reductionism (left/right, moral/immoral, good/bad, ingroup/outgroup, etc.)

4) The prison of our investment in a particular worldview (i.e. ideological purity, exclusionary bias, a tendency toward tribalism, etc.)

5) The prison of our unconscious or unmanageable habitual behaviors (conditioned, impulsive, addictive, etc.)

6) The prison of our perception-cognition (i.e. the structural and conditioned limitations of our mind)

7) The prison of comfort (avoiding difficulty or confrontation, self-soothing behaviors, pleasure seeking, distraction, safe routines, etc.)

8-) The prison of our choices (i.e. the often unintended consequences of individual and collective investment)

There are more…many more…but we can feel trapped in a very real-seeming cage with regard to any of these methinks.

Often the best option people believe to be available is to learn how to acquiesce and integrate — to submit to these apparent cages and discover “freedom” in how they are navigated. Adolescents instinctively attempt to free themselves from these seeming impositions, but most often revert to a mimesis of their parent culture and the examples of their family of origin — they return to the river. It is a very rare exception that steps outside of the prison current, and most often these brave souls — the outliers by nature or choice — are ostracized, ignored, dismissed or neglected. And that is can be very painful existence for social critters like humans. An even rarer exception is the handful of outliers who demonstrate paths to some form of freedom — conscious interior will, cultural nonconformance, somatic reconditioning, psychosocial reprogramming, a new way of thinking, spiritual liberty — that inspires others to untether themselves.

My 2 cents.

When is persuasion a form of bad manipulation?

Some insights on this have become a lot clearer to me in the last few years….

The way I would frame this issue is in the context of expressions of personal will, and the impacts of those expressions on both the human agency of others and, ultimately, the good of All.

Inherent to my persuading someone is an impact on their agency - the imposition of my will on theirs. Beyond a specific threshold, this imposition is inherently problematic, regardless of intent or outcome. And what is the threshold? Well, it will be different for different people. Issues like personality disorders, anxiety disorders, PTSD, codependence, differences in social status (including gender status, familial status, positional influence, etc.), and level of ego development (e.g. moral maturity) can all result in a very different threshold for different people…or the same person in different situations. It is therefore incumbent upon me, wherever possible, to understand and appreciate the context and subjective conditions involved. For if I knowingly and willfully impose my will on someone and deprive them of agency, I consider this destructive manipulation.

The challenge here, of course, is in the phrase “wherever possible.” In posting this answer, I could conceivably persuade someone subject to the very vulnerabilities I’ve described to do something “against their will.” But I really can’t know that, can I? So the best I can do in this context is try to state my case and “let the chips fall where they may.” That changes in interpersonal situations, where I can hopefully be more sensitive and perceptive. Even so, some portion of responsibility still rests on a person who is easily persuaded (against their will) to signal their own vulnerability. Likewise, I am also responsible for communicating my own vulnerabilities to others in this regard. But of course both of these situations depend on a fair amount of self-awareness, ability to communicate, and self-control….

Which leads us to intent: what do I intend? If my intentions are sincerely focused on the good of the person I am trying to persuade, issuing from a place of compassion and affection, perhaps this can mitigate some level of manipulation (as imposition of will). Any parent knows this has to be true in regarding their children! But I must also be aware that, to whatever degree possible, if I really do wish for the good of others, then I need to empower them to make the best decisions on their own…that is, to provide good information and - whenever possible - insulate them from persuasion. If mutually agreed to, this helps keep everyone’s agency intact, and (in my observation and experience) enhances efficacy and positive outcomes ten-fold. Indeed, this is also true of parenting.

Lastly we come to outcomes: what is the result? The good of All - that is: the greatest good, for the greatest number, for the greatest duration? Of course this may be desired, but it is never guaranteed - just as the effectiveness of any approach to ethics is not always certain. Which is why wisdom comes into play - including factors of discernment, awareness, insight, timing, etc. And indeed constant practice and discipline; this is how ideal and praxis intersect.

So for shorthand, we could use the formula: compassionate intentions + situational awareness + self-awareness + appreciation of cultural/power dynamics + situationally adaptive skillfulness + predictive efficacy = non-manipulative persuasion.

