I'm glad Galen's article got published at NYT--clearly thousands of people are reading about free will and MR now. I'm not sure how he could have simplified it much more, but he may have needed to judging from some of the comments. And I like the Ian McEwan quote (has he been reading Fischer?).
Anyone want to use this opportunity to discuss what is wrong (or right) with the Basic Argument, which I don't think we've done on this blog (or at the Garden for a long time)?
I'll start. The key is not premise 3 as Galen suggests (that one has got to be true the way he defines things). The key is premise 2, which is a version of a Transfer principle like Beta. It says:
"So if you’re going to be ultimately responsible for what you do, you’re going to have to be ultimately responsible for the way you are — at least in certain mental respects."
What is the evidence for this premise? Is it just supposed to be obviously true? What happens if we remove the "ultimately"? What happens if we put it in terms of free will--would this be the right way to put it: "If you're going to do X freely, you're going to have to have done something freely that leads to your doing X"?
Eddy Nahmias |
07/23/2010 at 10:52 AM
It's a great column. But don't read a lot of the comments. That is, unless you want cramps in your eye muscles from rolling them so much.
V. Alan White |
07/23/2010 at 11:00 AM
I agree with Eddy that there is room to doubt the self-evidence of premise 2.
But I don't see that premise 3 has to be true as things are defined. It seems to me that there is room for doubt.
Suppose a "mesh theory" of moral responsibility (and/or free will). And suppose a condition on being responsible for one's mental states in terms of the relevant mesh no matter how the mesh was brought about (e.g., endorsement by a higher-order volition or evaluative attitude)--a "hard compatibilist" view. If ultimate responsibility for x requires responsibility for all sufficient causes of x, then we seem to have an intelligible sense in which one is ultimately responsible for how one is in certain mental respects. Supposing that responsibility obtains in virtue of the obtaining of the mesh, then one might be responsible for the causes of one's current mental states in virtue of a prior mesh.
A view like this (whether or not one ultimately accepts it) seems, to me, to make room for doubting premise 3 by giving an intelligible story about how one might be ultimately responsible for how one is in certain mental respects.
Strawson's expanded comments on premise 3 don't seem to me to provide a reply to the proposed view. His comments focus on changing the way one is. But if all that is required is the obtaining of a mesh, then it may not be the case that one has to change anything in order to be responsible.
I wonder what others think.
Ben M-Y |
07/23/2010 at 01:03 PM
Eddy is certainly correct that the key premise is not (3) but (2). (I can't for the life of me see why Strawson thinks otherwise.) But I don't think (2) is equivalent to any of the Transfer of non-responsibility principles that have figured in various versions of the Direct Argument for incompatibilism.
Suppose it is q that I am supposedly responsible for and that q happens because of p. Premise (2) of Strawson's basic argument says only that, in order to be responsible for q (say, an action of mine), I must be responsible for p (the mental aspects of myself that led to q). Note that the various Transfer principles say something slightly different, however. They say that in order to be responsible for q, I must be responsible either for p (and here's the key part) or for the connection between p and q. Given this last bit, Strawson's (2) is not equivalent to the Transfer NR principles.
And therein lies a major weakness of his argument, I believe. For as Randy Clarke pointed out in his paper "On an Argument for the Impossibility of Moral Responsibility" many people believe we may be responsible for our actions even if we are not responsible for the mental aspects of ourselves that in part produce our actions, for we may have control over whether these mental aspects lead to our actions.
This is all passing over some of the finer details of both Transfer NR principles and Randy's argument, but the point I should like to make is that one can reject premise (2) of Strawson's argument without rejecting the Transfer NR principle(s).
Justin Capes |
07/23/2010 at 02:30 PM
For anyone who might be interested, I laid out my critique of Galen Strawson's argument in my paper, "The Cards that are Dealt You," which appeared in the tenth anniversary issue of Journal of Ethics (in honor of Joel Feinberg). This paper will be re-printed in my forthcoming collection with OUP, DEEP CONTROL.
In short, and to be somewhat provocative (as well as obscure), I think it is a form of "metaphysical megalomania" to want to be in "total control" of one's behavior--to be in control of everything that issues in one's behavior. (Of course, this is all very rough here.) In my view, we play the cards that are dealt us; moral responsibility depends on how we play the cards that are dealt us. But we don't have to deal the cards ourselves, make up the rules of the game, own the company that makes the cards, and so forth.
