Letter to Philosophy Now Magazine Issue #129

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Philosophy Now Magazine has published a letter of mine in issue #129 responding to an article in issue #128. For reasons of space and others editors edit. That’s what they do. But in this case, the editors deleted some of the logical structure of my argument, particularly in the last part, my four-point summary. For reasons of completeness I replicate my original letter below. Interestingly, this particular letter, in only 500 or so words, encapsulates much of my philosophy work here on the blog and in my books. In particular see: Why Free Will?

The letter…

To: Editors, Philosophy Now

Oct. 13, 2018

Re: Reply to “Why Is There a World” Carlo Filice October, 2018

If there is a God questions about his (this pronoun for convention) motives will inevitably be speculative because our perspective is narrow while God’s would be, by definition universal. But the range over which we speculate can be narrowed. Answers must accommodate everything for which God is purportedly responsible directly or indirectly. For example, if God exists he must be “necessary being”. A contingent God is not God. By the same token, he must have certain other absolute qualities: infinity, unity, free (and unconstrained other than by logic) will, eternality (existence outside time, uncaused cause), unified purpose, and so on.

Speculation must also accommodate human experience, the physical universe of time and space, that we are made out of this physical stuff, that nevertheless we are minded, have an apparent(constrained by space and time) free will, and are in a vague way aware of values: truth, beauty, goodness, love, and so forth. From necessity, infinity, and unity, we get Leibniz’s correct deduction that God must create the “best possible universe”, something that we, on Earth, have certainly not got. If we can imagine better (a hate-free world for example), so can God.

An answer to the question why God created “this particular universe” or “anything at all” must accommodate all of these data points. This is not a project for a letter and I have written books and essays on the subject, but perhaps the editors will indulge a quick summary.

1. “Best possible universe” must be taken diachronically. It isn’t the “best possible” now (we are in time) but will become so.
2. Human free will must have something to do with this process. God’s purpose(s) must be unified. A physical universe of purposeless mechanism (the mechanics of the physical are not teleological) conjoined with the appearance of limited, purposeful, value sensitive free-will in this universe must have something to do with the process of achieving #1
3. #2 works to achieve #1 when persons (likely on many worlds) freely choose to avere truth, produce beauty, behave lovingly, when they use their free will in time to instantiate values into the physical world.
4. God created this particular universe to have partners (should we so choose) in the achievement of #1. Only by that partnership (apparently) will there come to be, eventually, the “best possible universe” as God conceives it — and nobody thinks bigger than God. If there was a better way to get there God would have chosen it.

Now the original question is answered and the answer isn’t merely for fun.

Matthew Rapaport
San Francisco, CA.

 

 

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Cigar Review: My Father le Bijou

Cigar Review: My Father le Bijou

I haven’t posted a cigar review in a while. I am smoking a few sticks not reviewed yet and there are literally dozens, probably hundreds of reviews of this cigar. So why am I reviewing a 10 year old cigar (the le Bijou debuted in 2009) that I’ve been smoking since 2010? The answer is that this cigar illustrates some of the subtlety in the cigar smoking hobby. Some tastes change, some do not.

My taste in rums has changed entirely in the last few years. Rums I loved as little as 3 years ago are now vanished from my collection. There are only 2 rums, El Dorado 15 and Dos Maderas (when I can find it) I drank in years past that I would even consider now. But cigars are another story. Sure my taste has changed. There are dozens of cigars I smoked back in 2010, even down to 2015 that I no longer buy. Some because they have become too expensive, but also many that I enjoyed, even a few boxes worth, and then stopped buying because they weren’t interesting any longer.

Yet unlike the rums, there are quite a few cigars I enjoyed back in 2010 that I still smoke today, or would if most of them had not become so much more expensive. The le Bijou is one of those I still like and while its price has gone up in 9 years, it hasn’t yet priced itself out of my budget.

