My understanding of the story so far, following lengthy and ongoing discussions with I, L, P and others (see also the free will tag on this site, stretching back to 2007):
- Nothing can be a cause of itself, causa sui.
- To be truly, really, wholly responsible for your actions, you would have to be causa sui (the self-determination thesis).
- Your choices depend on who you are (e.g., your personality, values, beliefs, desires, powers) and where and when you are (linked to your opportunities). Who, where, and when in turn depend on billions of complex causal chains that precede your existence and stretch back to the beginning of time.
- Therefore, you are not truly, really, wholly responsible for your actions.
- However, you can still change: your personality, values, beliefs, powers, etc. – your nature is not fixed. You clearly don’t stay still in time or space either.
- You can also carry out actions and have an effect on the world as an active participant in cause-effect chains.
- Moreover, praise and blame and other common attributions people bestow upon one another, though difficult to comprehend in light of conclusion 4 above, are example causes of actions since they have an effect on people.
Here is an attempt to diagram the above, assuming that determinism holds (though that need not be the case for the self-determinism thesis to fail). Instead of a complex web of billions of cause-effect chains stretching back to the beginning of time, I have embodied that long history all in a cat that has a grand unplan (I’m not sure how the conversation arrived there), borrowed from the interweb.
The arrows above are intended to be wholly determining and not the statistical associations common in social science that explain 5% of the variance in outcomes. All the variance is explained here: 100%.
Below is the cat, viewing the outcomes. Determinism does not imply that it is possible to predict outcomes from starting states. Prediction is tricky even for simple cellular automata let alone something as messy as a universe. You have to “wait” (actively, moving) and see what happens and enjoy the phenomenology that goes along for the ride, including the intense illusion of causa sui. (“You should go on living – if only to satisfy your curiosity” – from a Yiddish proverb, which can also have a causal effect on its readers under determinism.) Unpredictability does not challenge the impossibility of causa sui, though.