Fear of fatalism

Apparently the literature on Taylor’s fatalist argument — the motivation for Wallace’s book (see immediately previous post) — does not include the anepistemic solution I sketched. I’m guessing it’s because everyone is afraid to admit fatalism; everyone wants to believe in free will, and so insists on it. (Believing it and insisting on it are distinct: I insist you have no freedom, but I bet you believe you have. I’ll make a big deal out of that in a moment.)

Having no freedom does not entail making no choices. Freedom ranges over your choices, and your choices depend on your knowledge. If you don’t know the underlying determinations of your choices, those choices will appear to be determined by whatever you do know about. You seem to be making free choices, even though they are not in fact free.

This is not eliminativism, btw. It’s possible to insist that there is no autonomous self and no free will, and still insist that you have a mind and an awareness and your mind contains knowledge of which your mind is aware — or maybe your mind is that awareness of, among other things, that knowledge. Just because I think free will and autonomous self are fictions I am not compelled to give up the mind, knowledge and awareness. Just don’t ask me what awareness is or what role it plays in choice. I’m sure it plays a role, but how, I’m not sure, and having an account is not required for insisting that there is one.

Once you accept determinism, the response to Taylor’s argument is quite simple: the assertion under the modality of real time and its denial in a modality of knowledge don’t contradict. You can know that you are not free and also not know the conditions under which you will choose. So you can insist that no one is free, but still, not knowing the determinations of your choices, you can believe in the fiction of your will. Since you can’t know the sources of your choices, you may believe in any source, including yourself. You can attribute your choices to the devil or the demi-urge or a deity. If you have a sense of personal integrity, you’ll believe that the source is you, because believing in the fiction of you is all you have to be proud of. And those feelings like pride are sui generis. They may be determined by your genetic nature or your cultivated nurture, and you may question them and doubt them, but it’s always you questioning, doubting and feeling. The self has a dual nature: it’s a real melange of sensibilities and thoughts, yet not autonomous. No one has given a good account of it. That’s the appeal of the eliminativists and logical behaviorists and the Wittgensteinian behaviorists. They get on without one.

The formulation in the previous post might be amended to

~K(T) =>


Not only do we not know the future, but we know that we don’t know. That Rumsfeldian modality suffices to absolves us from fatalism. However deterministic the world is, we, with our limited knowledge, know that we can’t know its determinations. That leaves us with our limited knowledge, so regardless of the facts of the future, we are not in a position to assert anything about it with certainty: the contradictory of K~K(T) is not ~T, but ~K~K(T); the contradictory of ~K(T) is K(T), and there is no entailment from ~K(T) in the present to K(T) or ~K(T) in the future — people change their minds or forget from time to time.


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