by Ted Honderich

Since the rise of the theory of determinism, philosophers have argued and declared that we are diminished by it. Bishop Bramhall against Thomas Hobbes in the 17th Century, Kant against Hume in the 18th, F. H. Bradley against John Stuart Mill in the 19th, Robert Kane and Robert Nozick against such as me in the 20th Century. There must be something in this relentless tradition. It cannot, it seems to me, be the falsehood of determinism. Is it, so to speak, a larger fact than either determinism or free will? Is it consciousness? The new paper below, a draft to be thought more about for the 2nd edition of Kane's summative Oxford Handbook of Free Will, comes to that conclusion by way of a look at the principal parts of the problem of determinism, one being what is called probabilistic causation.

    Does another tour of the subjects of determinism and its consequences for our freedom and our responsibility give you the idea that it's time for a change? Maybe a change in the direction of the subject of what it is for us to be conscious? Well, I get that idea.


    Determinism is not one of those theories filling up the world whose truth you can't be sure about because you can't be sure what the theory is, what it really comes to. You know what determinism is. It's even plainer in its essentials than the lovely theory of evolution.1

    Strike a match. It lights. We take these events to be instances of cause and effect in the standard or primary sense, instances of what we most ordinarily take to be cause and effect. What do we understand about them?

(1) Since the striking (s) happened, in the whole situation as it was, including oxygen for example, so too did the lighting (l) follow. By way of an abbreviation, the striking required the lighting.

(2) If  the striking hadn't happened in the situation as it was, where for example the match wasn't held in the flame of another match and so on, neither would the lighting have followed. The striking was required for the lighting.

The same two kinds of real conditional connections in the world, facts of the way the world works, each dependent on the situation as it was, hold between every event in certain sets of events that we can call causal circumstances for the lighting, a sufficient condition of a certain kind. One causal circumstance (cc) in a chain included the event that for some reason we pick out and call the cause -- the striking (s).

    But there was also a different kind of conditional connection, an independent one, between cc and the lighting.

(3) Since cc occurred, whatever the rest of the situation had been, the lighting would still have occurred. Expressed differently, since cc occurred, whatever else had then been happening, l would still have occurred. To abbreviate, the causal circumstance necessitated the lighting.

(4) Since l occurred, cc would still have occurred before it in the absence of another causal circumstance for l. The causal circumstance cc was necessary for l.

    This whatever-else understanding of effects in the standard sense, the crucial item (3) in particular, is as unelusive and plain as the related regularity or constant conjunction theory of causation of David Hume.2 But it is in no way open to the great objection to Hume's theory -- that it makes last night the effect of yesterday since days and nights go together regularly. On the whatever-else understanding, it is not true that yesterday caused last night. Last night would not have happened whatever else had been happening in addition to yesterday. Last night would not have happened if the solar conditions changed at the end of yesterday.

    In my view, all this is transparent even before the elaboration it can have.3 When compared with related counterfactual theories of effects in terms of possible worlds, the whatever-else understanding is free of technicality of doubtful advantage having to do, for example, with logical necessity as against causal and other lawlike necessity, and also free of modal logic and metaphysics.4


    So much for the essential content of determinism. Come round as quickly to the question of the truth of the theory -- the truth of the proposition that every event, each thing that happens, is a standard effect.

    We each have a life to depend on. It's where most thinking starts and where all of it, including science, has to come back to. About every event in my life, I have good reason to take it to have been an effect, a standard effect. That is a belief in which I cannot but persist.5 There was a causal circumstance, anyway one circumstance, of which I have had at least a decent idea. Or it was overwhelmingly more probable that the event had a causal circumstance unknown to me than that the event was, in the most ordinary use of the words, without any explanation at all, a mystery not in thinking but in reality.

    If the struck match doesn't light, I never think that there exists exactly a counterpart of the causal circumstance that resulted in another match lighting just before. I don't contemplate the entailment of that, that there are events such that there is no answer to why they actually occurred. That would have to be the case if everything could have happened, just the same, before and when the event happened, and it might not have happened. All my experience goes against real mystery. You're the same, aren't you? Have any candles lit themselves spontaneously in your life?

    This belief that all events in our lives are effects, our greatest induction, the largest proposition of human experience, seems to me at least as important to the question of the truth of general determinism as anything else.