As you can see, there is quite a complex balancing act here. And honestly I believe many cultural value systems promote this balancing act in the normal course of human interaction - in other words, it is tacitly implicit, and transmitted by example. Unfortunately, some cultures (and indeed some individuals) lack the emotional intelligence, language and perceptive ability to recognize, internalize or actualize such a formula. And such challenges can then be exacerbated by commercialism, consumerism, individualism, materialism, selfishness, family abuse, workplace stress, social injustice and so forth. For those cultures where tacit understanding and transmission are absent…or for individuals and relationships that have yet to fully invest in such compassionate dynamics…well, then it would have to become a more conscious enterprise. The challenge then becomes that, for certain folks who routinely capitalize on manipulative persuasion (i.e. profit-driven marketing and advertising, religious zealots, political ideologues, etc.), there is tremendous resistance to such awareness, sensitivity and caring about the agency of others.

My 2 cents.


What reduces your free will?

A wide range of internal and external influences or conditions that constrain our ability to either formulate independent thought and action, or to follow through with them or expand on them. In my paper The Goldilocks Zone of Integral Liberty: A Proposed Method of Differentiating Verifiable Free Will from Countervailing Illusions of Freedom, I call these “variations of poverty.” They include things like:

· Poverty of existential security – lack of food, shelter, clothing, safety from harm.

· Poverty of justice and equality – experience of social prejudice, disruption of ability to obtain competent legal representation, inferior treatment under the rule of law, unequal treatment in the workplace, etc.

· Poverty of economic freedom – disrupted ability to generate disposable income or access desired goods, lack of opportunity to trade, disruption to development of desired skills and abilities, lack of employment opportunity.

· Poverty of trust and social capital – experience of alienation or disenfranchisement, lack of access to supportive social networks, consistently encountering closed doors rather than open ones.

· Poverty of knowledge & information – lack of access to established knowledge, or to accurate and independently verified new information.

· Poverty of self-reliance – disrupted capacity for confidence or independence, and lack of access to tools or experience that support a belief in own self-efficacy.

· Poverty of education – disrupted ability to think critically (i.e. carefully evaluate new information, challenge internalized assumptions, relax cognitive bias, escape conditioned habits), learn valuable skills, or gain a well-rounded understanding and appreciation of the world through diverse, interdisciplinary learning.

· Poverty of moral development – disrupted ability to mature past an egoic, tribal, or individualistic orientation (I/Me/Mine or Us vs. Them).

· Poverty of access or opportunity for advancement – being “in the right place at the right time” never seems to happen, no viable pathways out of one’s current situation seem available, no amount of effort seems to change these conditions, and barriers to access and opportunity persist.

· Poverty of emotional intelligence – disrupted ability to interpret social cues, facial expressions, emotional content of interpersonal exchanges, or to empathize with the experiences of others.

· Poverty of love – disrupted ability to develop compassionate affection for self and others, or experiencing a consistent lack of compassion from others.

· Poverty of self-expression – lack of opportunity and support for creative, athletic, intellectual or other form of self-expression.

· Poverty of spaciousness – lack of discretionary time, quiet, solitude.

· Poverty of common property – lack of resources held in common, or lack of access to those resources.

· Poverty of physical or mental health – poor nutrition, excessive stress, unhealthy family dynamics, genetic predispositions for illness or substance abuse, subjection to psychologically incompatible or physically harmful environments.

· Poverty of perception and awareness – disrupted ability to see past the spectacle, perceive or process things multidimensionally, or maintain a neutral holding field while assessing complex information.

· Poverty of spirit – disruption of connection with higher Self, spiritual insights and gnosis, and/or relationship with divine mystery.

· Poverty of holistic perspective and vision – disrupted ability to comprehend the bigger picture, cultivate a guiding purpose and intentionality, or to keep these in mind throughout the trials of daily life.

My 2 cents.


What is the difference between liberty and autonomy?

Autonomy is the ability to act on your own, from your own initiative, according to your own values, in order of your own priorities, and without reliance on someone or something else to actualize a given objective. In this sense autonomy is individualistic in its orientation, and is concerned most with an individual’s self-directed thought and action.