The le Bijou is released in some eight or more vitolas. Five of them (7 x 50 Churchill, 6 x 52 toro, 4.5 x 50 Petit robusto, 6 1/8 x 52 torpedo, 5 5/8 x 55 robusto grande) are regular production, and three (at least) were special releases made for specific retail outlets (a lonsdale [6.5 x 42], corona gorda [5.5 x 54], and short Churchill [6.5 x 48]), released with varying wrappers. Of all these vitolas, I have smoked only one, this petit robusto! The reason? For one I shy away from larger vitolas generally, and second, all of the others are more expensive. The blend is Nicaraguan puro. Little is said about the specifics of filler and binder but the wrapper is supposed to be a Habano Oscuro which Halfwheel also calls “Pele del Oro”. This is rather confusing so I quote from the HALFWHEEL REVIEW (linked):

“The wrapper on the Le Bijou 1922 was particularly notable as it is known as pelo de oro, or golden hair, which is considered to be the father of the modern corojo wrapper. TobacconistUniversity.org explains that the name references a Cuban varietal that was popular in the early and middle 20th centuries but fell out of favor due to its susceptibility to disease. It was created by combining pelo de oro and Sumatran tobaccos and is regarded as being strong, flavorful and sweet”.

I do not find “Habano Oscuro” and “Pele del Oro” connected anywhere else.. Which is it really?

Wrapper: Habano Oscuro (??)
Binder: Nicaraguan
Filler: Nicaraquan

My vitola: 4.5″ x 50 Petit Robusto

Cold Aroma: Manure and barnyard. Rich and heady.
Cold Draw: Same notes as the cold aroma and a little leather

Construction: Always well made, the cigar is of medium weight for its size. Evenly packed, but not dense. With a simple straight cut the draw is always good. When smoked likewise, the smoke is rich and plentiful, though see below. The burn stays pretty even most of the time though I have smoked a few hundred of these and sometimes they do get a little wonky and require correction. These smoke pretty slowly. Takes about an hour to get down to the last inch of it.

Flavors: I have smoked many cigars made by My Father. Most are rich in flavors. The newer “La Opulencia” (see Review) is rich and sweet, but not this one. The le Bijou seems more like an A.J. Fernandez blend. Flavors of hay, flowers, black tea, barnyard, the barest hint of leather, perhaps an occasional hint of roasted nut. All of these flitter in and out of a general flavor of tobacco and mild pepper. The flavors first appear after the cigar is smoked for a few minutes. They come and go as the cigar progresses and do not change very much. They are never more than light hints at what should be a much richer cigar from a company like My Father. While the flavors here follow the cold aroma, that aroma is richer than anything in the flavor of the smoke. The flavors are good, even distinct, but they seem barely there.

My biggest gripe about this cigar is that the flavors often disappear completely in the last inch and a quarter of the stick and the smoke gets hot and flavorless no matter how slow I smoke it. An inch plus is a lot to throw away for a four-and-a-half inch stick. I can take any other My Father cigar and smoke it down to a half-inch before the flavors disappear. The flavors of the le Bijou vanish much earlier than that, though to be fair about one out of three of them remain flavorful down to about three-quarters of an inch.

See new note at end… a big discovery!

This is a big disappointment in a My Father cigar. Perhaps this has something to do with how I buy these cigars. I buy boxes when there are good deals and discounts bringing the price down to $5 or so. Maybe I’m getting boxes that have sat around the warehouse a little too long and this is not one of those cigars that gets better with a lot of age? I keep telling myself not to buy these any more and then another deal comes along and I forget my own advice. This has gone on for years and I’ve probably been through a dozen or more boxes in that time. I do like the way they smoke.

NO, it is not the way I buy them. I have made an important discovery that I cannot believe in the 8 or 10 boxes of these I’ve smoked over the years I had not stumbled on until now.. I’ve often punched these sticks (they take a punch well) or straight cut only a small part of the cap as I do with other cigars. But it turns out if you cut them wide, almost to the end of the cap’s shoulders, they smoke much better, require no or very little correction, and retain flavors down to the last 3/4″!  

