Sunday, December 6, 2020

A Metaphysics for Freedom #8

My final post of this series gives my personal comments on the book A Metaphysics for Freedom by Helen Steward.

Overall I thought it was very good and well worth reading. I think the book could have been significantly shorter. She spends many words saying what she is going to say later in the book. She repeats in only slightly different words. She often expresses things tentatively, using lengthy clauses and sometimes entire sentences to do so.

Regardless, I believe her broad thesis is sound. Hard determinism assumes a lot, more than it delivers. Physics has nothing to say about goals, motives, and intentions, nor language. The concept of agency in its many and various ways, including when not limited to humans, is needed to give a plausible or better understanding of our complex existence.

Steward bases her case for agency on an animal's ability of moving its body, wholly or parts. The sort of movements she means is not entirely clear, but it seems she mostly means moving its entire body to a different place. I believe her case could be made somewhat stronger by tying some of those bodily movements to perceptual or sensual capacities. Examples are moving the eyes or head, ears, or nose to direct more attention to something visual, auditory, olfactory, or thermal in the environment. More specific ones include the eyes of a falcon, the nose of a bear, and the ears of a fox. Such movements are instrumental to the animal's survival or well-being -- for food, water, or safety.

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