Born in 1942, I am now in my 268th trimester. This may explain why I find myself 'looking back' with a view to figuring out what happened.
My early life included Henry David Thoreau's Walden, taking a run at Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason and a stint as an altar boy at St. James Church in Stirling, Ontario.
These experiences spawned questions and notions I have been attempting to share with anyone willing to listen.
To my astonishment, such conversations are rarely welcomed. I once imagined that adults eagerly sought out such conversations: After all, life rarely gets better than vigorous ideas being vigorously exchanged. I knew that I profited from such interchanges. I knew that ideas rose into my consciousness unbidden. For all I knew, they reflected chance remarks or morsels of undigested beef.
Their need for improvement has always been clear. As soon as I write or say something, a better way to express myself comes to mind!
This is important. Repairing one's understanding can happen the hard way, making mistakes and suffering consequences, or by seeking out knowledgeable individuals who have distilled their experiences into cautions, essays and books. Yet, remarkably, few people seemed interested in anything beyond here and now issues.
What if this indifference does not reflect decisions? What if it is a consequence of not only pedestrian conversational gambits but confusion about the nature and purpose of consciousness? What if consciousness does not choose or intend but is an enabling feature of non-conscious events wherein choosing and intending is occurring?
The more I thought about this modest possibility, the more important it seemed. The harder I tried to bring it up with people I came across, the more resistance I encountered! Fortunately, this same understanding makes it clear that there are no 'persons within' to blame for conversational failures!
This is why I remain hopeful that a 'magic bullet' will one day challenge the myth of inner persons making moral and rational decisions about the conduct of the bodies they see themselves inhabiting and controlling.
According to the standard view, persons possess free will and author the choices governing their lives.
This claim underwrites cultural resources and every aspect of our lives:
- The claim that persons transcend deterministic accounts is the heart of every justice system.
- Economies apportion wealth according to the merit of economic choices. The wealthy deserve their fortunes because they have been making excellent choices. The poor have been choosing less fruitful paths.
- Religions' rewards and punishments depend upon the notion of incarnated souls making choices.
These claims all depend upon the notion of persons choosing. They are all vulnerable to a 'transcendental challenge': One need only can ask what a 'free will' choice at any point in time by any individual means for the future life of the person choosing:
- Free will choices bind and constrain that person's future activities.
- If this is not true, the idea of 'making a choice' becomes vacuous.
- Free will choices today cannot coexist with the idea of free will choices tomorrow.
A version of this difficulty confronted St. Augustine when he recognized that Christianity's two principal axioms - the notion of God's omnipotence and the idea of persons with free will - were incompatible.
- There must be free will if persons are to be praised and blamed for what they get up to.
- The existence of free will contradicts the notion of Divine Omnipotence.
St. Augustine settled upon an embarrassing compromise. Human beings possess free will, but it is 'defective. We have enough that we can be consigned to Heaven or Hell, but not enough to constitute a significant constraint upon God's omnipotence and omniscience.
For our purposes, the notion of God can be replaced with the notion of our future selves. St. Augustine's problem becomes the claim that future persons can enjoy the same free-will as present persons.
Since this is impossible, persons cannot exist as presently understood.