All Will is Free

The goal of this short essay is to argue the word ‘will’ and the phrase “free will” are equivalent. The ‘free’ in “free will” is redundant. All exercise of will is free. There is no “un-free will” although there are un-free actions that aren’t willed.

First let me set some boundaries. I am not trying to establish that free-will is real. This argument is about the ordinary language, conventionally subjective view of our agency. We seem to ourselves (and as self-as-such) to be final arbiters of some physical (bodily) behavior, even if the result is not exactly what was subjectively intended. If with my arm, hand, and fingers, I propel a basketball towards the hoop my goal, to make the ball go through the hoop, may not be what occurs. Nevertheless, it “seems to me” that I, the subjective agent, am the agent-cause of the throw. My agency caused my arm to move or at least this seems to be correct from most people’s viewpoint. My argument below does not hinge on whether libertarian free will is real, but only that it is possible.

We, as agents, seem to make choices. Our [seeming] choices often precede a controlled action (behavior) of our body, and it is those physical actions that are causes in the physical world. These acts are efforts to constrain future possibility to present fact. These causes are NOVEL in the sense that they have, at their beginning a selection by a subject and not merely firing a neuron. A “selection by a subject” is novel because it does not presuppose any prior physical determinant as would the mere firing of a neuron. We are not simply aware of a choice having-been-made. Subjectively it feels like we are the initiator of the choice. A choice resulting in an act of a body seems always entangled with a willing. I decide to order item #26 from the menu before me, and in making that choice I will my vocal apparatus to express it to the waiter. Some would say the vocalization is making the choice and this would be true from a third-party perspective. Subjectively however, we do usually seem to make a choice (decide) before willing an action.

This does not mean there were not physical causes (brain states) before and so impacting the choice or the willing. Nor does this mean there is anything about the experience of choosing and willing, without some brain-state correlate. What’s importantly characteristic of our experience here is that all the prior physical causes together are not sufficient, subjectively, to determine rigidly what is willed; the agent has the final vote, and this vote matters. At least this is what it feels like.

Not all actions of human or animal bodies are a result of willing. Heart beat and breathing come to mind, but there are less trivial examples, including many habitual behaviors and other actions that occur without our thinking about them. Such actions are not ‘novel’ in the sense that I mean that term. They are not sui generis because they are fully determined, that is sufficiently, by prior (neurological) physical causes. Importantly, we do not usually think of ourselves as willing such acts. We are surely not willing a muscle reflex and it does not often seem to us, when habitual behaviors are called to our attention, that we are willing them either.

In addition, even consciously willed acts, if they are free at all, are not free in any absolute sense. It is the body firstly that is the starting point of the physical causal chain initiated in the world. The act is always physical. Once a body acts (freely or otherwise), the causal chains started are beyond that body’s control. In addition acts themselves are constrained by the limits of what the body can do. Moreover, they are limited by what that body’s [seeming] subjective agency recognizes of its alternatives. We cannot do what the body cannot do (for example fly) and we cannot choose from among genuinely available alternatives (physically possible actions we might take) of which we are unaware.

Nicholas Rescher (“Free Will: A Philosophical Reappraisal” 2009) makes a distinction between moral and metaphysical freedom. Metaphysical freedom refers to all the future possibilities that might contingently happen. Philosophers and physicists are used to the idea that the present physical universe is contingent meaning that what has happened might have happened otherwise. Many events might have happened in the universe that did not happen, and more importantly, many future events are possible and we cannot be sure which of these will occur. Metaphysical freedom in this sense has nothing directly to do with willful agency. In Rescher’s view it is genuine and we have access to it, but we have access merely because it is a property of the physical world with which we engage.

