Here's a link to a forum on blame, published in Boston Review. (I found the notice on Leiter Reports.) I haven't had time to do more than skim, but it looks really interesting.
I’d already written up this post, and it raises some of the issues that are being discussed in the previous post’s thread, so I figured I’d post it now and then respond to comments and critiques to both posts as the week progresses. (Plus we’re putting up follow-up experiments this week, so if anyone has helpful criticisms, we might try to address them.)
So, here’s a summary of my latest x-phi results on what people say about the possibility of perfect prediction based on neural activity. The goal was not to address traditional philosophical debates (head on) but to pose challenges to a claim often made by “Willusionists” (people who claim that modern mind sciences, such as neuroscience, show that free will is an illusion). Willusionist arguments typically have a suppressed (definitional) premise that says “Free will requires that not X” and then they proceed to argue that science shows that X is true for humans. (In this forthcoming chapter I argue that Willusionists are often unclear about what they take X to be—determinism, physicalism, epiphenomenalism, rationalization—and that the evidence they present is not sufficient to demonstrate X for any X that should be taken to threaten free will.)
The definitional premise in these arguments is usually asserted based on Willusionists’ assumptions about what ordinary people believe (or sometimes their interpretation of an assumed consensus among philosophers). I think their assumptions are typically wrong. For instance, Sam Harris in his book Free Will argues that ordinary people would see that neuroscience threatens free will once they recognized that it allows in principle perfect prediction of decisions and behavior based on neural activity, even before people are aware of their decisions, and he gives a detailed description of such a scenario (on pp. 10-11).
With former students Jason Shepard (now at Emory psych), Shane Reuter (now at WashU PNP), and Morgan Thompson (going to Pitt HPS), we tested Harris’ prediction. I will provide the complete scenario we used in the first comment below.
My first two posts have been speculative jaunts. My next 2-3 posts will discuss recent work related in one way or another to my ‘bypassing’ thesis. As a thesis about people’s beliefs about free will, it basically holds that people think we have free will regarding a decision or action X if and only if (or, I prefer: roughly to the degree to which) X is not caused by processes that bypass our reasoning and reasons (and to the degree to which X is properly caused by our reasoning and reasons). I also think this thesis, or something nearby, is the correct thesis about free will. I know, stated in this way it is pretty vague (e.g., what counts as “properly caused by”? I certainly don’t mean that the reasons or reasoning have to be the proximate cause of X). Nonetheless, I think this thesis provides a useful way to understand some of the free will debates, especially as they relate to ordinary people’s views and some of the recent scientific discussions of free will.
As some of you know, Dylan Murray and I have used the bypassing thesis to develop an error theory to explain ordinary people’s apparent incompatibilist intuitions. We argue that, among non-philosophers, the majority do not take determinism to rule out free will, and of those who do, most interpret determinism to involve bypassing of agents’ relevant mental states (e.g., people often take determinism to mean that the agent’s decisions or beliefs have no effect on what the agent ends up doing). Since determinism, as such, does not involve bypassing, and since bypassing undermines free will and responsibility on just about any theory of free will, we cannot conclude that most people have genuine incompatibilist intuitions. Furthermore, most people who do not interpret determinism to involve bypassing also do not interpret it to rule out FW or MR. (For our recent PPR paper, see here; email me if you can’t get access to article. For a recent response to our paper, see this post and paper by David Rose and Shaun Nichols. And since I probably won’t post something on it later, feel free to say something here about what you think of our methodological claims in the first section of our paper or anything else about it.)
In response to this ‘bypassing error theory’, several people have said something like this: “Well, that’s fine and good to explain some of the untutored folk responses to determinism, but that can’t explain the incompatibilist intuitions of most incompatibilist philosophers or students who have a better understanding of determinism, including the fact that it does not entail bypassing of this sort (e.g., they would not agree that in a deterministic universe, “People’s decisions have no effect on what they end up doing” but they would still say people in deterministic universes lack free will and moral responsibility). So what do you say about these more sophisticated incompatibilist intuitions?”
A short post—really just posing some questions for people about issues I haven’t thought about enough—and then I’ll post something more substantive in a day or two. Thanks for the great discussion about pluralism.
It seems to me that, in many cases, we tend to punish, and want to punish, most severely those wrong-doers who also satisfy compatibilist criteria for free will and responsibility to diminished degrees. And we have the strongest reactive attitudes—e.g., indignation—towards these people too. (If the ‘we’ here is not culturally universal, that’d be an interesting connection to previous post.) Sure, there’s an insanity defense (almost never successful in U.S.), and our attitudes towards Robert Harris (and similar cases) might diminish when we hear about his terrible upbringing, which may be due to believing he has compromised rational capacities or ability to understand right and wrong.
But it takes a lot of work, and may be impossible in some cases, to tamp down punitive impulses towards pedophiles, terrorists, mass murderers, psychopaths, and such, even though such criminals are likely lacking in the capacities compatibilists highlight, such as reasons-responsiveness or Wolf’s knowledge of the True and the Good.
If I’m right about this phenomenon, is it best explained solely in terms of our reactions to the significant harms caused?
How should the compatibilist respond? (My intuition is that the phenomenon is especially problematic for Wolf’s theory and poses a challenge for Strawsonian theories other than the one Watson poses using the Harris case. Does the Deep Self theorist have an easier out?)