    Do you now say that two mistakes have been made already in this tour, the first one about what it is or would be for an event to be a standard effect? I agree that some discussion of causal connection, and of determinism and freedom, presupposes that such an understanding of our beliefs about effects as the one above is mistaken -- and hence that there is no great inductive argument to general determinism.

    The central claim in the theory of what is bravely called probabilistic causation, however it is to be understood, is usually that causes are no more than what raise the probability of the occurrence of their effects. Speaking generally, A caused B iff P(B | A) > P(B | not-A). Better expressed, an event A caused an event B iff A left B more probable than not-A would have, other things being equal, even if A left B hardly probable at all.

    There are certainly difficulties with this idea, of which the first cannot be in much dispute. It is that the fundamental bit in the theory, that something makes something else probable, as in the case of A and B, at least resists general explanation, covering all the sorts of cases. Putting aside the probability calculus or mathematics, the subject of probability is an unsettled dispute, as good accounts tend to allow despite their authors' particular predilections and plumpings.6 There has been no resolution of the contention between very different interpretations of the probability calculus -- interpretations in terms of number of favourable possibilities among equiprobable ones, good reasons or logical relations, frequency, subjectivity, and objective chance.

    I take it, not meaning to be jocular, that the probability of there being even just a clear general account here of A's causing B here is not high. To set out to explain what an effect is by what is probable is to set out to explain what is in front of you by what is at least uncertain.

    Maybe it is possible, despite uncertainty in the understanding of probability, to see a few objections to probabilistic theories of causation -- theories that understand causal and lawlike statements in terms of probability, reduce them to probability.

    The most immediate objection is that all of us, or anyway all of us not distracted by an interpretation of Quantum Mechanics, believe that when the match was struck, in the situation as it was, it had to light. The lighting was necessitated. We can explain that, as you have heard. If the match hadn't lit, to repeat, we wouldn't think that if it had lit, that wouldn't have been necessitated. Rather we would think that something was missing in the situation when it didn't light, something that is present when it does light and is part of what makes it light.

    So the immediate, the simplest and to my mind the overwhelming response to probability as an understanding of our conception of causation and also of what it is, is that it seems to wipe out this proposition of the necessity of effects.

    A second and connected objection is that probabilistic theories of causation seem to face a dilemma. Either they are not theories of causation at all, for such reasons as the one just contemplated, or they are -- and they boil down somehow to standard causality, the story with which we started.

    Three brothers, all heavy smokers and otherwise similar, die of cancer. The fourth brother, also a heavy smoker and genetically and otherwise similar, is not looking good. If a probability statement is offered as a ground for a sad prediction about the fourth brother, what can it be or anyway be based on but causal reasoning of exactly the kind with which we started? It must be that probability judgements do often reduce to or rest on a good idea of a kind of causal circumstances for something, and  in particular the knowledge that all of one causal circumstance exists, or a lot of one, or some fraction of one.

    By way of a third objection to probabilistic causation, some probabilists are motivated in their theory, as they say, by the proposition that smoking doesn't always cause cancer. Or the proposition, to use the match example, that s-like events don't always cause l-like events. So, they then conclude, smoking causes cancer only in the sense of making cancer more probable, as s made l more probable. Whatever motivating their proposition does, this is no argument at all against the whatever-else connections understanding of standard causation. That understanding itself asserts that s only requires l and doesn't necessitate it. The circumstance cc does that.

    Thirdly, it is said by probabilists that the complexity of any such thing as the whatever-else theory, when it is elaborated, makes it less appealing than what is unkindly taken to be Hume's simple theory. It is in fact taken that the acute Hume thought that the cause that is the striking of a match is always followed by the effect of its lighting. I can't believe it, despite some of his quick words. It is no serious objection that the conditionals theory is more complicated, if you call that complication, partly since any arguable probabilism must be at least as complicated. And remember the dispute or quagmire of the subject of probability generally.

    A fourth remark about probabilism. It is argued that interpretations of Quantum Mechanics establish, about events of which we are sure that they cause cancer, that these events are undetermined or unnecessitated. So, unless we take causation to be probabilistic, we will have to be agnostic about well-supported or even best-supported causal claims. A reply is that there is a less confusing and maybe less confused response. If later unnecessitated events are said to be explained by prior events only in some unnecessitating way, then the prior events are not causes and the later events not effects, whatever else is to be said of them in terms of some kind of explanation.