In my view, we do indeed need to be the "source" of our behavior; but this commonsense idea need not be unpacked or explained in a way that entails that we are the causes of all inputs to our actions, or that we are (say, in Kane's sense) "ultimate sources" of our behavior. In a nutshell, I believe that both Strawson and Kane (in slightly different ways) take a legitimate and important insight--that we need to be the sources of our behavior to be responsible--and interpret this notion more stringently than would be endorsed by common-sense (and also by reflective and sensible theorizing).
John Fischer |
07/23/2010 at 02:56 PM
I’m split between two responses: something like Ben M-Y’s route above (which I hope to talk about in another post) or the following, which I’ve stated in various ways previously in Garden posts.
Perhaps Strawson’s basic argument is sound. Perhaps it shows that free will in the “superlative metaphysical sense" (to borrow from the Nietzsche quote in Strawson’s article) is impossible. Who cares? If you define “knowledge” as absolute infallible certainty in the Cartesian sense, then it is pretty easy to show that no one knows anything. But no one cares about that because we all accept fallibilism now. We don’t have a certain kind of knowledge but it doesn’t follow from that that we don’t know anything. Epistemologists have grown out of their infatuation with infallibility and learned to accept a concept of knowledge that is more fitting to actual human capacities.
Similarly, so what that I’m not causa sui? I never thought I was causa sui in the first place. Yet I’ve always thought my actions were free. Free will folks need to grow up in the same way. Strawson shows we’re not gods, we’re mere humans and what should interest us is developing a concept a freedom that is appropriate to our imperfect, human nature. That free will is only possible if we are causa sui strikes me as a version of the all-or-nothing fallacy.
Also, I’ll toot my own horn and note that the very same move I made against the Consequence Argument in my Analysis papers works against this argument too. Add the possibility of eternal existence and you can’t show that creatures lack free will – even if it requires their being causa sui. The argument hinges on the fact that there is a time at which we were not free and then uses a kind of transfer principle – as Eddy notes – to argue that there is no point of time at which we can become free. But if you extend the individuals life into the eternal past and deny a first moment of existence, Strawson’s skeptical conclusion cannot be reached. That tells me that there is something wrong with the argument since the length of my past should not matter to the issue one bit. If the past is over and done how could the length of my past matter to the issue of my current freedom?
Joe Campbell |
07/23/2010 at 04:26 PM
I think Eddy's right to question the use of 'ultimately.' Must it mean that we have absolute control over our character and genetics? Of course not. But how much control over who we are is enough? This seems to be the question.
So, following up on Eddy's suggestion: "If you're going to do X freely, you're going to have to have done something freely that leads to your doing X." I think this could be right, if we could find some agreement on the nature and importance of the effect the earlier free action (however that's defined) has on the later action. I might, for example, do X freely, which leads in some very loose sense to my doing Y later, but my doing X might not have the right kind of effect to render my doing Y a free and/or responsible action.
Josh Shepherd |
07/23/2010 at 05:09 PM
Just as a starting point to my response, you wrote:
"Similarly, so what that I’m not causa sui? I never thought I was causa sui in the first place. Yet I’ve always thought my actions were free."
I rather doubt you always held this belief. What about before you reached intellectual maturity? It seems that the folksy intuition about free will is that people are causa sui concerning their actions.
You said earlier:
"Perhaps Strawson’s basic argument is sound. Perhaps it shows that free will in the “superlative metaphysical sense" (to borrow from the Nietzsche quote in Strawson’s article) is impossible. Who cares? If you define “knowledge” as absolute infallible certainty in the Cartesian sense, then it is pretty easy to show that no one knows anything. But no one cares about that because we all accept fallibilism now."
Professional philosophers accept fallibilism now. Many many intelligent people still have the intuition that certainty is required for knowledge. Although I agree with you that if certainty were necessary, no one would have any (substantive?) knowledge, in the forums on the International High IQ Society (in which I participate as a member) a great many people believe that certainty is necessary. I try to educate them on more contemporary notions of knowledge, but the vast majority of intelligent people outside of academia are simply ignorant of contemporary developments in philosophy. They still rely on the same types of arguments that Descartes used.
Personally, I found Strawson's expanded argument convincing. I think he did show that the way I am at T is necessary and sufficient for the decisions I make. Furthermore, I thought his argument for an infinite regress for being ultimately responsible for who I am at T was also convincing.
" ...even if it requires their being causa sui. The argument hinges on the fact that there is a time at which we were not free and then uses a kind of transfer principle – as Eddy notes – to argue that there is no point of time at which we can become free."