By contrast moral freedom comes down to a conscious agent being free to choose from contingent futures without a constraint (agent or otherwise) fixing the agent’s act (and so will) in some specific way. If someone puts a gun to my head and tells me to open the safe I am not morally free in Rescher’s sense. But I am still metaphysically free. I could choose (and so act) to resist the gunman! I will get to the implications of Compatibilism for this argument shortly.

Animals appear to exercise will. Are they also free? I believe the answer is yes, though their freedom, their awareness of potential freedom is more constrained ours. Animals can do what they want in the absence of constraint. In this sense (absent constraint) they are morally free in Rescher’s technical sense. If metaphysical freedom is real, then animals must also be metaphysically free (ontologically speaking). A lioness on the hunt willfully selects between two possible zebras present to its awareness and so willfully acts to chase one of them. But the lioness cannot choose to forgo the hunt and become vegetarian even if there is plenty of nutritious vegetable matter in easy reach. Selecting one zebra and not the other is a freely-willed act, both morally and metaphysically, within the scope of lion consciousness.

Richard Swinburne (“Mind, Brain, and Free Will” 2013) argues that only a rare, deeply considered moral act, is genuinely free-willed. Everything else, despite how it might seem to us subjectively, is determined. Galen Strawson (“Free Will and Belief” 1986) argued that because so many of the past influences on our choices, beliefs, and so on, were not freely chosen, we are not free ever! Strawson’s argument is that unless every influence on a present decision was freely chosen, the present choice cannot be free at all! Strawson does nothing to address the phenomenological (the seeming) or linguistic issue here. He denies the possibility of metaphysical freedom by fiat. But both human language and experience easily distinguish between a seemingly free act and an act that does not seem to be free. Perhaps not always, but if we can make the distinction even sometimes, then metaphysical freedom might be real! If in a long chain of influences not freely chosen a single choice, however narrow, is freely elected then free will is possible.

Assuming Strawson (or Swinburne) is correct in what sense are all of these determined choices “willings” other than merely being a “figure of speech” that has no referrent? If our brain alone fixes what we do in what way are we, our subjective self, willing that act at all? To be sure what seems like the result of a willing might be an illusion. But in that case, not only are we not free, we are not really willing anything either.

This brings me to Compatibilism. If someone puts a gun to my head and orders me to open the safe I am acting unfreely by compatibilist lights, and yet I am obviously willing in the conventional linguistic sense. I must exercise will to move my arm and hand to the safe and dial the combination. According to compatibilists my will is not exercised freely. Here Rescher’s distinction between moral and metaphysical freedom is helpful. The gun to my head makes me morally unfree. Few would suggest that I have a moral duty to resist the gunman. Yet according to Rescher, I remain metaphysically free. I could resist the gunman, or try to escape. These are genuine options in that they are possible courses of action, future potentials not precluded by physics from which I might select. My willing my hand to dial the combination is still an exercise of metaphysical freedom.

‘Will’ and ‘free will’ do come apart in Compatibilism because compatibilists deny that Rescher’s “metaphysical freedom” exists at all. That is precisely the compatibilist’s point. By compatibilist lights, metaphysical freedom in Rescher’s sense is mere illusion. To all intents and purposes, at least as concerns macro-physics, events of universe history are not contingent but fully determined.

If compatibilists are right however, it makes little sense to speak of any willing going on either way. If there is a gun to my head, my brain, and not any willing makes me, my body, open the safe. If there is no gunman, my brain might determine that I finish up some work before going home. Either way, what seems to me to be a free-choice willing (I could leave the paperwork until the morning) is not real but merely a seeming. For compatibilists, there is no will at all, only the illusion of one. Put otherwise, there is no such phenomenon as “unfree will” because there is no real will at all!

If compatibilists are wrong and Rescher is right (it is metaphysically possible to resist the gunman) then any “act of will” is an act of “metaphysically free will” notwithstanding there are many past influences, not freely chosen, impinging it, or even that the choice was not morally free. If agents are metaphysically free, if subjective agents can choose between genuinely alternate futures then the subject, and not merely the brain, becomes a part of the causal chain resulting in a particular future out of many possible. If ‘will’ represents anything more than a figure of speech, metaphysical freedom has to be real.