    Probabilism, it seems, despite the great interest, history, and technical competence of work on probability, is the intrusion of a specialism into a subject not explained by it and not in need of it.


    So it continues to be my idea that our ordinary conception of causation, which is of standard effects rather than probabilities, a conception got from the world, a product of our human experience, does provide an inductive argument for general determinism, indeed an overwhelming argument.

    Is that another mistake, the second mistake at the beginning of this tour? The question of the truth of general determinism is indeed still most often put aside by way of a bow to interpretations of modern physics and in particular Quantum Mechanics. It is possible to persist in not bowing.7

    John Earman, as good a philosopher of science concentrating on physics as we are likely to come upon, says in the introduction to his recent paper 'Aspects of Determinism in Modern Physics' (2006, p 1363) that determinism in modern physics

in some respects...is a robust doctrine and is quite hard to kill, while in other respects it is fragile and requires various enabling assumptions to give it a fighting chance. ...determinism is far from a dead issue. Whether or not ordinary non-relativistic quantum mechanics (QM) admits a viable deterministic underpinning is still a matter of debate. Less well known is the fact that QM turns out to be more deterministic than its classical counterpart. ...8

After a careful consideration of varieties of determinism in parts of physics, he writes in his conclusion:

Is the world deterministic? Without the aid of metaphysical revelation, the only way we have to tackle this question is to examine the fruits of scientific theorizing. We can thus set ourselves the task of going through the theories of modern physics and asking for each: If the world is the way it would have to be in order for the theory to be true, is it deterministic? One of the things we discovered is that this task is far from straightforward, for the way in which theories are interpreted is colored by our attitudes towards determinism. ... The fortunes of determinism are too complicated to admit of a summary that is both short and accurate.9

    You will anticipate that I do not suppose for a minute that the only alternative to science with respect to judgement on the question of whether the world is deterministic is something called metaphysical revelation. On the contrary, I take science and decent philosophy still to be as good as equal partners in the answering of such great questions as that of determinism. They had better be, given some such much noticed science or science-based theory in the last couple of decades on consciousness, time, religion and indeed freedom, not to mention whether the brain is ahead of the mind or behind it.10

    The claim of philosophy is of course the claim that it is concentration on the logic of ordinary intelligence. That is to say concentration on clarity, usually in the form of analysis, and consistency and validity, and completeness. None of those concentrations allows you to leave out the world outside of physics.

    But, with respect to giving a weight to physics, I am no physicist, or philosopher of science. Thus, like philosophers of origination or free will, I must navigate around but take account of what I do not understand and cannot judge. This includes, of course, Bell's Theorem and then experiments such as that of Alain Aspect in 1982. There was hope that these would provide a general acceptance of direct and univocal evidence of indeterminism. It is my impression that they have not done so.11

    It is my own judgement that modern physics at least does not give consistent support to a denial of general determinism. That is not all that can be said by the likes of me. Let me make some quick remarks.

    One quick remark is that there is the formalism or mathematics of modern physics and there is its application to reality or the world, its interpretation, a seemingly philosophical endeavour -- indeed one that has been marked by very liberated philosophy on the part of scientists. No doubt a little intemperately, I have in the past spoken of the interpretations of Quantum Mechanics, and in particular those taken to show that the world is indeterministic, as a mess.12 It seemed to me worthwhile to say in an outright way what all expositors of modern physics, certainly including friendly expositors, were saying deferentially in their books. I think they still are. A deep and wonderful mystery is still a mystery. An unavoidable contradiction for us in reality, so called, is still a contradiction, in fact nothing at all in reality.

    A second remark, made before and still on the table, anyway my table. It remains as unclear as it was that the items of which it is said that they are not standard effects that they are in fact events. Determinism is not and has never been the theory that numbers, say, or probabilities or whatever, are standard effects.13

    Thirdly, there is no quick progress from the proposition that a theory 'works' to the proposition that it is true. Inconsistent theories can both work. Newton's physics worked better than all of history before it. Unless time stops, something will succeed current physics.