I don't see a problem with this (hinging "on the fact that there is a time at which we were not free"). Specifying the exact moment of my inception may be arbitrary, but that does not mean that I did not have a metaphysically true inception point. It doesn't make sense (to me at least) to even speak of me personally having no beginning. Practically speaking, my inception was my conception or my birth, and I had no control over this. How is this controversial? Or perhaps I misunderstand your point?
I think Strawson should have ended his expanded argument with "QED". However, I still think we are simply hard-wired to feel repsonsible and this feeling has survival and evolutionary value that shouldn't be dismissed just because it may not be metaphysically true.
Noah Te Stroete |
07/23/2010 at 07:10 PM
An excellent article, but I find the logic less than unambiguous in the end, so let me just raise a few related points here. The point of the argument where I think the question resides is in the 'what one is' section, where what one is at any specified time ends up in the end determining what one does.
While the general form of argument holds it isn't completely clear how to define the 'what one is'. One could theoretically define the 'what one is' at any specific time as including some level of indeterminism and creativity and thereby leave open the aspect of freedom, choice, and responsibility. Such a definition isn't completely outside the realm of science in that such notions can be found in physics [quantum physics] and biology [the organism as a specific level of organization]. WHitehead in the early twentieth century tried to articulate just such a notion in connecting science and the realm of experience. A related point is that the 'what one is' not only leaves out indeterminism and creativity ---see whitehead-- but equivocates on the way temporality plays in this--- somehow in the present of 'what one is' is the past of 'what one was' creatively assimilated and included in the process of becoming 'what one will be' in the next moment and in the future. The logic of the argument excluded existence and temporality. 'what one is' includes and becomes compatible with freedom, choice and responsibility because the present includes intentions, wishes, ideals, hopes, and desires all of which exist and extend the moment into an as yet undefined future.
Second, even where the pressures of determinism can be ascertained, for example all the forces behind psychoanalytic and social psychological explanations, one can consider the role of consciousness in resisting or consenting to these factors. You might want to consider here the work of merleau-ponty and ricoeur about relative freedom and the way becoming conscious can increase freedom.
And, finally, although somewhat in jest, I would like to note the metaphysical prejudice involved in assuming one cannot be responsible for 'what one is' even defined in terms of the basic genetic and early childhood experiences we might have--- this is the point where other traditions place the notion of Karma---- where in some nontrivial way individuals do choose and are responsible for their basic nature and situation, and are called on to work spiritually to change their karma and thus their situations.
07/23/2010 at 09:19 PM
A skeptical argument like Strawson's takes the following form:
1. In order to act freely and be responsible, X must be true.
2. X is false.
3. So, no one acts freely or is responsible.
For instance, X = an agent must be a causa sui, that is, create itself from scratch.
In that case, NO ONE believes X is true (so premise 2 is easy). Even those who believe in God don't think God created himself from scratch. He's eternal (interesting connection to Joe's point?). No one believes X is true because no one CAN believe it. One can't believe something that can't be made coherent. OK, that's probably false, but still... one can't believe something that one can't make any sense of (like four-sided circles). And how can one make sense of something causing itself?
So, I don't get all this talk of how commonsensical the causa sui idea of FW and MR is. Commonsense fills in premise 1 like this: "In order to act freely and be responsible, one must know what one is doing, not be coerced or compelled, exercise self-control, have opportunities to do otherwise, be mature and sane, etc." The causa sui is a philosophical fiction. One might get talked into thinking that some of these commonsensical things like self-control or the ability to do otherwise require causa-sui powers, but these are not connections that flow naturally from the minds and mouths of the uninitiated.
OK, clearly I'm just going over the top here to rile people up (forgive me!). But let me conclude by pointing out that, even if people do (or can be led to) believe in a causa sui sense of free will or ultimate responsibility, the old Moorean dilemma returns: What reason do they have to accept premise 1 (that FW/MR require this extravagant X) *over* the falsity of premise 3 (that of course we sometimes act freely and responsibility)?
Eddy Nahmias |
07/23/2010 at 09:58 PM
You said: "A skeptical argument like Strawson's takes the following form:
1. In order to act freely and be responsible, X must be true.
2. X is false.
3. So, no one acts freely or is responsible."
This is just modus tollens. Just change your first premise to "If x is true, then we act freely and we are responsible."
