I am recently reading a lot about topics like free will or consciousness. It seems that many philosophers are trying to argue about these concepts in an ultimate and final way, that means they are trying to identify the ultimate truth. To me it seems that such questions as "Does there exist free will?" do not really make any sense. I feel that we are not capable of giving a final answer unless we fully understand the system in which we are living. Would not it make more sense to discuss something like "The relation of the concept 'free will' with our current understanding of the system"?

I am sure there is a lot to read about this issue and I would be very happy about any directions or references for further reading. Apart from that, I would also be very happy about any discussions here at stack exchange.

  • Plato's Republic is a classic starting point. What philosophers do is subject theories to disproof (aka scientific method) and they communicate truth in consumable and practical fashion, which results in truth being easily overlooked. In other words, upon re-reading each paragraph in Republic, you will find hidden nuggets. Regarding your first sentence in the title, I ask you - Does 2 added to 2 equal 4? If yes always, does that make sense? – Ron Royston Apr 6 '15 at 14:08
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    You may enjoy William C. Wimsatt's Re-Engineering Philosophy for Limited Beings: Piecewise Approximations to Reality and/or Robert Nozick's Invariances: The Structure of the Objective World. I've read very little of either, but have been approaching the very topic you're asking about in my own reading. You may enjoy considering whether the notion of determinism is empirically falsifiable, with respect to free will. – labreuer Apr 6 '15 at 14:21
  • @Ron: I agree that theories should be stated in a way that allows them to be falsified. But I see a huge problem as soon as we are talking about some ultimate truth. How can we falsify that? I mean maybe something that seems absurd now, will be compatible with our future understanding of the world, the system or physics. Everyone praises Democrit for stating that the world consists of small undividable particles. Maybe with string theory or some future physical theory, this suddenly becomes something to laugh about. – Dennis Weyland Apr 6 '15 at 15:16
  • @labreuer: Thank you for the suggestions. The titles, especially the first one, look very promising and I guess I will take a look at both books very soon. As I have said, to me it seems very weird to see philosophical discussions about "is the world deterministic?" or "does free will exist?" or things like that. If we actually would have a correct model for the system, then these might be interesting questions. But without such a model, I think we should discuss something as "the concept of free will related to quantum mechanics" or things like that. – Dennis Weyland Apr 6 '15 at 15:20
  • You might find the new mysterianism to also be interesting. I'm skeptical of its claims to know that you cannot know certain things. That seems like the opposite error of the one you are targeting! One thing you might find fruitful to explore is that we seem to be able to describe the appearance of a thing before we describe how that appearance is generated. On this matter, you may appreciate my phenomenological matching vs. ontological matching. – labreuer Apr 6 '15 at 16:48

With reference to Are we capable of understanding the system in which we live? , I once read an interesting book: The Outer Limits of Reason.

You can find it on Amazon or similar websites, here is the gist of it:

Many books explain what is known about the universe. This book investigates what cannot be known. Rather than exploring the amazing facts that science, mathematics, and reason have revealed to us, this work studies what science, mathematics, and reason tell us cannot be revealed. In The Outer Limits of Reason, Noson Yanofsky considers what cannot be predicted, described, or known, and what will never be understood.

He discusses the limitations of computers, physics, logic, and our own thought processes. Yanofsky describes simple tasks that would take computers trillions of centuries to complete and other problems that computers can never solve; perfectly formed English sentences that make no sense; different levels of infinity; the bizarre world of the quantum; the relevance of relativity theory; the causes of chaos theory; math problems that cannot be solved by normal means; and statements that are true but cannot be proven. He explains the limitations of our intuitions about the world -- our ideas about space, time, and motion, and the complex relationship between the knower and the known.

Moving from the concrete to the abstract, from problems of everyday language to straightforward philosophical questions to the formalities of physics and mathematics, Yanofsky demonstrates a myriad of unsolvable problems and paradoxes. Exploring the various limitations of our knowledge, he shows that many of these limitations have a similar pattern and that by investigating these patterns, we can better understand the structure and limitations of reason itself. Yanofsky even attempts to look beyond the borders of reason to see what, if anything, is out there.

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