    Fourthly, opponents of general determinism who argue from indeterminism in physics face a dilemma.14 Given the fact of macro-determinism, either there is no micro-indeterminism or else it cancels out or anyway doesn't translate or amplify upwards into the macro-world, including neural events and hence choices and decisions. So it seems the micro-indeterminism of interpretations of Quantum Theory is either false or irrelevant. To which it can be added, I take it, that there is no actual evidence in neuroscience of any translating-up into the brains.
    Finally, it can still be objected that making use of interpretations of Quantum Mechanics to support theories of origination or free will is in a way to be engaged in contradiction.15 Physics, including Quantum Mechanics and interpretations of it, has authority on account of its claim of completeness. It is not merely an account of some part of reality. It tells you what is in all of reality, anyway physical reality including our bodies -- why all things there happen. It doesn't suppose there is some part, indeed some tremendously significant part, of which it is false.

    But free will philosophers do not only say that some of what happens in the mind and brain is not determined. They also discover in reality what you might as well call a force: origination or free will. They put into reality what physics in its claim of completeness denies. The philosophers in question are in effect engaged in contradiction.

    We have so far been thinking about effects and about general or universal determinism. There is also the question of a part of it, human determinism. That is a philosophy of mind, a response to what is often called the mind-body problem, more exactly a theory of the nature of consciousness and of its relation to the brain or whatever it is said to be realized in. We will get around to a human determinism, a different one -- after looking, in my case surely for one last time, at the traditional dispute about determinism and freedom, the dispute about the consequences of determinism for our freedom and responsibility.16


    The old story about the consequences of determinism is the traditions of Compatibilism and Incompatibilism in English and American philosophy. Compatibilism asserts that our single and settled conception of freedom is voluntariness. That, in short, is doing what we want, being unconstrained or uncompelled, acting out of embraced desires, out of causes somehow internal to us rather than external. Compatibilism also asserts that our attitudes to the actions of others and ourselves, in particular our holding others and ourselves responsible for actions, or crediting us with responsibility for them, are attitudes containing and resting on beliefs as to the voluntariness of the actions.

    The opposed tradition of Incompatibilism, also boiled down, asserts that our conception of freedom is origination or free will. That is initiation of action that could have been otherwise given things exactly as they were -- initiation that is uncaused but still within the control of the actor, maybe self-caused. Or, when the tradition of Incompatibilism is less strong-willed, as it has become, it asserts that our fundamental or anyway our more significant conception of freedom is origination. Incompatibilism also asserts, of course, that our attitudes to actions are attitudes containing assumptions of origination.

    Both traditions are inclined not to see or not to see clearly or anyway not to regard the fact that ascriptions of responsibility are indeed attitudes, at bottom desires pertaining to actions, that they are propositional attitudes other than bare beliefs or the like. Both traditions also leave out consideration of other attitudes as important as those in which we hold people responsible or credit them with responsibility, people including ourselves. For a start we have hopes for ourselves, including what can be called life-hopes, attitudes that have in them conceptions of our future choices and actions.17

    Compatibilism has of course been to the effect that determinism is wholly compatible with our one freedom and with wholly inseparable facts having to do with responsibility. Incompatibilism has been to the effect that determinism is incompatible with our our one freedom and a responsibility -- both differently conceived.

    The dispute between Compatibilism and Incompatibilism seems to me as remarkable a state of affairs as any in philosophy.

    If you look up 'freedom' in an admirable dictionary, The New Oxford English Dictionary of English, you find it defined as having subsenses along the lines of both the power to to act as one wants without hindrance or restraint and also the power of self-determination attributed to the will. If you look up 'free', you find it defined in the first way, and if you look up 'free will', you learn that it is the power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate. I trust that any other decent dictionary will say much the same. As for being 'responsible', it is said to be being morally accountable for one's behaviour, with the implication of course that the behaviour was free, but with nothing said of either volutariness or origination. Moral responsibility is not attached to either.

    Are these lexicographers all caught in a blunder? Have they made something up, doubled something single? Oxford makes a lot of mistakes, but could this conceivably be one? Have the lexicographers invented one or the other of two conceptions of freedom and assigned it to the English language and us? No, it simply cannot be true that we have a single and settled conception of freedom, and it is voluntariness, and it cannot be true that we have such a thing and it is origination. It can hardly be true either that one of two things is in fact secondary or peripheral or the like.