Furthermore, if a causa sui is more generally understood as an uncaused cause instead of "created [himself] from scratch, then I think this is more closely in line with the folk sentiment. People tend to believe they have free will. Common folk also tend to believe that their decisions are caused by themselves only or their own agency (even though they wouldn't use the term "agency"). Common folk that do believe in free will (which from my experience is the majority of the common folk) generally have no notion of a causally determined universe. Don't believe me? Just come spend some time away from your cloister in academialand and work in a factory or spend some time in my ghetto neighborhood. I'm sure my neighbors would love to enlighten you. :)
I understand your last remark was half in jest, but the scientific method is not just prejudiced against eastern cultural thought. It is prejudiced against all religious, mystical thinking. Of course, one can be religious and use the scientific method, but the two domains should always be kept separate lest science deteriorates into something that no longer resembles science.
Noah Te Stroete |
07/23/2010 at 10:37 PM
Manuel, I'm re-submitting this because I inadvertently directly addressed Galen.
I also decided to add a few more words to the end of the next to last paragraph.
Eddy, Ben and Justin,
Your challenges to Galen’s 2nd and 3rd premises seem not to fully appreciate their meaning.
In premise (2), the word “ultimately” can be omitted altogether by recognizing that ANY MANNER of responsibility requires self-creation. Thus, Galen’s argument is that if one does not create oneself, one cannot be responsible for what one is, and if one is not responsible for what one is, one cannot be responsible for what one does.
By example, if I create a robot and, by some mechanism transcending logic and causality, imbue it with a free will, and my robot then commits an immoral act, my robot cannot be rightfully held responsible for the act. Anyone doubting the logic of this conclusion might consider how destined to fail in a court of law my attempt to blame my robot for its immoral act would be. The court may decide to destroy or reprogram my robot, but it would certainly not hold it responsible for the immoral act. I bear that responsibility as its creator.
Applying Galen’s argument to the robot, it is easy to see that my robot was in no way, absolutely or otherwise, responsible for the immoral act. It did not create itself; I created it. This example also validates Galen’s premise (3) in that my robot cannot be held responsible for the way it is, which was completely my doing as it’s creator, and in my having granted it a “free will.” To appreciate how the above example supports Galen’s argument against human responsibility, you need only substitute God, or the Universe, for me, and me for my robot.
The above explanation also challenges Galen’s conclusion that regardless of the validity of the “nothing can be causa sui” argument, we should nonetheless take responsibility for what we are clearly NOT responsible. Challenging his conclusion with his terms, I own my robot. It does not own itself. God, or the Universe, owns me. I do not own myself.
George Ortega |
07/23/2010 at 10:42 PM
I agree with Eddy's last paragraph, the one that begins, "Ok, clarly I'm just going over the to here to rile people up..." But Eddy didn't rile ME up at all. It seems to me that he is spot on to ask, "What reason do [we] have to accept premise 1 (that FW/MR require this extravagant X) *over* the falsity of premise 3 (that of course we sometimes act freely and responsibly)?"
Similarly, I would ask, given that we all accept that in order to be morally responsible, we need to be the "sources" of our behavior, what reason do we have to accept an extravagant interpretation of "source" *over* a more measured, less demanding interpretation?
Common sense presents the notion that we must be the "source" of our behavior in order to be morally responsible. Now we can go in two directions: interpret "soucrcehood" stringently and conclude we are (despite the appearances) never free and responsible, or interpret "sourcehood" more reasonably and allow room for freedom and responsibility. Why go the extravagant way?
John Fischer |
07/24/2010 at 10:58 AM
I would argue, and I believe Strawson would argue, that the oxfam choice is why we believe in the causa sui, and that this is the commonsense view. We are forced to believe that we are acting without any prior causal history because at the time of our choices we cannot see the brain processes (transparency) or our histories. And, yes, although it is a ridiculous view, given the inability of any individual to see beyond the openness of a "consciousness" choosing uncaused, as it is presented to us, it is the commonsense view. Only through our best sciences and philosophy can we even begin to accept that their is a long causal history and multible brain processes that underlie what seems to be a decision that is made irregardless of any past history or material brain processes.
Commonsense belief in the causa sui therefore comes from that, and it comes in all of us, it is the natural condition of humans. Even when we theoretically disbelieve that we are acting uncaused, we cannot escape from the experience. The commonsense conceptions on responsibility are also built around this illusion. Responsibility is usually measured as to our choices and actions, and these choices and actions are seen in light of this free consciousness, which is experienced from early on in us all.
No one is led to the causa sui, though Cartesian dualism and religious beliefs probably reinforce it, it is a natural condition of humans. We will always have first hand conscious experience of choosing uncaused. The origins and causal history of our consciousness, of the "I," is always hidden from us, as well.
07/24/2010 at 11:23 AM
A question for those inclined to defend Strawson's argument.