Liberty is a much broader and deeper semantic container, with many other components and considerations. In an individual context, having autonomy is just one facet of liberty. Additional facets include lack of substantive interference with autonomous thought and action, and productive conditions that facilitate individual ability to self-actualize, and even enhance opportunities and capacities to do so. In a more collective context, liberty is a consensus expectation of mutual (passive) permission and (active) support for maximized autonomy. This is where “enhanced opportunities and capacities” become a collective, mutually beneficial consideration.

However, in a collective context there is the added layer of an agreed-upon values framework. In other words, a framework within which some actions are permitted, but others are not. This is where the intersect of collective standards of liberty and individual aspirations of autonomy can potentially interfere with each other, and it has frequently been the aim of civil society at various points in history to reconcile the two.

My 2 cents.

From Quora:

What arguments are there for or against the existence of free will?

In my musings on this topic I’ve taken an approach that creates some metrics for evaluating whether free will is actually in play, and whether its qualities are adequately sustained in a “Goldilocks Zone” of operational efficacy. My conclusion is that free will is essentially emergent and fluid. In other words, the absolutes of a free will/no free will debate are a bit nonsensical, because we cannot step outside of our Universe to observe the infinite interdependencies of its beginning, middle and end. But we can assess the relative free will of our individual and collective existence, if we develop a careful enough way of describing it. We can understand it qualitatively. And because free will, liberty, freedom, individual sovereignty and autonomy all interrelate, I believe they should be incorporated into one semantic container in the course of that description.

So to explore these ideas in more detail, in The Goldilocks Zone of Integral Liberty: A Proposed Method of Differentiating Verifiable Free Will from Countervailing Illusions of Freedom, I go describe the generative components of free will this way:

Free will is a synthesis of the subjective felt experience of free will, the intersubjective social agreements that ensure it, the interobjective systems and conditions that facilitate self-determinant choices and activities, participatory mechanisms that support and moderate these factors in the most diffused and egalitarian ways, and objective metrics for all of these factors that continually assess their efficacy and contribute to an ongoing synthesis.

To better define the key factors of a synthesis of integral liberty:

1. Subjective felt experience of free will as individual sovereignty over choices from moment-to-moment, as well as regarding future plans, as observed in the energization and active expression of four primary drives (to** exist,** to **express**, to **affect**, and to **adapt**).

2. Ongoing, constantly renewed and reinforced intersubjective social agreement that individual sovereignty should be collectively supported and maximized, acknowledging that without such agreement and intent, individual sovereignty will inevitably be either compromised, interfered with, or entirely inaccessible. Further, there should be ongoing communal engagement and dialectic around this agreement and its characteristics; this is a dynamic rather than static process, and would need to be customized to unique variables at cultural and community levels.

3. Interobjective systems, conditions and artifacts that foster the felt experience of individual sovereignty and ongoing intersubjective social agreement. Although still malleable and customizable, there would likely be little debate about these universal processes, and they would have cross-cultural value and representation as relatively static features and functions of society. Thus these become social objects, systems, artifacts and conditions that relate to each other and society in fixed ways, rather than via dialogical dynamics between individuals and groups.

4. Participatory mechanisms with built-in accountability for supporting, enriching, moderating and promoting all other factors in the most egalitarian, diffused and distributed fashion. These could include distributed, daily direct democracy; Open Source initiatives and petitions; regular community meetings and online forums; participatory economics; worker- owned cooperatives; community management of banks and land; as well as civic lotteries for citizen commissions and all levels of polycentric governance networks.

5. Objective metrics employed at frequent and regular intervals for all of these factors to assess their ongoing efficacy in generating the greatest authentic liberty, for the greatest number, for the greatest duration.”

Once we have defined free will according to these perspectives, we can begin to assess where we operate in the spectrum of freedom. Again - whether there is or is not free will in some absolute sense isn’t really a practical consideration, but whether we are or are not operating in a manner consistent with a felt reality of free will and its ongoing mental causation is, I think, quite useful.

My 2 cents.

From Quora post:

How conscience and freedom related to knowledge of self?

