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Core Concepts

Adequate Determinism
Alternative Possibilities
Causa Sui
Causal Closure
Chance Not Direct Cause
Chaos Theory
The Cogito Model
Comprehensive   Compatibilism
Conceptual Analysis
Could Do Otherwise
Default Responsibility
Determination Fallacy
Double Effect
Either Way
Emergent Determinism
Epistemic Freedom
Ethical Fallacy
Experimental Philosophy
Extreme Libertarianism
Event Has Many Causes
Frankfurt Cases
Free Choice
Freedom of Action
"Free Will"
Free Will Axiom
Free Will in Antiquity
Free Will Mechanisms
Free Will Requirements
Free Will Theorem
Future Contingency
Hard Incompatibilism
Idea of Freedom
Illusion of Determinism
Laplace's Demon
Liberty of Indifference
Libet Experiments
Master Argument
Modest Libertarianism
Moral Necessity
Moral Responsibility
Moral Sentiments
Paradigm Case
Random When?/Where?
Rational Fallacy
Same Circumstances
Science Advance Fallacy
Second Thoughts
Soft Causality
Special Relativity
Standard Argument
Temporal Sequence
Tertium Quid
Torn Decision
Two-Stage Models
Ultimate Responsibility
Up To Us
What If Dennett and Kane Did Otherwise?


Mortimer Adler
Rogers Albritton
Alexander of Aphrodisias
Samuel Alexander
William Alston
Louise Antony
Thomas Aquinas
David Armstrong
Harald Atmanspacher
Robert Audi
Alexander Bain
Mark Balaguer
Jeffrey Barrett
William Belsham
Henri Bergson
Isaiah Berlin
Bernard Berofsky
Robert Bishop
Max Black
Susanne Bobzien
Emil du Bois-Reymond
Hilary Bok
Laurence BonJour
George Boole
Émile Boutroux
Michael Burke
Joseph Keim Campbell
Rudolf Carnap
Ernst Cassirer
David Chalmers
Roderick Chisholm
Randolph Clarke
Samuel Clarke
Anthony Collins
Antonella Corradini
Diodorus Cronus
Jonathan Dancy
Donald Davidson
Mario De Caro
Daniel Dennett
Jacques Derrida
René Descartes
Richard Double
Fred Dretske
John Dupré
John Earman
Laura Waddell Ekstrom
Herbert Feigl
John Martin Fischer
Owen Flanagan
Luciano Floridi
Philippa Foot
Alfred Fouilleé
Harry Frankfurt
Richard L. Franklin
Michael Frede
Gottlob Frege
Peter Geach
Edmund Gettier
Carl Ginet
Alvin Goldman
Nicholas St. John Green
H.Paul Grice
Ian Hacking
Ishtiyaque Haji
Stuart Hampshire
Sam Harris
William Hasker
Georg W.F. Hegel
Martin Heidegger
Thomas Hobbes
David Hodgson
Shadsworth Hodgson
Baron d'Holbach
Ted Honderich
Pamela Huby
David Hume
Ferenc Huoranszki
William James
Lord Kames
Robert Kane
Immanuel Kant
Tomis Kapitan
Jaegwon Kim
William King
Hilary Kornblith
Christine Korsgaard
Saul Kripke
Andrea Lavazza
Keith Lehrer
Gottfried Leibniz
Michael Levin
George Henry Lewes
David Lewis
Peter Lipton
John Locke
Michael Lockwood
E. Jonathan Lowe
John R. Lucas
Ruth Barcan Marcus
James Martineau
Storrs McCall
Hugh McCann
Colin McGinn
Michael McKenna
Brian McLaughlin
John McTaggart
Paul E. Meehl
Uwe Meixner
Alfred Mele
Trenton Merricks
John Stuart Mill
Dickinson Miller
C. Lloyd Morgan
Thomas Nagel
Friedrich Nietzsche
John Norton
Robert Nozick
William of Ockham
Timothy O'Connor
David F. Pears
Charles Sanders Peirce
Derk Pereboom
Steven Pinker
Karl Popper
Huw Price
Hilary Putnam
Willard van Orman Quine
Frank Ramsey
Ayn Rand
Michael Rea
Thomas Reid
Charles Renouvier
Nicholas Rescher
Richard Rorty
Josiah Royce
Bertrand Russell
Paul Russell
Gilbert Ryle
Jean-Paul Sartre
Kenneth Sayre
Moritz Schlick
Arthur Schopenhauer
John Searle
Wilfrid Sellars
Alan Sidelle
Ted Sider
Henry Sidgwick
Walter Sinnott-Armstrong
Saul Smilansky
Michael Smith
Baruch Spinoza
L. Susan Stebbing
George F. Stout
Galen Strawson
Peter Strawson
Eleonore Stump
Francisco Suárez
Richard Taylor
Kevin Timpe
Mark Twain
Peter Unger
Peter van Inwagen
Manuel Vargas
John Venn
Kadri Vihvelin
G.H. von Wright
David Foster Wallace
R. Jay Wallace
Ted Warfield
Roy Weatherford
William Whewell
Alfred North Whitehead
David Widerker
David Wiggins
Bernard Williams
Timothy Williamson
Ludwig Wittgenstein
Susan Wolf