To borrow John's metaphor, why can't it be up to us (in a deep and important sense) how we play our cards even if we have no choice about what cards we're dealt? We may have no choice about the relevant mental aspects of ourselves, but we might have a choice about whether these mental aspects have the results they do. On this view, our actions are influenced, but not completely determined, by the way we are mentally. This view retains the thought that we do what we (in part) because of how we are mentally, and it doesn't require that we be causa sui in the sense that we create every aspect of ourselves, including the relevant mental aspects of ourselves that influence action. There may be other reasons not to accept this view, but nothing in Strawson's argument rules it out, at least not that I can see.
Justin Capes |
07/24/2010 at 03:20 PM
I agree with Eddy that the crucial argument in Strawson’s NYT piece is premise 2 which says that moral responsibility requires us to be a causa sui.
(CS) if you’re going to be ultimately responsible for what you do, you’re going to have to be ultimately responsible for the way you are (in the relevant mental respects).
One can defend (CS) in a couple of ways – by reasoned argument or by appeal to intuitions. I am struck by the fact that people on this blog disagree in a very basic way about whether (CS) is intuitive. Some people (perhaps Noah, Manuel, Lyndon) say yes. My view, and perhaps the view of Eddy, Joe, and John, is that (CS) is very much *not* intuitive.
For those who think that (CS) is intuitive, consider the following case loosely based on Donald Davidson’s Swampman that may get you to perhaps change your mind.
Paul is a selfish and cruel person. He has done many awful things in his life (e.g., he stole from a charity, assaulted on elderly man, etc..). Paul had a normal upbringing, his parents were kind to him, he is not mentally ill, and he does not suffer from irresistible impulses to harm others. Paul is simply a very selfish person who does not care about others. He is deep down completely and wholeheartedly happy with the person that he is.
Suppose lightning strikes a dead tree in a swamp. The tree is turned into a new human being who, by shear coincidence, is identical to Paul. In particular, the new person, let us call him Paul2, has the exact same desires, preferences, and values as Paul. Of course, the similarity between Paul2 and Paul is entirely due to chance.
Immediately after he was created, Paul2 does something awful – let’s say he assaults a woman and steals her car.
Question 1: Did Paul2 choose the desires, values, and preferences that he now has?
Question 2: Is Paul2 morally responsible for assaulting the woman?
I gave a vignette very much like this one to 50 people in an online study, and asked them the two questions above in that order. I found that people are pretty neutral as to whether Paul chose his own desires, values, and preferences (mean 4.02 in a 1-7 scale). But people strongly agree that Paul is morally responsible for assaulting the woman (mean 2.6 in a 1-7 scale). Interestingly, the correlation between their answers to the two questions was nearly zero (.07) and not statistically significant. These results are not consistent with the hypothesis that (CS) is a central part of the folk theory of responsibility.
I agree this small study has a lot of weaknesses. But it does suggest that there are worries for arguments like Strawson’s that simply assume that (CS) is a central tenet of the folk theory of responsibility.
Chandra Sripada |
07/24/2010 at 04:06 PM
Just a quick half response to Noah and Lyndon. We can all agree that our experience of decision-making does not involve an experience of all the causes (and underlying neural processes) that lead to a choice (Thank Goodness!). But *not* experiencing all the causes of choosing to X is NOT the same as experiencing the choice of X as *uncaused* or even as lacking sufficient causes. (Not experiencing the unseen side of an apple is not the same as experiencing the apple as not having a backside.)
I'm not sure what the content of an experience of uncaused choice (or agent causation) is supposed to be like. But I don't think *my* experience is like whatever it's supposed to be like. I won't speak anymore for what commonsense experience is like, except to say that I think we should all be cautious in our assertions about what ordinary folk experience when they make choices (even the folk in "the factory and the ghetto"--I do occasionally leave my cloister, Noah)--as far as I know, my colleagues and my paper "The Phenomenology of Free Will" (2004) has been the only to suggest we need to do empirical studies of people's experiences of decision-making, choice, self-control, etc. rather than just projecting our own experiences onto everyone.
Eddy Nahmias |
07/24/2010 at 04:46 PM
I agree with John that we shouldn't go the extravagant route.
It seems to me that there are various ways of traveling the reasonable route. For one, we might interpret 'source' such that sourcehood requirements for moral responsibility are not unreasonably demanding. This is John's favored approach. A second strategy is to interpret the condition on being responsible such that sourcehood requirements are reasonable. This is the strategy I suggested above.
Note that these are not exclusive; one could adopt both. Moreover, it seems that one could be a contextualist about such things and think that different interpretations of the key notions are appropriate to different contexts. One sense of 'source' might be appropriate to the seminar room, another to the Times blog, and yet another to the bakery.
