Look, my time as guest blogger is winding down, and this time of year many of us are caught up with final exams, dissertation defenses, and all that stuff. Lots of deadlines, and little time for blogging. So I thought I'd wrap up with a series of lighter observations and invitations for discusssion.
Here is one: When we all get together over a few cold beers at various APA sessions and what not, it often comes up in conversation that there is a striking sociological fact about our field: most incompatibilists currently working in our area tend to be theists. It's not also often remarked that most compatibilists tend not to be theists, but I take this to be implied. I myself, a compatibilist, am not a theist; I'm an atheist. Now of course, there are not hard categories here. But I am curious as to why this is. Is it mere sociology? Or do the arguments for compatibilism generally tend to favor a denial of theism while the arguments for incompatibilism generally tend to favor theism?
For those attending the Pacific APA, there are loads of sessions on agency apart from the one mentioned by Joe that should be of interest to readers of this blog. Also, apart from the main program, the Experimental Philosophy Society group session (Wednesday, 6:00-9:00) includes papers on agency and there will be a Society for Philosophy of Agency group session on Thursday evening (details on the latter will be posted soon)
For now, Roman Altshuler was kind enough to compile a list of sessions in the main program that deal with agency broadly (and not just the free will debate) or include papers on agency. I have pasted the list below. (Apologies to anyone whose session was overlooked.)
The fun commences with the session on free will Joe mentioned and ends with a session on "Agency and Pathologies of the Self" featuring Al Mele, Walter Sinnot-Armstrong, Jesse Summers, and David Shoemaker.
Consider the claim, derived from the ‘ought implies can’ principle, that:
If S ought not to have done A, S could have refrained from doing A.
My sense is that free will skeptics will typically have a hard time denying this claim, even if they are source incompatibilists and accept Frankfurt cases. Many compatibilists, such as Ish Haji (1998) and Dana Nelkin (2011) have a similar sense. But then, on the supposition that determinism rules out the ability to do otherwise, it also threatens 'ought' judgments.
One way of saving ‘ought’ claims from determinism involves dividing senses of ‘ought’ (C. D. Broad 1952). It’s standard to differentiate between ‘ought to do’ and ‘ought to be’ claims (e.g., Lloyd Humberstone 1971). For instance, Mark Schroeder’s (2011) distinguishes the action-related deliberative sense of ‘ought’, and the evaluative ‘ought’, as in ‘Larry ought to win the lottery’ where Larry has been subject to a series of undeserved misfortunes. Kate Manne (dissertation 2011) argues – plausibly to my mind -- that the evaluative ‘ought’ also applies to actions. She proposes that an evaluative ‘ought’ claim does not (at least directly) entail a ‘can’ claim, even when it concerns an action, while an ‘ought to do,’ which expresses a demand of an agent in a particular circumstance, does entail that she can perform the indicated action. We might call this last type an ‘ought’ of specific agent demand.
So here’s the thought. From my free will skeptical perspective, given determinism and that determinism precludes alternatives, when one tells an agent that he ought to refrain from performing some action in the future, the ‘ought’ of specific agent demand isn’t legitimately invoked, but the ‘ought’ of axiological evaluation can be. Such a use of ‘ought’ proposes to an agent as morally valuable a state of affairs in which he refrains from performing the action and recommends that he not perform it. We might call this the ‘ought’ of axiological recommendation. Such a prospective use of ‘ought’ is not at odds with determinism. Suppose it turns out that the agent performs the action anyway. If there was good reason to believe in advance that agent has or could develop the requisite motivation, and especially if there was good reason to think that articulation of the ‘ought’ judgment would contribute to producing it, this use of ‘ought’ would typically be legitimate.
Does this sound right? And how bad would it be if we had to settle for ‘oughts’ of axiological recommendation?
 A few months ago Manuel Vargas asked about my view of free will and moral responsibility. Eventually I caught up with myself and put the question. It turns out that my view is the same as it always was. In Freedom and Belief (FB) I wrote “If it is right to say that we are free [or morally responsible], then compatibilism must be true” (1986: 59, 2nd ed. 50). I still think that. I think that
[i] if there is any respectable and robust sense in which we can be said to be free and morally responsible it must be compatibilist, if only because it’s demonstrable that indeterminism can’t help with freedom
[ii] there is a respectable and robust sense in which we can be said to be morally responsible.
[ii] seems obvious—we operate pretty successfully with such a (largely common-sense) notion all the time—and [i] and [ii] entail that
[iii] there is a robust and respectable compatibilist notion of moral responsibility.
Thanks to Bob Doyle for bringing the following series of videos to my attention. Each one is from a worskshop in Barcelona this past October that was entitled "Is Science Compatible with Our Desire for Freedom?"
There are three recent pieces in Scientific American that readers of this blog might find of interest:
As always, happy reading!
WARNING: Logic ahead!
