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Bloggingheads
03-01-2008, 09:24 AM

Bloggin' Noggin
03-01-2008, 01:11 PM
Another good conversation with Carl. Carl used to strike me as rather nervous -- he no longer does. The last time, I thought this change for the better might have been a matter only of camera placement -- he placed his camera further away and any nervousness on his part was diminished. In this diavlog, though, he seems about as close to the camera as in the past. Either I've gotten used to him, or he's gotten more comfortable.

I'm a compatibilist about free will, myself. So I'm in sympathy with Gazzaniga's outlook. I'm not really clear what he means about the "rules being in the community" -- not clear how this eliminates the free will problem. The community rules do tend to make exceptions for bad events that came about unfreely (i.e., through ignorance or delusion or because the seeming "action" bypassed our intentions altogether). As I see it, some people lack free will because of the specific causal mechanisms that brought about their actions, and it's easy for us to mistakenly generalize this at a very abstract level to a problem about their being caused at all. But the problem isn't really with causation (even deterministic causation), but rather with certain specific causal mechanisms.

I should note, too, that there may be an important difference between the problem of criminal responsibility and a broader problem of how much our lives are under our control. The freedom we require for criminal responsibility might be (reasonably) a good deal less than what the kind of control we would like ideally to have over our own lives in a non-judicial context. I might like to be free of the kind of manipulation involved in some advertising -- I might regard such manipulation as diminishing my freedom without thinking that it would diminish my freedom sufficiently to excuse my committing a crime, for instance.

It's interesting to learn that the split brain experiments are on their way out because drugs are getting better at treating epilepsy. I'm glad experimenters seized on the opportunity while it was (morally) available.

bjkeefe
03-01-2008, 01:22 PM
This diavlog was great! One of the best ever for provoking new things to think about. Some semi-live blogged notes:

First small thought that will make me muse for hours: given the difference in length for the nerve impulse to travel, how does it work that you feel your nose and finger touching each other at the same time? Is it the case that the brain is slow compared to the speed of the impulse travel? Or does it always buffer its inputs momentarily, in the hopes of being able to integrate sensations to give a bigger picture? (~23:30)

(~32:00) The discussion about people retaining perceptions of (imaginary but described) people and the matches obtained by doing teacher evaluations after 30 seconds and after a semester lends lots of support to the old saw about first impressions mattering. I wonder if it also says something about the large amount of disappointment one feels when one's first impression is later dashed.

Provoked lots of interesting ideas about crime, trials, and assigning punishment. Kind of science fiction-y for now, but it's intriguing to think about filtering a jury pool based on bias detection, evaluating the risk to society of someone who committed a crime decades ago and who has done nothing bad since, and of course, what would it mean if we could build a lie detector that had a very high degree of reliability? Questions about youth crime, too. Also, issue of mandated therapies (although I suppose this one is relatively easy from civil rights POV: take the cure or do the time).

Also, the thought about scanning brains as part of preflight screening. If you stipulate to that possibility, where else might such technology be applied? Do you prescreen a potential retail clerk or accountant for a disposition to pilfer? Do you prescreen a teacher or school bus driver for predisposition for child molestation? Easy answer is to say "of course," assuming high enough quality to screening process. But in reality, it's likely that we'll first develop systems that are just pretty good, and a lobbyist will prevail upon a few members of Congress to require the use of these, and then how will we deal with the false detections?

Liked the thought (~39:30) "big chasm between understanding the difference between right and wrong and appreciating it."

Peripheral note/pet peeve: listening to this discussion and contemplating the near-future possibilities reminds me once again why people who refuse to believe in evolution bug me so much. It's not that being willfully ignorant about biology is necessarily, in and of itself, the worst thing. But I am troubled to contemplate a person with such an anti-science attitude being in a position to make a decision about uses of the technologies that we have speculated about here. Not just in the crime and punishment arena, but what about the possibility of real brain enhancing technologies?

If you think about whether brain enhancing would be fair, or more broadly, good (my kneejerk response would be to say yes, but we can argue about that), what does it say about attitudes toward performance-enhancing drugs among athletes (where my kneejerk reaction is to say "bad")?

