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Indeterminism Ltd.:<br/>An intervention on the free will debate

Final Report Summary - INDETERMINISMLTD (Indeterminism Ltd.:<br/>An intervention on the free will debate)

What is our place in nature? How do we fit into the world, which science helps us understand at ever higher levels of detail? How do our everyday conceptions of ourselves and the things around us connect with a scientific picture of the world? These questions loom large in the background of the free will debate. We understand ourselves as free agents facing an open future – but is this a tenable picture vis-à-vis scientific findings? It seems that friends of free will are in a fix. If the world is such that science can ultimately explain everything that happens, this implies determinism, and takes away real options for acting. If, on the other hand, the world is indeterministic, such that some happenings have no sufficient explanation, then these happenings appear to be due to chance. Either way, there seems to be no room for us as agents to make a difference. But we do make a difference; it matters what we do. Can this conflict be resolved?
The project “IndeterminismLtd” started from the above diagnosis of a stalemate in the free will debate. We identified the notions of indeterminism and intervention as the weak spots in the agency dilemma, and set out to investigate them using tools of analytic philosophy and formal modeling. We focused on agency rather than the morally laden notion of free will in order to limit research to theoretical philosophy and in order to be better able to integrate scientific discussions of determinism and indeterminism.
Our research has shown that in order to break out of the stalemate in the free will debate, we need to change the question: We need to ask what indeterminism can contribute to agency. We have worked out a rich understanding of indeterminism as a resource, which parallels the understanding of indeterminism in quantum physics and in some applications such as cryptography. Indeterminism can leave room for higher-level determination, and therefore, for higher-level powers of agents. Even if an agent’s actions are based on indeterministic processes, these actions need not be accidental. We have also worked out a formal representation of things (such as agents) and what is possible for them (e.g. acting in certain ways). Our novel framework of case-intensional logic can avoid the perils of reductionism and dualism. Furthermore, our project has contributed to a growing awareness that in discussing free will, a restriction to the traditional question of “freedom vs. determinism” is not helpful.
In philosophy, universal agreement is rare, and discussion continues. We have, however, provided important new elements for a better understanding of how we as agents fit into our world.