I think that if we have the freedom to act on the inward-focused impulses of our conscience - that is, our curiosity and trust in a felt reality within ourselves - then we can eventually arrive at genuine self-knowledge. Such freedom is often deprived by tribalism, the emotional manipulations of family, ideological groupthink, and various forms of poverty we allow to be imposed upon us (poverty of spirit, ideas, curiosity…material poverty that perpetuates a crisis mentality, etc.). So conditions that encourage freedom are essential. But so is nurturing that inward-focus, which some people are innately afraid to do. And if we don’t listen to the promptings of our conscience to examine that inward world - promptings that I think are inevitable for all human beings at some point in their life - then we will miss out on opportunities for genuine freedom as well.

My 2 cents.

What do you think is the utilitarian viewpoint on free will vs determination?

Thanks for the A2A Robert.

Well I was going to write one answer to this question, based only on the question itself as I initially read it, and then I read your answer Robert, and completely changed my mind about how to respond.

That is an illustration of free will. Why? Because nothing influenced me to look at your answer…it was a somewhat arbitrary, self-willed impulse to scan across the other posts before I wrote my own. Even then, if I had not seen your name - also a relatively arbitrary event that also relied on my (arbitrarily) retaining who A2A’d me - I would not have changed my answer, but this bit was more chance than self-will. Now a determinist of some stripe might argue that a) my innate biology or psychology shaped the impulses and capacities that changed my decision; b) I was moved by some spiritual agent to change my decision; c) I would have answered the same way regardless. Well it is sometimes difficult to prove a negative, but I think these are pretty irrational assertions for one simple reason: consciousness. I’ll elaborate on that in a moment.

But first my reaction to your answer. I want to preface my own response with these assumptions, which directly contradict some of what you have stated:

1. “Free will” is not an invention of religion. In fact I would say most religions have historically tended toward fatalistic determinism, and have downplayed or discouraged individual free will. There are exceptions to this, but those are relatively recent. Aristotle was probably the first (known) philosopher to articulate self-will as distinct from either determinism or chance. I would describe free will as “an intermittent feature of consciousness” that is subject to conditioning, chance and choice.

2. Humans do not follow the “path of least resistance” unless they have (passively or actively) habituated themselves to that method of navigation. Such habituation is another feature of consciousness, and is therefore also subject to conditioning, chance and choice.

3. Utilitarians do not, in terms of the generalization you have made, dismiss all conditions that contribute to a decision. In fact they spend a lot of time talking about them, which is why you have act-utilitarians vs. rule-utilitarians, hedonist-utilitarians vs. pluralist-utilitarians, partialist-utilitarians vs. collectivist-utilitarians, etc.

4. Utilitarianism also does not, as you assert, automatically attach moral consequences to individual action. In fact this consideration is at the center of utilitarian debates around actual consequences vs. intended consequences.
Okay, so with those thoughts out of the way, here is my answer….

Utilitarian views of free will vs. determinism are pretty varied and cannot really be generalized IMO. In fact when we try to delve into utilitarian causality we encounter a lot of contradictions. Mills is a good example. He seems to subscribe to compatibilism, an elaborate rationalization that attempts (unsuccessfully, IMO) to reconcile free will with a “necessary” chain of causality. But why even try to do this? Again returning to Aristotle, if we recognize that there are necessitative causal chains, chance, and the independent agency of human consciousness - all of which can operate without a fixed dependency on the others - then the whole consideration becomes mutlidialectical in nature. There are multiple co-existing paths for everything - from quantum events to human volition - that recombine in every instant. In such a context the debate over determinism is either moot or pragmatically inaccessible; any convictions become either tentative and hypothetical, or articles of faith. Yet another choice for us to make.

Now down to the nitty gritty: consciousness is itself not a granted condition, it is also a choice. Human beings can habituate themselves to function according to their animalistic drives, cultural programming, magical thinking, tribal conformance, irrational groupthink, bizarre ideologies….or any combination of the above. Alternatively, they can develop what I call Functional Intelligence, which engages both our interiority and the world around us in a more conscious and deliberate way. And although this process may itself also initially be conscious or unconscious (again influenced by causal chains, chance and choice), eventually it will arrive at an awakening. It will, in effect, begin to incorporate a metacognition that first distances, then evaluates, then integrates or harmonizes all contributive factors to navigate the clarity and efficacy of any choice. I begin to define this process more fully in the essay Managing Complexity with Constructive Integralism.