Compatibilists speak of will as though it was real but by their own lights it cannot be. We seem to perform choice-act combinations by willing. If we don’t “will it” (and I grant that not all acts are willed or free) then nothing happens; no act will issue from a body. Importantly it also seems that no act of a body that is not willed is free; we are not free to suppress a reflex and we easily distinguish between willed and not-willed action under normal circumstances. If every free act is willed, and will is not an illusion, and no un-willed act is free, then no “act of will” can be entirely un-free (fully determined) and the ‘free’ in “free will” is redundant.

Rum Review: Hamilton Pot Still: Black and Blonde

Rum Review: Hamilton Pot Still: Black and Blonde

Two more rums from Hamilton, both related to the Pot Still Gold I reviewed previously and one also to the Hamilton St. Lucian rum also reviewed — see links below for these reviews. I include both Black and Blonde in the same review here because while related (both rums start from the same stock) they could not be more different. Price on these is moderate, about $35 U.S. for each 750 ml bottle.

Pot Still Black 46.5% ABV

Color: Dark copper reddish. The rum, while not sweetened is colored with what the Ministry of Rum calls a “double strength black sugar-based caramel”.

Legs: Thin fast

Aroma: Some pot still funk, dark fruit raisin, prune, alcohol, burnt caramel.

The label and Ministry of Rum web site says this is a blend of light, very light, and heavy pot still rums aged “up to 5 years”. There is no mention of the sort of barrel (ex bourbon, or something else) used. The feed stock is molasses.

Flavor: raw sugar cane, burnt caramel, black molasses, coffee, tobacco, over-ripe banana and a little sherry-like smokey oak. A bit of fire on a medium and sweet finish,  not bitter. The funk is present but only underneath the sweetness of this rum. This is not a dry rum but distinctly sweet. The funk comes up as a background to the sweetness.

Texture: A little creamy, not very, but there is some body here. Not glassy or crisp or dry. Distinctly brown-sugar or raw sugar sweet.

This rum is delicious and reminds me of the Dos Maderas 5+5 if a more sophisticated (and unsweetened) version of it. Like the Dos Maderas, this is a great cigar pairing rum. I will be buying more of this one!

Pot Still Blonde 45% ABV

Color: very pale yellow tinge, more pale than the Hamilton Pot Still Gold (barely) but not all the way to clear.

Legs: Thin fast

Aroma: Funk of a sort I do not know. Rich rotten pineapple or lychee fruit. There is alcohol on the nose but all of it is overwhelmed by the aroma of rotting fruit which comes out a little like the smell of ether and old airplane glue.

The label and Ministry of Rum website say there is no coloring added to this rum which begins with the same rum stock as the Black (above) and Gold (see review) pot still rums. Then aged 18 months in barrels formerly used for Hamilton’s St. Lucian rum, finally being married for 6 months with a 1-year aged light pot still rum.

Flavor: A watery sort of dryness that fills your mouth with the funk of spoiled grape, way over-ripe pineapple, and lychee fruit. This might be the most awful  funk I’ve ever tasted. Undoubtedly there are some rum aficionados who will relish this, but I’m not one of them. The finish is short and dry but not bitter. There is no dark fruit here, nor coffee or tobacco flavors, nor caramel, molasses, or brown sugar. The over-ripe bright fruit funk dominates everything except the alcohol which is smoothed by the fruits. Possibly the aging in barrels used previously for Hamilton’s St. Lucian, among the funkiest rums I’ve had (see review) explains this strange and unfamiliar kind of funk but yikes, this is way over the top.

Texture: Thin, watery, not creamy. There is body here but it is all in the funk.

Perhaps my taste will evolve or the rum will evolve in the bottle. Right now, having had 3 glasses, I do not much like it at all.