Against the Indeterminists
Randomness as Independence
Epistle 26. Posted on 2019-10-15.
If randomness is defined as an uncaused event, it may also be defined as an independent event. After all, if one event depends on another event, it is no longer random. Therefore, to be random, an event must have no dependency on any other event, or it must be independent of every other event. If the cosmos were regarded as the domain of all events, this implies that a random event must be independent of the cosmos. A random event cannot participate in the cosmos in any respect. These are simply the consequences of regarding an event as uncaused, as independent. Since a random event can play no role whatsoever in the rest of the cosmos, Epictetus (Enchiridion, 1) would surely quip that any random event “is nothing to me.” And he would be correct, even physically.
Since a random event cannot participate in the cosmos, any determined event cannot be determined by any combination of determined events and random events. An equation describing determined event y such as
y = 1 + 2d + 3r
is self-contradictory in the case that r is a random event, because it cannot have a non-zero coefficient, such as 3. Instead, if d is determined and r is random, the equation for y must become
y = 1 + 2d + 0r.
Again, any event cannot by definition both participate in the cosmos and be random; something cannot both be independent of everything and not independent of everything. Every event in the cosmos must be fully determined.
Physical randomness is not the only way to define the concept of randomness. Another approach is to regard it as uncertainty. This also has some problems, but is beyond the scope of this article. For present purposes, randomness is defined to be physical.
In Stoicism, chance (Greek: τύχη or túkhē) is an ‘unclear cause.’ What seems inexplicable or unpredictable, what seems like physical randomness, is caused like anything else — its causes are simply unknown to us. Uncertainty in quantum mechanics is not evidence of physical randomness, but our current limitations.
Of course all of this is somewhat silly to a Stoic, because any Stoic would never discuss causality on the level of an event, the fusion of causes and effects. Instead, any self-respecting Stoic would always speak of one cause to another cause of its effect, where every cause is a body and every effect is a logical predicate.
In Stoic causality, any discussion of randomness would have to regard either a random body or a random predicate. One would also think that any notion of a random predicate would become nonsense as it cannot bear any relation to any body, in which case it must be uninstantiated. This is like considering redness absent any red object. Perhaps the only conceptually possible random predicate may be something meaningless like “is a fiddle-dee-dee.” The case is even worse for a random body. But of course a Stoic would never stoop to supposing random causes or random effects.
Yet, as silly as it all seems — and it seems like it should be blatantly obvious — many people believe in randomness, in an indeterminate universe. Many people are, spookily, indeterminists. Supposedly scientific explanations are often rife with randomness. Free-will cannot derive from indeterminism. Even some scholars of Stoicism, fueled by mistaken arguments about modality, strive to interpret it as a compatibilist philosophy. But, do not dismay at these embarrassments. As a Stoic, I bid you to look cross-eyed at uncaused causes, to rebel against randomness in all of its self-contradiction, to flog the fallacy of free-will, and to stand proudly because you stand confidently … against the indeterminists.
Vale (pronounced WAH-lay is Latin for “Farewell”),