    It is surely not credible that we do not want both things, that we simply lack one of these desires. Have philosophers gone astray because of the unreflective assumption that the problem is that of peering yet more closely at an idea in a word or espying entailments of it? When the problem is clear, can there really be disagreement about it.

    No doubt you may hold someone responsible or credit her with responsibility on the ground that what she did was all her doing in the sense that it came fully from her embraced desires, character, personality, intention, conception of others and so on. No doubt your attitude is to the initiation of her action in such facts of voluntariness, and you may well have in mind that your attitude is a good idea in terms of the discouraging or encouraging of more of the same, by her or others.

    Are you able to say, enlightened though you may be, that your response to viciousness or to exemplary humanity has in it no disposition or tendency to a kind of retribution or reward, however large or small? No feeling that has in it at least the desire to believe that the action in question might have been otherwise despite both the past and the circumstance in acting? Well, you are a character still more reformed than me.

    But there are larger facts, requiring no introspection or the like. There are facts in larger realms. Take one principal and public subject-matter of the early 21st Century, human rights. In brief they are freedoms to which humans are entitled. Our leaders and their journalistic advisors let us know that that in China there is denial of human rights. The Chinese, with as much or more reason, return the compliment. We and the Chinese, evidently, are indeed speaking of denials of freedom, denials of freedoms of various kinds. They are denials of freedom with respect to political arrangements, food, healthcare, work, education, respect, a lawyer, and so on.

    The world's absurd ideas cannot include the idea that the freedoms demanded by ourselves and the Chinese in our selective ways are or include free will. The demands are not wonderful demands for a radical alteration in the constitution of human beings, the putting right of something God or evolution overlooked. Neither we nor the Chinese think there is an origination-shortage inside those other borders.

    Glance now at another large fact, the institution of punishment by the state. It serves as well in establishing that we have not limited ourselves and are not about to limit ourselves to consideration of the kind of freedom that is voluntariness. There is, I take it, no existing institution of punishment, however progressive in its utterances, that limits itself to the prevention and endorsing of behaviour. Whether or not backward-looking retribution is mentioned as well as forward-looking deterrence, these institutions reflect the fact that we remain more than tempted to take our fellows to be more than or anyway other than humans with embraced desires, characters, personalities, intentions, conceptions of others and the like. The same is true of the reward-systems that are the stuff of the rest of our societies, beginning with pay and profit.18

    It is not too much to say that the philosophy of determinism and freedom in most of the 20th Century, at least in the English language, consisted in consideration of supposed proofs that our freedom and responsibility consists in voluntariness and so is consistent with determinism and supposed proofs that our freedom and responsibility consists in origination and so is inconsistent with determinism. These proofs were generally to the effect that one conception and attitude exists. They were not proofs that the other conception and attitude does not exist.19

    The very short story of the hopelessness of both traditions is simply that there is reference-failure or reference-ambiguity with respect to asserting or denying that freedom is compatible or incompatible with determinism. There are two things, one compatible, one incompatible. It has been contemplated occasionally by a philosopher, if not in writing, that the two traditions can join forces and rely on the law of the excluded middle, say freedom must either be compatible with determinism or not. They can no more do that than someone who says that it has to be either raining or not raining in Muswell Hill when there are two places called Muswell Hill.

    To all of which is to be added that there is now some of what is called experimental philosophy, research more empirical than philosophical -- which is not to say not philosophical. Taken in sum, despite divergences and disputabilities, it surely establishes that we have two conceptions of freedom and two kinds of responsibility-ascriptions.20 It seems to me that the rest of philosophy should now catch up. Compatibilism and Incompatibilism need to give way to a realism -- if it needs a name, the realism of Attitudinism. We have the two attitudes distinguished by their contents of voluntariness and origination.

    Reluctant I am to engage in looking for motivations under philosophical arguments, and more than just reluctant to engage in anything tainted by psychoanalysis. Still, it seems to me hard to resist the idea that what has driven Compatibilism is in good part the clarity of voluntariness and the obscurity and want of content of talk of origination, say the obscurity of taking causation as not necessarily involving two things. It is equally hard to resist the idea, an idea eventually allowed by the perceptive Incompatibilists and the like, that what has driven Incompatibilism has been in part a desire for and a conviction that we have a human standing that has been taken as at least threatened by determinism.21 It has been supposed that the higher freedom of origination gives us that standing.