Michael Arbib
Bernard Baars
Gregory Bateson
John S. Bell
Charles Bennett
Ludwig von Bertalanffy
Susan Blackmore
Margaret Boden
David Bohm
Niels Bohr
Ludwig Boltzmann
Emile Borel
Max Born
Satyendra Nath Bose
Walther Bothe
Hans Briegel
Leon Brillouin
Stephen Brush
Henry Thomas Buckle
S. H. Burbury
Donald Campbell
Anthony Cashmore
Eric Chaisson
Jean-Pierre Changeux
Arthur Holly Compton
John Conway
John Cramer
E. P. Culverwell
Charles Darwin
Terrence Deacon
Louis de Broglie
Max Delbrück
Abraham de Moivre
Paul Dirac
Hans Driesch
John Eccles
Arthur Stanley Eddington
Paul Ehrenfest
Albert Einstein
Hugh Everett, III
Franz Exner
Richard Feynman
R. A. Fisher
Joseph Fourier
Lila Gatlin
Michael Gazzaniga
GianCarlo Ghirardi
J. Willard Gibbs
Nicolas Gisin
Paul Glimcher
Thomas Gold
Brian Goodwin
Joshua Greene
Jacques Hadamard
Patrick Haggard
Stuart Hameroff
Augustin Hamon
Sam Harris
Hyman Hartman
John-Dylan Haynes
Martin Heisenberg
Werner Heisenberg
John Herschel
Jesper Hoffmeyer
E. T. Jaynes
William Stanley Jevons
Roman Jakobson
Pascual Jordan
Ruth E. Kastner
Stuart Kauffman
Simon Kochen
Stephen Kosslyn
Ladislav Kovàč
Rolf Landauer
Alfred Landé
Pierre-Simon Laplace
David Layzer
Benjamin Libet
Seth Lloyd
Hendrik Lorentz
Josef Loschmidt
Ernst Mach
Donald MacKay
Henry Margenau
James Clerk Maxwell
Ernst Mayr
Ulrich Mohrhoff
Jacques Monod
Emmy Noether
Howard Pattee
Wolfgang Pauli
Massimo Pauri
Roger Penrose
Steven Pinker
Colin Pittendrigh
Max Planck
Susan Pockett
Henri Poincaré
Daniel Pollen
Ilya Prigogine
Hans Primas
Adolphe Quételet
Juan Roederer
Jerome Rothstein
David Ruelle
Erwin Schrödinger
Aaron Schurger
Claude Shannon
David Shiang
Herbert Simon
Dean Keith Simonton
B. F. Skinner
Roger Sperry
Henry Stapp
Tom Stonier
Antoine Suarez
Leo Szilard
William Thomson (Kelvin)
Peter Tse
Heinz von Foerster
John von Neumann
John B. Watson
Daniel Wegner
Steven Weinberg
Paul A. Weiss
John Wheeler
Wilhelm Wien
Norbert Wiener
Eugene Wigner
E. O. Wilson
H. Dieter Zeh
Ernst Zermelo
Wojciech Zurek


Free Will
Mental Causation
James Symposium

Downward Causation
Belief in causality is deeply held by many philosophers and scientists. Many say it is the basis for all thought and knowledge of the external world. The idea that every event has a cause leads to the view of causal closure or causal determinism. The simplest form of physical determinism is the Laplacian view that given the positions and velocities of all the fundamental particles in the world, together with the laws of nature, that there is only one possible future.

Reductionism is the view that material particles and the physical forces between them, which are supposed to be mathematically analytical, can explain all that happens in the world. Chemistry is thought to be reducible to physics, biology reducible to chemistry, psychology (via neuroscience) reducible to biology, and mind/brain (or cognitive science) reducible to psychology. All these causal relations are called "bottom-up."

The finest details of brain events are thought by some to be a consequence of motions of the material particles that comprise the brain. Reductionism implies that mind is an epiphenomenon, or worse, just an illusion. The reductionist idea that everything is the consequence of "bottom up" physical causes is often called eliminative materialism.