You might also be interested in this essay: The Goldilocks Zone of Integral Liberty: A Proposed Method of Differentiating Verifiable Free Will from Countervailing Illusions of Freedom

***For all of the above links, you can read the document online without subscribing to…just scroll down the page. Alternatively, you can also download them as PDFs here without a fuss: Essays (***
Lastly, for the record, I personally lean more toward a variation of virtue ethics (cultivating sophia and phronesis) than utilitarianism, but I find many of the concepts in utilitarianism do have…constructive utility.

My 2 cents.

Comment from Robert Stork: Thanks for your answer. I suppose the only thing I can say is that all those things you say contribute to free will are in fact causal factors that are a more intricate demonstration of determinism.

Maybe…or maybe not. I think any deterministic conclusions may be oversimplifications, no matter how intricate we can get in our descriptors or calculus. Why? Because the number of variables contributing to each moment is incomprehensibly huge - and those variables are different not only for each successive moment, but for each locus of that moment throughout all of known space. Thus volition layers conscious intentions onto a soup of both arbitrary and causally related phenomena, projecting itself cross those variables. In that instant a deterministic warp-and-weave is introduced, I would agree. But even if there were only one consciousness, this quasi-deterministic manifestation of will would only occur within the moment of conception and projection, as confined to the locus of spacetime involved, with only residual propagations after that (waves of causality, if you will). And here’s the rub: there are multitudes of interdependent consciousness all acting within the confines of their own perception-cognition…sometimes in harmony, sometimes not. Which means that, in all intellectual honesty, “determinism” can only be a retroactive veneer placed over the consequent unfolding of these phenomena. It is a construction of hindsight with a predisposed bias, quickly unraveled by infinite complexity, infinite regress, randomness, and other indeterminate energies.

(From Quora question

What is the relationship between a subjective sense of free will and a subjective sense of being real?

In answer to Quora question "What is the relationship between a subjective sense of free will and a subjective sense of being real?"

Thanks for the A2A and clarification Jeff.

I believe they are intimately connected and have equal "illusory" potential. They both can be experienced, defined or described via four primary drives (to exist, to express, to effect and to adapt), but they are also subjected to perceptive/cognitive errors and distortions. With delusion, apophenia and hallucination at one extreme, and willful ignorance, confirmation bias and a high tolerance for cognitive dissonance at the other, the sweet spot for "accurate self-awareness" becomes just as rare as for "accurate self-contextualization." This is why I believe it is important to include multiple input streams - rational, intuitive, somatic, emotional, spiritual, social - into the experiential frame and processing matrix, because we cannot construct truly multidimensional objects (be it our autonomous agency or the "I am") without multiple dimensions; they won't feel "authentic" if they aren't completely fleshed out in both their felt sense and any proposed objective metrics. I think this is a rigorous but necessary discipline.

And of course the validations of intersubjectivity are IMO absolutely critical - and across all dimensions as well. But probably the most persisting errors here are either overemphasis of just one or two input streams, selective reinforcement by limiting who we include in our validations, or both. It's hard to remain vigilant while holding all perception-cognition lightly and welcoming all new information in a neutral way - *really hard*. But that is what we must do to get closer to both freedom and reality as flowing and persisting states, and avoid illusion as best we can. Even then we may just be enacting a variation of Zeno's dichotomy paradox - with the myth of the given, Chalmer's hard problem and Sartre's nausée all hovering in the wings, ready to ridicule our felt sense or snatch it away entirely. By maximizing the breadth and depth of ALL input streams, "all things being mediated by mind" becomes slightly less disruptive. Well...unless you're a Buddhist (just a little epistemological gallows humor).

And yet in the day-to-day all of this is automatically and reflexively constructed. We can exit that stream via meditation or peak experiences, gaining a brief foothold of consciously directed attention in the matter, but most folks will of necessity or preference quickly revert to a less awake/aware survival mode where agency is substantively less free and many aspects of "reality" are a long way from what actually is. Why is this so? Because the illusion of free will and the illusion of being real are just as viable to routine, conformist operationalization as "the real thing" - perhaps more so, as they tend to become a lot more comfortable through collective reinforcement (mass delusion though it may be) over time.