These different routes provide different challenges to Strawson's Basic Argument. In particular, I think the availability of such moves seriously challenges appeals to self-evidence and obviousness in the argument as presented on the Times blog.
Ben M-Y |
07/24/2010 at 06:18 PM
I'm with Joe, John, and Eddy here. I believe that Galen's argument (if I may be so familiar-sounding) is sound IF one takes responsibility as extremely as he casts it. And, since there are many who wish to follow suit on that on the (mainly) libertarian side, then they have to address the Basic Argument and try to find fault with it on their own terms. (And that naturally in itself is a significant contribution on Galen's part.) But such presumptions about that ultimate-buck-stopping sense of responsibility are very dubious.
One way I show a classic neglect of more common-sense options in my intro-FW course is the very part of Schopenhauer's Essay that won him the NRS prize. It's where he conducts his "speculative interview" (so I call it) of an "unsophisticated person" about his or her FW (knowing S I doubt it would be "her" though!). He reports that ordinary self-consciousness reports "I can do what I want". S then points out to the imagined UP that this is mere hypothetical physical freedom of action, and this does not address the question of whether the "wanting" is itself free. Then he makes the familiar point that one can't access sufficient evidence from introspection to tell whether one is mentally free or not, but from an explicit incompatibilist viewpoint.
I point out that the first response--"I can do what I want" is in fact a commonplace one. (I have my classes always write on the first day what they think FW means. In 25+ years of doing so I can confirm that the majority of responses are of that same type.) So, if common usage is a key criterion of what FW means, then oddly S stumbled on the compatibilist answer, but because he had previously argued (badly) in the Essay for incompatibilism, then he was blind to his inadvertent support of compatibilism, ignored it, and went right to his incompatibilist interests!
Oh, and in full disclosure, I also stress the other two big so-called commonsense embodiment of L incompatibilist sentiment--the tradition of mens rea in law and western non-Calvinist heaven-or-hell theologies. Though I show as well that certainly the law tradition at least is not *essentially* incompatibilist, as work of Watson, Wolf, Frankfurt, Fischer, Campbell, etc. etc. shows.
V. Alan White |
07/24/2010 at 07:07 PM
You are right that I shouldn't presume to know what the common folk think. However, having just a bachelor's degree I tend to think of myself as more of a common folk type than an academic. Plus, from my own experience working in a plastics factory for almost five years and questioning my co-workers about their thoughts about determinism/free will (odd, I know, but I have always been interested in this debate), I found that the great majority of them hold a Judeo-Christian, non-Calvanist/non-predestination view of free will that is incompatible with determinism. Why do I think they think it is incompatible? Because the majority of the people I have discussed this with simply do not believe in determinism.
Which leads me to V. Alan's comment:
I am interested to know what your conclusion is concerning the "western non-Calvanist heaven-or-hell theologies". From my experience growing up with a Calvanist father and an agnostic mother whose family is Catholic, and from talking with fundamentalist Christians in the workplace and elsewhere, I have concluded that these theologies are essentially incompatibilist libertarians (except my Calvanist father who believes in predestination). Personally, I think this is where the folk sentiment comes from (the non-Calvanist heaven-or-hell theologies as V. Alan puts it). What do you think?
Noah Te Stroete |
07/24/2010 at 09:41 PM
After re-reading my last comment I realize that it wasn't clear whom I was asking to comment about the "western non-Calvanist heaven-or-hell theologies" question. I was actually asking Alan, but anybody can *feel free* to answer.
Noah Te Stroete |
07/25/2010 at 12:25 AM
John, (also addressing Ben’s, Eddy’s and V. Alan’s concurring posts)
“In my view, we play the cards that are dealt us; moral responsibility depends on how we play the cards that are dealt us. But we don't have to deal the cards ourselves, make up the rules of the game, own the company that makes the cards, and so forth.”
However, HOW we play the cards is, according to the CS argument, ALSO not something for which we can logically hold ourselves responsible.
You also write that we “need” to be the source of our behavior, but the more accurate statement is that because we BELIEVE we are the source of our behavior, we therefore FEEL the need to be the source. Without the belief, the felt need does not arise.
To see how moral acts can be done without one incorrectly taking responsibility, and using myself as the example, consider that I understand my lack of free will. The essential point in this is that I also understand that God, or nature, however incorrectly or unfairly, will nonetheless hold me accountable for my acts. I know that if I am not careful while walking barefoot, God or nature may punish me for that carelessness by causing me to stub my toe. I do not need to feel or hold myself responsible to be careful when walking barefoot. My understanding of its potential result is enough to motivate my care.