Does the phenomenon pose a challenge to libertarians too in that they should take (some of) these compatibilist conditions on board as necessary conditions, shouldn’t they?
And what should the forward-looking skeptic say about these cases? Do they just have to accept that in some such cases rehabilitation of the offender is unlikely or impossible, in which case permanent quarantine is required (what exactly prevents use of death penalty here)? Or do such cases suggest Clockwork-Orange style re-formation of ‘defective’ persons, if that were the only or best way to prevent permanent quarantine or death?
(I also wonder if something similar crops up in our inter- and intra-personal cases, where we are least forgiving of our friends, family, lovers, and ourselves in some cases where wrong-doer fails to satisfy compatibilist conditions or satisfies them to a significantly diminished degree.)
Hi all, VBW 26 with author, cognitive scientist, and Slate columnist Jesse Bering is now available on iTunes, Stitcher, and our website. We talk about evolutionary psychology, rape defenses, homophobia, and sexual perversions of all kinds. All kinds, trust me. And in two weeks, don't miss VBW 27 with our own public intellectual and blogger of the month Eddy Nahmias. We already recorded it, fun conversation, almost all free will related.
Back to you, Eddy...
Tamler Sommers (2011) argues that different cultures have different practices regarding moral responsibility (and fair punishment)—for instance, people in honor cultures are apt to think it fair to punish people who have no control over bad actions, such as relatives of the bad actors, which is very different than, say, people in modern Europe who think responsibility requires personal control. From this empirical fact, which seems well-substantiated, Tamler ends up concluding meta-skepticism about moral responsibility: There are no non-relative facts about moral responsibility. It might follow that if one takes free will to refer to whatever control conditions or capacities are understood as necessary to be morally responsible, there are no non-relative facts about free will either.
What do people think of the following line of response to Tamler’s view--or perhaps it’s an embellishment of it--and perhaps also to some forms of first-order skepticism about MR?
Begin with what I take to be a plausible view, that pluralism about responsibility and desert is true where pluralism is the view that (a) there are normative facts about whether various systems of morality (including their beliefs and practices regarding MR, blame, praise, punishment, etc.) are better or worse than other systems, but (b) it is very likely, as a contingent feature of complex human nature and a wide diversity of cultural histories and geographies, that there are more than one (roughly) equally good systems of morality and responsibility.
Hi everyone! I’m very excited to be the Featured Author this month, and humbled to follow such an incredible lineup—imagine a conference with several talks each by Mele, Fischer, Nelkin, McKenna, Levy, Waller, Smilansky, and Pereboom! We really owe a lot to Thomas for breathing new life into this blog (and other blogs that have adopted his idea). I also want to thank him for inviting me into this forum and for being such a great collaborator and friend over the past decade, even for being, as he aptly put it, “a pain in my philosophical ass.”
Given the nature of a blog, I really shouldn’t plan too much, but I’ll give you some sense of what I hope to do. My first post will come soon on “Pluralism and Meta-non-meta-skepticism”, which should pick up a bit on where Neil left us (great posts and discussion, Neil, and sorry I could not participate much while I was traveling last month, especially the one on soccer and luck). I hope to post another 4-5 entries over the course of the month, depending on how discussions go. Here are some topics I’m thinking about--I’m open to suggestions about which of them (or other issues) people would like to discuss most:
-An error theory for more sophisticated incompatibilist intuitions
-My latest response to manipulation arguments (using interventionist causal theories)
-How a new theory of counterfactuals (in general) is crucial for compatibilists
-Recent x-phi results using scenarios describing perfect prediction by brain scanning
-My naïve theories regarding punishment
-Some old posts I started and never posted on Transfer principles and on metaphysical flipflopping
I apologize in advance if I am ever slow to respond to comments or simply fail to respond to some of them.
Another month has gone by and yet another Featured Author has done an extraordinary job stoking the philosophical fires here at Flickers of Freedom. So, thanks again to Neil Levy for such a wide variety of thought provoking posts! As Neil mentioned in his final post, it is now time to pass the torch to this month's Featured Author--Eddy Nahmias. Nahmias is an Associate Professor in the Philosophy Department and the Neuroscience Institute at Georgia State University. He specializes in philosophy of mind and cognitive science, free will, moral psychology, and experimental philosophy. He is currently working on a book, Rediscovering Free Will: Autonomy and Responsibility in the Age of the Mind Sciences (OUP forthcoming). He also recently co-edited Moral Psychology: Classical and Contemporary Readings (Wiley-Blackwell 2011).
As a former student and long time collaborator and friend of Eddy's, I have always enjoyed being a pain in his philosophical ass. So, please join me this month in both welcoming and harassing another one of our resident compatibilists!
p.s. The response to my earlier requests for junior Featured Authors has been amazing. I have five folks tentatively lined up with a few more in the works. But before I make a formal announcement and set up the schedule, I have some other things I need to square away first. For instance, I am planning to move both Flickers of Freedom and Experimental Philosophy to a new domain (which will hopefully also include a new online, open-access journal I am in the process of developing). So, stay tuned for details!
The upcoming schedule is below the fold.
This will be my last post: I want to leave plenty of room for Eddy. I’ve had a good time doing this: it has stimulated me to think of things in different ways. I wrote a whole paper as a result of thinking through responses to a post. I even ended up defending x-phi (on other occasions I’ve expressed reservations about it). It didn’t turn out at all like I expected. I was going to talk about neuroscience, but that didn’t happen.