    It is my own inclination also to add something less respectable. Assigning to other men the power of origination has had another recommendation. It has given us a justification for more punishment than is called for by prevention. It is of use to those of us who benefit most from our societies and in particular their systems of punishment. But leave that, anyway for today, and also leave out a thought or two about religion.

    Before turning to more consideration of the conviction of our human standing, it is worth remarking that Compatibilism and Incompatibilism shared a truth about something else. They were right in taking responsibility and freedom to be inseparable. Any ascription of responsibility that there is, any attitude ascribing responsibility, contains a conception of freedom. That is what such an attitude is. It is at bottom desire of some kind owed in part to a belief having to do with the initiation of an action. As clearly, any conception of freedom that there is enters into ascriptions of responsibility. How could it fail to?

    So if you ascribe responsibility, you have an idea of freedom that goes with this, and vice versa. Suppose you despise or revile the past British prime minister Blair as a war criminal for the lie or culpable self-deception about weapons of mass destruction that took Britain into the war against Iraq and its aftermath, as indeed I do. You cannot assign him a responsibility tied to voluntariness while assigning to him only freedom as origination. As surely you cannot have his responsibility being a matter of origination and freedom being only voluntariness.

    As it seems to me, an understanding of the attitude of ascribing responsibility makes those things impossible. If you try, you are in fact espousing the existence of two sorts of freedom and two sorts of responsibility. John Fischer's 'Semi-compatibilism' and related views, to my mind, collapse into just Attitudinism.22


    The problem of the consequences of determinism surely cannot be the proving that our one conception of freedom and responsibility is or is not consistent with determinism. That, if you will allow me an expression of exasperation, is a dead duck, an old dead duck.23 But this is not to say that determinism poses no problem.

    Determinism poses the real problem, if we contemplate its truth or of course come to believe it, of accommodating ourselves to it. We have the problem of accomodating ourselves to the loss of one kind of freedom and the associated attitudes, these being much of the lived reality of our reflective and indeed our more active lives. It has to do not only with moral responsibility but with hopes, personal relationships, inquiry and knowledge, the rightness of actions, and the moral standing of persons over time. We have the problem, to describe it differently, of escaping the response of dismay to determinism and a response of a mere intransigence, and of coming to what can have the name of being Affirmation.

    It has turned out to be possible, in considering this problem24, not to see that as a contemplator of the truth of determinism, or indeed a determinist, there is a further problem, a separable problem, as real. You can believe that that you have had and you are having some role in your life, that your life is some role. This is not the fact of being an originator and it is not the fact of your voluntariness, important though that is. It is a role that needs to be added to determinism and voluntariness to make a picture of our existence complete.25

    It is something about which you can be tempted, as I have been, to think of it too much in terms akin to or related to those of moral responsibility. That is something to be retracted. It is in fact a role that can come into view, and has, in another line of philosophical life, the philosophy of mind or rather the philosophy of consciousness. It is a role that conceivably is of use in connection with what was remarked on earlier.

    That is the conviction of indeterminists and their sympathizers that we have a human standing that has been taken as threatened by determinism. Might it be that they and many predecessors have been mistaken in identifying what they take themselves to see as well as want? Do they in fact see and want something that is other than the standing or dignity of origination?

    There is, by the way, another reason for turning to the philosophy of mind. It was remarked earlier that attention has to be paid to something other than general or universal determinism. A human determinism is needed, an articulated determinist philosophy of mind.26 My own idea of that has changed too -- in particular of the mind-brain relation.


    You are now aware of the place you're in. What does that conscious experience in itself come to? In what does it itself consist, whatever its causes, correlates, effects or anything else? If, in response to the question, you now have a thought in answer to it, what does that further fact about you come to? And suppose, hearing your phone ring, you want something -- not to be interrupted. What is it for you to want that?

    The three sorts of thing -- perceptual, reflective and affective consciousness -- are certainly very different. They are also of the same general kind. So, in addition to three particular questions, we also have the general question of what it is for anything to be conscious in any of the ways. What is that fact, state, property or feature of you? Or, if there is more in or to the fact or whatever than just you, as seems possible, what is it that includes you?