Closing superficial note: Anyone else besides me notice how much Michael's appearance changes between when his face is in its normal relaxed state (or maybe, concentrated, listening state), and when he smiles? Like night and day, to coin a phrase, and much more so than most people. Could well be that says something about my own sense of perception of others, so I'd be interested to hear if anyone had the same reaction.

bjkeefe
03-01-2008, 01:31 PM
BN:

Carl used to strike me as rather nervous ...

Having just marveled about this very thing in my other comment, all I can say is ... So much for the persistence of first impressions! Actually, this might say more about your unusually open and flexible mind.

I might like to be free of the kind of manipulation involved in some advertising -- I might regard such manipulation as diminishing my freedom without thinking that it would diminish my freedom sufficiently to excuse my committing a crime, for instance.

I dunno. I am inclined to think that much of what I see on TV, and not just the ads, offers plenty of justification for violent behavior.

Mostly I'm kidding, but there is a real kernel here. Suppose you move from the ads we usually think about (for consumer goods) to ads advocating or attacking policies or politicians in a particularly vigorous way? Recall that the people working at some radio stations in Rwanda were convicted of crimes for inciting their listeners to violence; i.e., here was a case of the broadcaster, not the listener, being held accountable. Yes, I'm aware there was a lot else at play here, so I don't want to debate the specific example too much. I'm just offering it to show how what you're exposed to by the media could, in principle, be viewed as the thing to blame, compared to your own reactions.

fedorovingtonboop
03-01-2008, 01:31 PM
great talk, guys. thanks for all the info. fair amount of "meat" here so it makes it more interesting.
i think what Mike means regarding free will is that the question about a person being responsible for their actions is irrelevant because the system if information (their culture) that their brain is contained in is what is effecting the outcome of their actions. the brain is just a big calculator. a "criminal" brain would be like a part of a car that needs to be replaced (given medication) or just have the car taken off the road (jail) because it was built improperly (born retarded/psychotic).
i don't care if you don't have free will - i still want your brain system to stay away from mine....permanently.

Bloggin' Noggin
03-01-2008, 01:51 PM
i think what Mike means regarding free will is that the question about a person being responsible for their actions is irrelevant because the system if information (their culture) that their brain is contained in is what is effecting the outcome of their actions. the brain is just a big calculator. a "criminal" brain would be like a part of a car that needs to be replaced (given medication) or just have the car taken off the road (jail) because it was built improperly (born retarded/psychotic).
i don't care if you don't have free will - i still want your brain system to stay away from mine....permanently.

But our ordinary standards (as well as our more developed legal standards) make a distinction between those we wat to segregate from society and those we think deserve punishment. When someone escapes punishment by pleading insanity, he doesn't just get released into society.

fedorovingtonboop
03-01-2008, 01:55 PM
i'm not really sure what your point is

Bloggin' Noggin
03-01-2008, 02:24 PM
BN:

I dunno. I am inclined to think that much of what I see on TV, and not just the ads, offers plenty of justification for violent behavior.

Mostly I'm kidding, but there is a real kernel here. Suppose you move from the ads we usually think about (for consumer goods) to ads advocating or attacking policies or politicians in a particularly vigorous way? Recall that the people working at some radio stations in Rwanda were convicted of crimes for inciting their listeners to violence; i.e., here was a case of the broadcaster, not the listener, being held accountable. Yes, I'm aware there was a lot else at play here, so I don't want to debate the specific example too much. I'm just offering it to show how what you're exposed to by the media could, in principle, be viewed as the thing to blame, compared to your own reactions.

I certainly didn't have any intention to claim that the media could not bring about violence, nor that they would not ever bear responsiblity for inciting violence.
My claim had to do with non-rational manipulation and loss of responsibility. If some commercial, no matter how manipulative, tried to get people one-by-one to kill their next-door neighbors, nothing would happen, except in the case of the occasional crazy person. What happened in Rwanda was not primarily non-rational or a matter of manipulation. If lots of people want to kill their neighbors and you in effect announce that the penalties for killing your neighbor will be suspended for a while, lots of killings may well take place -- but the appeal was not non-rational manipulation.
If no else is killing Tutsis, no amount of irrational manipulation will cause most people todo it. If however the radio can get everyone killing Tutsis, then everyone has a kind of excuse -- you can't punish everybody, we can't all be murderers!
I don't see that kind of coordination by the media as being the same as the attempts by commercials to get us to associate chewing some particular gum with being able to pick up beautiful chicks.

