Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Tracks In A Canyon

We would not expect Poul Anderson's man of action, Dominic Flandry, to keep a diary, let alone to write philosophy. In the Technic History, the reflective character is Chunderban Desai - and he addresses the fates of civilizations, not of individuals.

By contrast, SM Stirling's Draka war hero, Eric von Shrakenberg, writes not only novels but also "Meditations on Life," (Central Press, Archona, 2003).

In his "Meditations," von Shrakenberg compares life options to "...tracks within canyon walls." (quoted in Stirling, The Stone Dogs, p. 424)

There are two constraints on freedom:

the canyon walls fix our main direction;
effort is necessary even to move our "wheels" to another track.

I go further. The "effort" is necessary to overcome social conditioning and mental habit, which are the psychological equivalents of momentum and inertia. Of two men who believe that they should move to another track, one possesses will-power sufficient to overcome this resistance whereas the other does not. However, neither man has chosen, or could possibly have chosen, to be born either in a particular society or with a particular degree of will-power. Therefore, I argue that neither of these men has "free will" in relation to a hypothetical creator.

A man is unfree if coerced or restrained but is free for practical purposes if his fellow mortals do not impede/interfere with etc his actions whereas none of us is or can be free in the absolute sense implied by the philosophical concept of "free will."


  1. Kaor, Paul!

    I'm not sure I can entirely agree with your comments about free will. Altho I do agree with you on how it takes an effort to "...overcome social conditioning and mental habit, which are the psychological equivalents of momentum and inertia." Esp. the effort needed to break out of BAD forms of social conditioning. Am I not free to murder or not murder Persons X,Y, or Z?


  2. Sean,
    Of course I know that you believe in free will but how do you reply to the argument that I can resist temptation only if my will-power is strong enough and I did not choose whether to have a strong will?