    We need to be clear and go on being clear about the general question, and of course the particular ones, in coming to an answer.27 For a start, the particular question about perceptual consciousness is not about seeing, where that is understood to include retinas and visual cortex. As you have heard, it is about just the fact of your being conscious in the ordinary way, the way that interests all of us, the way of being conscious that is so explanatory of our lives.

    That is to say, let us take it, that the question is about something's being had, or given, or presented. There is a lot more language, a lot more essential data, along these lines, including much from leading ideas in the contemporary philosophy of mind. Whatever the divergences between the leading ideas, there is a convergence on truths of this kind. It can be summed up in the general proposition that when you are conscious, something is actual. It is a question, as you will guess, about that of which all of it is had, given, presented, and so on. This, if it can be overlooked, is crucial.

    What we have here is an initial clarification of a subject-matter, something that is absolutely necessary to an answer to the question of the nature of consciousness. If people are asking different questions they come to different answers that are neither agreements nor disagreements. It is no surprise that the admirable psychologist and philosopher Ned Block comes to a surprising view of the nature of consciousness since he takes it that you were conscious of your place of birth five minutes ago when in a more ordinary sense you were not at all conscious of it at all.28

    The three metaphors and many others like them do indeed fix the subject on which we all have a grip. They fix it as well as it can be fixed. They are where we need to start, as is pretty widely accepted. They are a premise unlikely to be disputed, and one whose consequences are perhaps as hard to dispute. As in the case of metaphors in the history of of science, well known, they can issue in a literal theory. They do issue in related but different theories of perceptual, reflective and affective consciousness.

    With respect to the first, what is it for you now to be aware of the room you are in? It is, by way of a first approximation, for something to be actual. What is actual? The short answer is only something with certain properties -- it contains chairs and so on. What is actual is certainly not qualia, sense-data, internal content, vehicle of content, structure of consciousness, aboutness-relation, or a self.

    The very short answer to what it is for a room to be actual is that it exists -- it takes up space and time, has causes and effects in it, and so on. That is more than enough to make it physical. But it is not objectively physical, not the world of science, not what is sometimes called the world of the view from nowhere.29

    If this perceived world of yours is physical in virtue of occupying space and time and so on, it is subjective in two ways. It has a dependency on you, more particularly on you neurally. It also has a dependency on the objectively physical world. This perceived world is also subjective, quite as importantly, in being different from the objective physical world and different from every other perceived world.

    The philosophy of mind has had in it for some time what are called externalisms, notably those of Hilary Putnam and Tyler Burge.30 They are theories and doctrines somehow opposed to internalisms or cranialisms, these being theories and doctrines that makes consciousness and whatever else can be called mental, a matter of what is inside our heads. These externalisms, in a dangerous summing-up, make meaning a matter of an external world.

    The different idea about perceptual consciousness we are now contemplating is more bracing. What it is for you to be what we speak of as your being conscious of the room is there being a perceived world. That is all of what it is for you to be perceptually conscious, whatever is to be said of the dependence of this external fact on you as well as the objective physical world.

    One of a considerable number of other criteria for a satisfactory theory of the nature of consciousness is that it makes a difference between the three parts, sides, or elements of consciousness. Actualism, to give the theory now contemplated a name, does make a difference between perceptual consciousness and each of reflective and affective consciousness, the latter two being partly internal rather than external. They are, however, also a matter of subjective physicality.

    Maybe enough has been said so quickly to show something -- that this theory of consciousness gives to us a standing. We have a role, and do not merely want one. Our lives in a way are roles. We are, even in wholly ordinary lives, partners in the makings of perceived worlds. We have a standing in a literal way, standing not owed to sympathy or generosity, say standing  at the level of the salesman Willy Loman in Arthur Miller's great masterpiece. In the theory of Actualism, you are no demigod but still a partner in the construction and the existence of a world. There is a kind of common grandeur of persons here. There are different propositions to the same effect about reflective and affective consciousness.

    Is this an intrusion of a specialism into a subject not in need of it? I hope not.


    You have heard just a little of a possible different line of thinking, a line of thinking about consciousness that may make complete what otherwise can seem incomplete, the account of our existence given by determinism and only freedom as voluntariness. I now have time only to mention an old line of thinking that may aid us in the same purpose.

