The cosmos and the events in it are wholly and inexorably indeterminate—we can never deduce pure, total causal relations. When we say the cosmos is fundamentally indeterminate—informationally, mathematically, physically, chemically, thermodynamically, biologically, genetically, etc.—we mean that it is most likely impossible for any cognitive and computative power to ever be able to process enough data to establish pure, infinite, total causal relations. A ‘Laplacean demon’, which would need to be ontologically independent—where it relies on nothing for its existence—most likely cannot exist considering the ontological and etiological dependence that extends into space and time.
But, the cosmos and the events in it can be partially explained in causal terms. We can calculate to a finite degree the accuracy of a given explanation. We can and do employ asymptotic approaches to explanation in causal terms. There is an acknowledgment of imperfect control, as required by (I) above, but there is also an emphasis on some control.
We are faced with holistic indeterminacy and universally-absolute uncertainty: we cannot know the whole story perfectly for all ‘time’. But, we are able to make parsimonious explanations in causal terms based on observation, calculation and experimentation, which may lead to parsimonious, probabilistic and non-universally-absolute prediction.
Hence, holistic incompleteness in causal explanation does not signify an absence of causal explanation. I would argue that knowing only a part of a story is parsimoniously better than not knowing that there is a story. Knowing part of the story is important because, amongst many other things, it increases knowledge, and, with some imperfect precision, a degree of control over our own existence. This statement is thus faced with claims of free will.
Within a volitional debate, the question must be whether or not two or more events have equal universal-probability. There are two sandwiches left: one is ham, one is chicken. To assert the claim of free will when limited to the choice between two sandwiches at t1, the selection of either of these sandwiches at t2 would need to be perfectly preceded by a 50% probability of such an outcome. That is to say that the action was universally indeterminate leading up to but not at t2. This would require not only the absence and inaccessibility of explanation via pure, infinite, total causal relations, but it would also require the absence and inaccessibility of any explanation in causal terms. In plainer terms, it would be saying that not only do we not know enough about why the decision was made—a position to which one might be sympathetic. But, more importantly, it would also be saying that we cannot know anything about why the decision was made—a position to which one must be unsympathetic.
An admission of holistic ignorance combined with an intent to investigate is the only way to address an ‘incompleteness’ of causal explanation. Is it easy to admit ignorance; after all, cosmic uncertainty is probably the only thing cosmically certain. But, an admission of ignorance combined with a refusal for explanation requires intellectual destitution. Such a position must best be understood as being detrimental to one’s own existence, for explanation leads to increased self-control.
However, it is in doubt whether we should rebuke claims of volition—the notion that an action was perfectly preceded by a fractional probability. I would argue that although volition as defined above is horribly imprecise and explanatorily useless, the voluntary or involuntary illusion appears to be conscientiously useful. If we know as we do now that things are holistically indeterminate and finitely calculable, we as individuals or groups might take advantage of the freedom to manipulate. We can capitalise—usually, if not always, in an individually or collectively self-interested manner—on the absence of total calculability and predictability. If the universe is not a tape running back and forth, why not play metteur en scene?
The computative and cognitive powers of an entity are directly proportional to the number of possible actions that entity can conceive of. The notion of free will may prove to be a fruitful illusion, one that mammalian evolution has smiled upon as primatology and cognitive science are beginning to demonstrate. Human evolution has clearly favoured cognitive structures and their respective genes who explicitly or implicitly ‘believe’ a) there is a multitude of possible outcomes in any given situation and b) that one can and should follow the most advisable individually or collectively self-interested course of action contained within that multitude.
The actual and residual effects of human agency cannot be bound exclusively to the agent, and the effects of infringing, criminal behaviour cannot be solely associated with the criminal. This presents the frustrating dilemma of whether such a person should be held independently responsible in a court of law for their infringing behaviour, and whether one’s actions are one’s own. If explaining an action is holistically impossible yet partially achievable, we must first acknowledge that there is a possible finite explanation—not via perfect causal relations, but in parsimonious causal terms. Following from that, we must assume that an admissibly intelligent individual was capable of consciously rejecting societal norms in favour of exclusive, individually self-interested yet infringing behaviour. Their cognitive calculations evidently must not have granted sufficient favour to the regulations imposed by the collective to which they have been subscribed. A criminal is guilty of a crime not because the eventual outcome had been universally determined, or because two or more outcomes had equal probability. He is guilty because his particular cognitive structure—the complex of agency—had been organised in such a way over the course of its existence as to lead him to that particular course of action. A sound mind can calculate, and the means by which such a sound mind calculates can or will be able to be partially explained. The effects of the behaviour are not exclusively bound to him, but a court may associate sufficient calculative agency with said effects in their attempt to enforce the norms and protect the collective.
We should not resist explanation for fear of the removal of our autonomy, or for fear of the subjection of or condescension towards the excitable, mysterious subjectivity and whimsicality of the ‘human condition.’ These things were never extractable, as the rest of the cosmos is equally as indeterminate.