By contrast, downward causation is a kind of holism that denies reductionism. "Wholes" can enforce constraints on their "parts" to make them move in ways that may be unpredictable, even given the complete information about the parts (ultimately the atoms and molecules) along with the complete information about the state of the universe outside those parts.

Downward causation is closely related to the concepts of emergence, self-organization, and supervenience. It has become very popular in the study of complex physical systems which exhibit a kind of self-organization and emergence of visible structures when the systems are far from equilibrium conditions.

Most modern discussions of emergence and self-organization in hierarchical systems start with the early 1950's work of Ilya Prigogine on dissipative structures, physical and chemical systems that are far from equilibrium, through which there is a steady flow of matter and energy.

Despite the normal tendency to chaos (the second law of thermodynamics and increasing entropy), these dissipative systems develop relatively stable visible structures, such as Bénard convection cells and Turing autocatalytic reactions that show space-dependent, steady-state processes stable against perturbations. These visible structures reduce the entropy locally. They are "information structures" of a very simple kind.

Prigogine's discovery of such "order out of chaos" in physical systems is widely cited as evidence of emergent properties in complex adaptive systems. It lies at the heart of modern complexity theory and chaos theory. But these complex and chaotic information structures are "dumb." They do not contain the internal information processing that marks the emergence of life and mind. These two higher-level emergent information structures are "smart," by comparison. When they exert downward causation, it is extraordinarily fine.

The idea that emergent structures can exert a sort of "holistic" downward causal control on their molecular components was first articulated by Roger Sperry in 1965. Sperry cites a wheel rolling downhill as an example of downward causal control. The atoms and molecules are caught up and overpowered by the higher properties of the whole. Although this is a very gross kind of control over the components, Sperry says that he "worked the new mind-brain ideas into a discussion of holist-reductionist issues, emergent downward control. and ‘nothing but’ fallacies in human value systems, in a broad refutation of the then prevalent ’mechanistic, materialistic, behavioristic, fatalistic, reductionistic view of the 'nature of mind and psyche’."

In 1974 Donald Campbell coined the phrase "downward causation" and he is widely cited in the current literature as the main source of the idea.

Some biologists (e.g., Ernst Mayr) have argued that biology is not reducible to physics and chemistry, although it is completely consistent with the laws of physics. Even the apparent violation of the second law of thermodynamics has been explained because living beings are open systems exchanging matter, energy, and especially information with their environment.

Information is neither matter nor energy, but it needs matter for its embodiment and energy for its communication.

A living being is a form through which passes a flow of matter and energy (with low or "negative" entropy, the physical equivalent of information). Genetic information is used to build the information-rich matter into an overall information structure that contains a very large number of hierarchically organized information structures. Emergent higher levels exert downward causation on the contents of the lower levels.

The problem of mental causation is a specific case of downward causal control that is central to the philosophy of mind.

The idea that minds have powers "over and above" the known physical, chemical, and biological laws is sometimes called "mentalism." It is related to the idea of "vitalism," that biology might involve new laws that cannot be reduced to "nothing but" the laws of physics.

Examples of Downward Causation
  • When the earth turns, or revolves about the sun, or travels with the sun through the spiral arms of our galaxy, everything on earth is carried along with it.

  • When a wheel rolls, its component maolecules roll along with it (Roger Sperry's example)

  • When the water in a turbulent cell far from equilibrium is convected upward by the heat below, it drags along most of the water molecules that compose it (Ilya Prigogine's example)

  • When a ribosome assembles 330 amino acids in four symmetric polypeptide chains (globins). Each traps an iron atom in a heme group at the center to form the hemoglobin protein, this is downward causal control of the amino acids, the heme groups, and the iron atoms

    When 200 million of the 25 trillion red blood cells die each second, the 100 million hemoglobins in each cell must be replaced immediately. With the order of a few thousand bytes of information in each hemoglobin, this is 10 thousand x 100 million x 200 million = 2 x 1020 bits of information per second, a million times more information processing than today's fastest computer CPU.
For Teachers
For Scholars
"We must admit that the mind of each one of our greatest geniuses — Aristotle, Kant or Leonardo, Goethe or Beethoven, Dante or Shakespeare — even at the moment of its highest flights of thought or in the most profound inner workings of the soul, was subject to the causal fiat and was a instrument in the hands of an almighty law which governs the world." Max Planck, Where Is Science Going, p.156.

[In Existentialism, the will condemns all the unchosen alternatives to nothingness as it grants being to the one chosen.]

Chapter 3.7 - The Ergod Chapter 4.2 - The History of Free Will
Part Three - Value Part Five - Problems
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