    If it has been possible to be tempted, as I have confessed, to think of a role and standing too much in terms akin to or related to those of moral responsibility. But there is some more to be said in connection with morality. Here again we seem to have something of use both to those who are inclined to deny and those who are inclined to assert determinism.

    It is curious that there has existed a whole philosophical tradition of thinking about determinism and freedom that is neither the one having to do with voluntariness nor the one having to do with origination. If you have not heard of it, you might contemplate a little research into it when you hear that it has in it such serious persons as Plato, Epicurus, Plotinus, Augustine, Anselm, Maimonides, Aquinas, Spinoza, Locke, Leibniz, Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, Whitehead, and Russell. Also Luther, Hegel and Freud.

    You could start with a large book too forgotten, a piece of collaborative industry. That is Mortimer Adler's The Idea of Freedom.31 It is an inquiry, in a sentence, not only into ideas of voluntariness and origination, but also into a third freedom. In this third tradition, you are free in achieving a certain moral standing, a standing with respect to right and wrong. It is called by Adler the acquired freedom of self perception.

    The most familiar but least impressive kind of it is freedom from low desire, maybe kinds of sexual desire, say sin. Evidently other kinds are possible, better kinds. So you can think about adding to determinism and voluntariness not only what you are in virtue of being conscious but what you can be in terms of doing the right thing, being human, maybe being true to the Principle of Humanity.32


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1. My thanks for help with this paper to Kenneth Adams, Harald Atmanspacher, Robert Bishop, John Earman, Marcus Giaquinto, Donald Gillies, Edouard Guinet, Ingrid Honderich, Robert Kane, Joshua Knobe, Tim Maudlin, David Papineau, Simon Saunders, and participants in a seminar at the Centre Cournot, Paris, and in discussions after talks in Bath, Cambridge, Delft, Durham, Edinburgh, Manchester, Osnabrueck, and Sussex.
2. Hume, 1988/1739, p. 73 ff.
3  Honderich, 1988/1990a, pp. 13-70.
4. David Lewis, 1987, Philosophical Papers.
5. Honderich, 1988/1990a, 261-375.
6. Black, Mackie, Gillies, Hacking; cf  Hitchcock, Williamson.
7. Honderich, 1988/1990a, 304-336
8. Earman, 2006, 1363.
9, Earman, 2006, 1422.
10. Honderich, 2005c.
11. For what it is worth, not much, I have done just a little polling -- of Harald Atmanspacher, Robert Bishop, John Earman, Marcus Giaquinto, Donald Gillies, Tim Maudlin, David Papineau, and Mark Saunders. There was greatly more hesitation than conviction in this jury.
12. Honderich 2002b, 464; 2009, 103.
13. Honderich, 1988/1990a, 14-16, 317-322  events
14. Honderich, 1988 or 1990a, 327-330; 2002b, 465.
15. Honderich, 1988/190, 332-4; 2002b, 465.
16. Honderich, 1998, 379-487, or 1990b, 1-119.
17. Honderich, 1998, 379-400, or 1990b, 11-32.
18. Honderich, 2005b.
19. Honderich, 2002a, 115-118.
20. Feltz, Cokely and Nadelhoffer; Knobe and Doris; Nahmias, Morris, Nadelhoffer and Turner; Nahmias and Murray; Nichols and Knobe; Sarkissian, Chatterjee, Brigard, Knobe, Nichols and Sirker; Sinnott-Armstrong; Sosa; Woolfolk, Doris, and Darley.
21. Kane, 1996, Ch. 2. Cf. Nozick, Ch. 4.
22. Fischer, 1986, 2009.
23. Honderich, 1988, 379-487, or 1990b, 4-119
24. Honderich, 1988, 488-540, or 1990b, 120-172.
25. Honderich, 2002a, 142-153; 2001, 395-9
26. Honderich, 1988 or 1990a, 1-6.
27. Honderich, 2004, 104-221; Freeman, 2006; McGinn, 2007; Honderich, 2008.
28. Block, 1995.
29. Nagel, 1986.
30. Putnam, 1975; Burge, 1979, 1986.
31. Adler, 1958, Vol. 1, 134-147, 250-328, 586-600; Vol 2, 6, 91-134, 621-5.
32. Honderich, 2002c, 2003, 2006.

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