Lot’s of folks have commented on van Inwagen’s “Free Will Remains a Mystery” (2000; Kane 2002) but most of the commentaries are about part 2: the rollback (or Mind or luck) argument against the libertarian agency theory. Almost nothing has been written about part 1, his revised version of the consequence argument. There is one notable replay that goes virtually unnoticed: Lynn Rudder Baker’s “The Irrelevance of the Consequence Argument,” Analysis 68.1 (2008): 13-22.
Recall that van Inwagen’s third argument was under attack because of a counterexample to transfer principle Beta: From Np, N(p --> q) derive Nq. (The counterexample is derived from McKay and Johnson 1996 and others.)
Suppose that a coin was not tossed though I was able to toss the coin. Let:
h = the coin landed heads
f = the coin was tossed (or flipped)
N~h = the coin did not land heads & no one is or ever was able to act so as to ensure that the coin landed heads = TRUE
N(~h --> ~f) = N(if the coin did not land heads, then the coin was not tossed) = TRUE
N(~f) = the coin was not tossed & no one is or ever was able to act so as to ensure that the coin was tossed = FALSE
Why is N(~h --> ~f) true, you might ask?
1. If the coin did not land heads, then the coin was not tossed = TRUE [for the coin was not tossed, so the consequence is true].
2. ~(If the coin did not land heads, then the coin was not tossed) = the coin was tossed and landed heads.
3. No one is or ever was able to act so as to ensure that the coin was tossed and landed heads = TRUE.
There are lots of different ways to fix the third argument in light of this counterexample. Crisp and Warfield (2000) suggest replacing Beta with:
Beta*: From Np, p entails q derive Nq (Widerker 1987).
McKay and Johnson suggested redefining the N-operator and van Inwagen follows this route. Van Inwagen’s definitions here are a bit complicated, so bear with me. First, he rephrases everything in terms of having access to various regions of logical space, where a region of logical space corresponds to a proposition (4-5). Intuitively, one has a choice about whether some true proposition is true provided that one is able to ensure that the proposition is false. (Remember, we’re working with classical free will here: the ability to do otherwise.) This leads to:
“Np” =df. “p and every region of logical space to which anyone has, or ever had, access overlaps p” (7).
Unfortunately, as the above counterexample indicates, this definition is inadequate. Van Inwagen: “I may, for example, be able to ensure that the dart hit the board, but unable to ensure with respect to any proper part of the board that it hit that proper part.” (5) I may also be able to toss a coin but not ensure that it lands heads.
Van Inwagen alters the definition in an attempt to get around this problem: “Np” =df. “p and every region to which anyone has, or ever had, exact access is a subregion of p” (8).
Suppose it would be good if you tossed a coin and it came up heads (think “No Country for Old Men”) but you don’t even toss the coin. Van Inwagen says: “You had a choice about whether the coin was tossed, and if you had tossed it, it might have landed ‘heads.’ What you are to blame for is not doing your best to bring it about that the coin landed ‘heads’.” (8) As McKay and Johnson note, by weakening from would-ability to might-ability, one actually strengthens the transfer principle and given this alteration Beta survives the above counterexample.
In the comments to Eddy's post on the free will of dogs (which I found troubling since it means that my new dog Charlie on occasion freely chooses to eat the feces of the other dogs), Alan made the following very interesting remark:
What we mean by [free will] can change, but only by means of evidence, not ad populum fallacy. The thorny thing is agreeing on what matters as evidence, and in some ways the incompatibilism/compatibilism debate seems actually to get in the way of assessing what counts as evidence here.
I asked Alan what he thought should count as evidence for the meaning of free will and he responded in the comments. Now I'd like to throw out this question to the rest of the Flickerers. (I miss the word "Gardeners"). What counts as evidence for a change in the meaning of free will, and does the incompatibilist/compatibilist debate get in the way of determining it? If so, how?
(Manuel might have some views on this, I imagine...)
Compatibilism holds that free will can coexist with determinism. But what exactly is determinism? The term is sometimes used casually and with somewhat fluctuating meanings. Different versions (or aspects) constrain free will theories to quite different degrees.
I was introduced to determinism during one Christmas break, when I read Will Durant’s The Story of Philosophy to get some background before my first college philosophy course. As I recall, Durant said determinism was based on a vision of the universe as a giant machine, cranking along as it inevitably must. The categories of actual and possible overlap 100%, which means that everything that happens is the only possible thing that could happen. My naive undergraduate mind didn’t see much room for free will in that scenario. If anything, getting rid of foofy notions like free will seemed to be precisely the point.
More recently, Al Mele defined determinism in the Encyclopedia of Consciousness as “the thesis that the combination of a complete statement of the laws of nature and a complete description of the condition of the entire universe at any point in time logically entails a complete description of the condition of the entire universe at any other point in time.” Adina Roskies defines it in TICS as belief that “the state of the universe is entirely a function of physical law and the initial conditions of the universe.” The Big Questions in Free Will Lexicon of Key Terms (http://www.freewillandscience.com/wp/?page_id=63) defines it as “The thesis that a complete statement of the laws of nature together with a complete description of the entire universe at any point in time logically entails a complete description of the entire universe at any other point in time.”