What is the VERY IMPORTANT difference between the two perspectives? One who believes in free will and holds oneself responsible will take credit for being careful and assume blame for not being careful. Credit taking leads to pride, and blame taking leads to guilt. However, one who understands free will as an illusion feels gratitude about being careful, and unlucky about not being careful. In addition to this latter perspective reflecting a more accurate understanding of our self in relation to our world, it evokes less suffering.
George Ortega |
07/25/2010 at 12:45 AM
That's what I meant. Most--not all--non-Calvinist western-tradition theologies (Protestant Wesleyan in particular, but I'd certainly include Catholic Augustinian traditions as well) seem to accept buck-stopping FW, but then they must accept some kind of thus-appropriate FW defense of the problem of evil ala Hick or Plantinga or whatever. It probably underlies much of the legal tradition of the FW component of mens rea, but then that would just indicate a historical tradition of influence, and thus no logical justification, even if it thus partly accounted for the so-called common sense view of FW. But my point in part is that if you ask people what they think about FW without any context of responsibility, my data seems to favor a compatibilist response. But if you ask concerning responsibility, you get a very mixed one due to cultural/traditional/context influence. Matters of X-phi are not my specialty however.
V. Alan White |
07/25/2010 at 12:46 AM
John (and others):
"In my view, we play the cards that are dealt us; moral responsibility depends on how we play the cards that are dealt us. But we don't have to deal the cards ourselves, make up the rules of the game, own the company that makes the cards, and so forth.”
This seems here to me to be a weak analogy and thus a fallacious argument. The analogy of a card game is completely different from my genetics and early experiences in a fundamental way. Although I didn't make the cards or the rules of the game, or own the company that made them, or necessarily have dealt them; the cards and the game do not make up an essential part of *me* as my genetics and early experiences do.
I argue that my genetics and experiences determine whom I am in a way that determines my decision-making. I don't freely choose my values ex nihilo. My values determine my goals and thus my decisions. My values are a part of who I am that is determined by my genetic dispositions and experiences.
Although I know you want to deny this extravagant premise, viz. who I am determines my decisions, the card game analogy won't work as an argument. Personally, I am sympathetic to your view (and I waver from time to time), but I still think that Strawson's expanded argument is sound *if we accept his "extravagant" premise*. I for one am not as skeptical as you that this premise is extravagant. It seems quite plausible to me.
Would you say that my values are not a part of who I essentially am? Would you say that they are somehow external to me in a way that I could be a causa sui of my values? Don't values determine our goals and thus our decisions? If not, then why? Wouldn't I have to be a causa sui in some sense to have free will as Strawson suggests? Otherwise wouldn't there be an infinite regress?
I think some people may conflate indeterminism with a free will force. I think Strawson showed that whether determinism or indeterminism is true, if we are to have free will, then we must be some kind of causa sui (which, I think, he showed to be untenable). Now, never mind moral responsibility for now. Do we have free will? Unless, of course, you think moral responsibility just *is* free will. Personally, I am confused as to your stance on this as a compatibilist. What is free will exactly according to your compatibilist theory? Could we have a definition, please?
P.S. I apologize for the number of questions posed in this comment. As you can see, I think there is much more to this issue that needs to be explained. However, this just being a blog, I don't expect you to fully answer all of them here. That could take several days of your time.
Noah Te Stroete |
07/25/2010 at 12:13 PM
This is a very interesting discussion! Thanks to all of you! Two quick points.
1/ To Noah, wrt my Analysis argument. Do you think the length of our past matters to our freedom? I don't see how. The past is over and done with, so adding more to it can’t possibly increase our level of freedom. Ergo, whether or not I'm free can't depend on whether I had or did not have an "inception point," as you put it. Yet Strawson's conclusion cannot be reached without the true but contingent assumption that we all have inception points. Why? Something doesn't add up.
Of course, at most this is an indication that there is something wrong with the argument. It doesn't say what is wrong. Likely, the trouble lies with transfer principles of the type that Eddy and Chandra discuss above.
2/ I wish the folk had the concept of causa sui, even if it was unfortunately linked to free will! That way it would be easier to teach metaphysics. But since I have a difficult time conveying that concept to my students, I doubt the folk have it.
