(1) free will is self-evident. Here’s the “argument,” compliments of Leonard Peikoff:
How, then, do we know that man has volition? It is a self-evident fact, available to any act of introspection.
You the reader can perceive every potentiality I have been discussing simply by observing your own consciousness. The extent of your knowledge or intelligence is not relevant here, because the issue is whether you use whatever knowledge and intelligence you do possess. At this moment, for example, you can decide to read attentively and struggle to understand, judge, apply the material — or you can let your attention wander and the words wash over you, half-getting some points, then coming to for a few sentences, then lapsing again into partial focus. If something you read makes you feel fearful or uneasy, you can decide to follow the point anyway and consider it on its merits — or you can brush it aside by an act of evasion, while mumbling some rationalization to still any pangs of guilt. At each moment, you are deciding to think or not to think. The fact that you regularly make these kinds of choices is directly accessible to you, as it is to any volitional consciousness.
The principle of volition is a philosophic axiom, with all the features this involves….
Behind Peikoff’s argument is an important but unstated assumption. Peikoff is assuming that acts of introspection yield self-evident truth. Whatever a man observes through introspection is “fundamentally given and directly perceived” and, by implication, axiomatic. So if a man observed himself being controlled by forces not of his making, this would make the principle of determinism a self-evident fact worthy of being embalmed as an axiomatic truth.
Does introspection really yield self-evident facts? No, of course not. Nor is it an assumption that any Objectivist, from Rand down, would ever consistently adhere to. People observe through introspection, for example, unbidden emotions which they cannot control. They feel angry, sad, fretful, anxious, regardless of whether they wish to feel these things. As even Objectivism concedes, human beings do not have direct control over emotions. They experience, introspectively, emotions rising up within them, irrespective of any volition. So does this not mean that feelings are determined? Isn’t that the “self-evident” fact directly observed through introspection? But no, not at all. When it comes to emotions, Rand took an entirely different approach: “In the field of introspection,” she declared, “the two guiding questions are: ‘What do I feel?’ and ‘Why do I feel it?’” But wait a minute! Whatever happened to direct contact with the facts assumed by Peikoff in his argument about volition? By implication, Objectivism rejects the notion that emotions are beyond volitional control, even though this is how we experience them in introspection. So if our experience can mislead us in the case of emotions, why can’t it mislead us in reference to attention, focus, and thought? How can introspective observation be “self-evident” in one instance and not the other? This is left unexplained in Objectivism because neither Rand nor any of her disciples ever noticed the inconsistency.
(2) Determinism is self-refuting. Again Peikoff provides the argument:
When the determinist claims that man is determined, this applies to all of man’s ideas also, including his own advocacy of determinism. Given the factors operating on him, he believes, he had to become a determinist, just as his opponents had no alternative but to oppose him. How then can he know that his viewpoint is true? Are the factors that shape his brain infallible? Does he automatically follow reason and logic? Clearly not; if he did, error would be impossible to him….
If a determinist tried to assess his viewpoint as knowledge, he would have to say, in effect: “I am in control of my mind. I do have the power to decide to focus on reality. I do not merely submit spinelessly to whatever distortions happen to be decreed by some chain of forces stretching back to infinity. I am free, free to be objective, free to conclude — that I am not free.
Like any rejection of a philosophic axiom, determinism is self-refuting.
This argument gratuitously assumes that the individual must be able to control his own mind in order to know anything. Yet what is the rationale for such an assumption? Why can’t the mind, operating on its own principles, gather in data from external existence, analyze it, and reach conclusions? There is nothing logically inconsistent in such a notion. That it seems a trifle strange does not constitute a self-refutation. It won’t do to confuse the strange or the paradoxical with the illogical. Computers, which are deterministic systems through and through, with no volition of their own, can reach conclusions from data fed to them. Why couldn’t the mind of the determinist behave in a similar fashion?
Even more objectionable, however, is the caricature of determinism in Peikoff’s argument. Determinism may be as implausible as you like, but it’s hardly the thin gruel of a doctrine presented by Peikoff. It comes in many different versions and brands, many of which are quite sophisticated and not so easily refuted. One could believe, for example, that while the intellect may be volitional, the will (i.e., Rand’s emotional mechanism) is determined, so that a man may control his mind but not his temper. All kinds of variants and mixtures are possible, most of which are not even broached by Peikoff’s argument.
The bottom line is this: the arguments essayed by Peikoff for free will and against determinism are both grossly inadequate and hardly rise to the level required by “self-evidence.”