My 2 cents.

Comment from Jeff Wright: "This is a well-thought-out answer, more like 4 dollars than 2 cents.

You've referenced a variety of worthwhile perspectives. I'm more or less on-board with most of it, especially the multiple streams / dimensions principle (and Wilber's AQAL stands as an overly stylized version of this idea).
I think they all more or less revolve around the question of the concept of "real" (vs "illusion") and its various implied philosophical purposes.

It's hard to remain vigilant while holding all perception-cognition lightly and welcoming all new information in a neutral way - really hard. But that is what we must do to get closer to both freedom and reality as flowing and persisting states, and avoid illusion as best we can.

Do you have a synopsis of what you mean by "real" vs "illusion"? With a multi-dimensional, multi-perspectival framework such as the one I think you're proposing, perhaps the best we can expect is that something is "more real" to the extent that it is robustly comprehended by more dimensions. I like to think this is an escape from the oversimplifying and reducing influence of Ockhams Razor, because it's proposing an intrinsic complexity to reality. One could say this is a pragmatic and epistemic basis for defining "real". Or maybe one thinks there are only certain types of "dimensions" and they can be classified according to a fixed ontological schema. Many traditions prefer to assume a unifying foundation and say there's actually another level and it's ontologically simple and unified.

About the theme of the "vigilant self" that stands apart and neutral and wields its attention in support of moving into freedom and reality -- I suppose this is a good way to employ such a being, illusory or incomplete though it might be. At the same time I think it propagates certain Eastern and Western dualist transcendental traditions -- packages of metaphysics and moral ideas we might be better off moving away from, at least under the current historical circumstances. I see these as the basis for high modernism in various current (and fading) expressions, such as overly cognitive and overly individualistic accounts of language, meaning, and (maybe less frequently noted) ethics. Where these ideas inform ethics and virtue they create a kind of person, a self-willed and self-made moral agent whose relationships with others are mediated by rules and abstractions. It gets caricatured into extreme individualism and political philosophies such as neo-liberalism in which the cost of a nominal "freedom" is that whatever happens to a person is considered his/her own fault, and help and sangha invalidated.

There's no doubt this all looks better in more refined and mature states of "development" but I think it's worth considering the overall collective ethos that is created by its embodiment at all levels.

My 1.5 cents.

My response to Jeff: Thanks Jeff and I agree. My language is imperfect here but what I'm getting at is a "reality" that not only includes multiple dimensions, but also integrates and harmonizes them (in both its representation and its felt experience). And yes one of the more fluid expressions of this is a unitive perception-cognition; a nondual consciousness. But that is not the end of the road, and a participatory, intersubjective element would be a prominent feature of the multidimensionality in both conception and praxis. This is both calculated (intentional), inherent and emergent - which is where the differentiations of language you've touched upon come into play I think. Individualism becomes collectivism becomes the One as a matter of developmental altitude - but this, too, is part of a multidialectical arc and synthesis; complexity is revealed and integrated over-and-over until the "neutrality" becomes the only non-illusive state (albeit in a subjective sense). Thus fixations on any stage or state are the "illusion," IMO, but are nevertheless operationally pragmatic. Along these lines, I like to use the term "provisional semantic container" or "useful placeholder" in describing consensus-generated realities. In a way you could say that any simplification is, inherently, an illusion, but that's how the mind mediates complexity; that tends to be our most reliable form of self-affirming sanity. To "let go" of simplified certainty is takes time, practice and courage. And that is where my word-fingers are trying to point - this is not the moon of course, but a process whereby I believe the moon (i.e. reality) can be intuited. And such a process certainly involves community, relationship and, perhaps most importantly, the relinquishment of ego to agape (not Wilber's definition, but the traditional one), which can, as you well know, only be authentically "practiced" in the context of non-individualistic interdependence. I hope I haven't muddied the waters...but perhaps words always muddy the ineffable, and clarity can only be achieved through stillness...?