I think that Chandra's results are compelling. In my dissertation, I offered a similar example to Davidson's swampman, based on one from Keith Lehrer's "'Can' in Theory and in Practice, a Possible World's Analysis" (1976). My example is: Imagine that Joel Feinberg, exactly as he was at the age of 50 years old after his character was fixed, were to suddenly pop into existence at some possible world, with Joel's virtuous character completely in tact. Would he be praiseworthy for his subsequent actions? My guess is that if you shifted to praiseworthy actions, even more folk would reject principles like (CS). But that's just a hunch.
Joe Campbell |
07/25/2010 at 01:13 PM
"Do you think the length of our past matters to our freedom? I don't see how. The past is over and done with, so adding more to it can’t possibly increase our level of freedom. Ergo, whether or not I'm free can't depend on whether I had or did not have an "inception point," as you put it. Yet Strawson's conclusion cannot be reached without the true but contingent assumption that we all have inception points. Why? Something doesn't add up."
Length of past experience and inception point are two completely different things entirely because an inception point whether contingent or not (I tend to think it is necessary as a defining characteristic of a temporally bound human being) empirically shows that I have no control over it. I also have no control over my early experiences (controversial?), so my past keeps adding up without my control (right?), unless at some point I become a causa sui. I think Strawson's expanded argument concerning the causa sui is untenable (involving the infinite regress).
The free will advocate has to show why my being (who and what I am) doesn't determine my decisions or how I can be a causa sui. Otherwise s/he has to define free will so that it doesn't involve uncaused causes (which I think is no longer the traditional conception of "free will" and which I have challenged John and others to do).
Noah Te Stroete |
07/25/2010 at 05:18 PM
"I think Strawson's expanded argument concerning the causa sui is untenable (involving the infinite regress)."
Actually I don't think the argument is untenable. Belief in humanity as a causa sui is untenable.
Noah Te Stroete |
07/25/2010 at 05:20 PM
The argument that we humans do not have an inception, (or conception) point carries a huge burden of explanation and evidence regarding how we came to not have been created.
It’s not difficult to make a case for causa sui. The Law of Conservation of Mass-Energy, which states that mass-energy can neither be created nor destroyed, provides a solid enough case. This is so especially because that law, unlike other physical conservations laws, has never been violated, (to our knowledge). However mass-energy and human beings are completely different entities.
There is actually one way you can make a case for humans having created themselves. You would first need to assert that the essence of a human being is a soul that exists completely independently of his/her corporeal body, and that because this soul is comprised of mass-energy (it perhaps being a neutrino, etc.) it is governed by that Law of Conservation of Mass-Energy. Only then can you have an uncreated human being. That approach does not help the cause of free will, however, because since we humans are not completely determined by the past actions of such a soul, we are not free of the causal imperative.
You suggest transfer principles of the kind Eddy and Chandra discussed could be problematic for Galen’s “nothing can be causa sui” argument. But they present no real challenge.
To re-cap, Eddy writes regarding "So if you’re going to be ultimately responsible for what you do, you’re going to have to be ultimately responsible for the way you are — at least in certain mental respects."
"What is the evidence for this premise? Is it just supposed to be obviously true? What happens if we remove the "ultimately"? What happens if we put it in terms of free will--would this be the right way to put it: "If you're going to do X freely, you're going to have to have done something freely that leads to your doing X"?"
As I explained in my 7/23 post, removing “ultimately” changes nothing. Also, Eddy’s replacing “have created yourself” with “have done something freely” in the sentence above results in an entirely different meaning than the “nothing can be causa sui” argument, and so is a failed challenge.
Chandra’s challenge, which relies on subjects’ conclusions on the matter, and suggests that truth is determined democratically rather than via logic and evidence, also fails for obvious reasons.
George Ortega |
07/26/2010 at 01:38 PM
I'll wade in carefully as I'm way out of my depth, but is it possible that one could make gradual improvements in one's moral character generally (to become more generous, say)? If so, perhaps we could be responsible for our moral character but not each individual action.
Ben Ostrowsky |
07/29/2010 at 12:08 PM
"Concerning the resilience of Galen Strawson’s Basic Argument"
08/04/2010 at 04:22 PM
Hi Rob, people may want to try clicking on this link instead:
It looks like an interesting article. In case, or until, I (and others) don't get around to reading it, and perhaps to revive discussion here, can you (or Michael if he's listening!) offer a summary of this claim: "I argue that it is absurd to believe that an agent can be responsible for an action when no factor contributing to that action is up to that agent"? Is there an *argument* here or just an appeal to intuition (absurdity!)? If there is an argument, does it look like arguments for Transfer principles?
Eddy Nahmias |
08/05/2010 at 09:37 AM
The comments to this entry are closed.