Anyway, all I wanted to say is that the standard of freedom that's applicable in the case of a criminal trial might well be low compared to the degree of freedom we individually desire for ourselves. Advertising was just one example. Our preconceived ideas and prejudices may be a form of unfreedom,even ifthey are not likely to issue in criminal behavior, and would not be adequate excuses if they did issue in such behavior.

Bloggin' Noggin
03-01-2008, 02:32 PM
You try to explain our criminal procedures just by appeal to the desire to keep criminals away from those they might hurt -- free will doesn't matter at all to that.
My point is that this is an insufficient explanation of our actual procedures because these procedures clearly distinguish between protecting society from non-responsible but dangerous people and punishing responsible people (even if they don't continue to be dangerous).

Eastwest
03-01-2008, 02:35 PM
Way fine DV. To me, this sort of plumbing of important topics related to thought, the mind, and the societal effects of variations in cognitive and decision-making behavior is the very best expression of the potential of BHTV.

Very chilling the little comment about the power of "first impressions" in so deeply programming the attitudes of the electorate that they then become more or less immune from inputs of very important later information. Explains I think much about why, after such a long tenure of kid-gloves treatment by the awe-struck media, Monsieur Obama still enjoys a level of popularity essentially unrelated to his skill set. Equally relevant to Ms. Clinton who, having somehow been painted black through efforts of Gingrich et al, seems quite unable to shake the effects of early smears on her reputation.

Thanks to MG for agreeing to participate and to CG for bringing him on.

EW

bjkeefe
03-01-2008, 02:50 PM
Yeah, I agree. Generally speaking, I'm all about the definition of maturity being the state of accepting responsibility for one's own decisions (and actions), and yes, we do have to accept some restrictions on what we might like to do individually in order to make society work.

fedorovingtonboop
03-01-2008, 03:21 PM
i'm not discussing laws at all - i'm saying we don't have free will regardless - so the technicalities don't matter as much and are not necessary for the discussion. what mike meant is that a humans' actions are based on their surroundings and their past experience just like a dog or a hawk. a human that makes a choice deemed incorrect by their society either has faulty wiring or didn't learn well enough. he means that whether they're "responsible" or "not responsible" - they don't have free will either way. whether we've categorized them correctly is a different argument.
there's no way the "some of us" can lack free will. we've known for 40 years that you can tell someone what they're about to do before THEY know what they're going to do. all the evidence suggests the no one has free will and that we're guided by largely unconscious processes. it seems you may be one of the people who Mike was referring to when he said "A lot of people don't like that."when pointing out this evidence. i didn't really even mention our judicial system and definitely didn't try to justify it because that's not what i'm talking about. what little i did say that could be connected to it merely stated that we can either medicate someone or lock them up so most of your last post is distraction.
you can't sit on the fence and say that "some of us" have free will because that doesn't make sense. some of us lack "free won't" because they're retarded or have damaged frontal lobes, etc.
"cognitive psychology" is outdated and way to vague to be useful. neuroscience actually uses facts.

Jay J
03-01-2008, 03:59 PM
Good post Bloggin,

It seems to me too that though there may be some conceptual overlap in how we think of criminal responsibility on the one hand, and free will on the other, they are distinct issues.

I mean, most of us don't hold lions, tigers, and bears morally accountable for their actions, but that doesn't stop us from cordoning them off from civilized society.

We can similarly imagine that someone could be so insane that they wouldn't be accountable for their murders in any existential or metaphysical sense, but the sensible thing to do would nevertheless be to keep them in jail.

So we can hold people criminally responsible while at the same time leaving to the side the issue of moral responsibility.

Having said that, I find it interesting that you're a compatibilist. Most of the conversations I've had with people on this subject boil down to how the respective sides define their terms. So...it seems to me that people can be thinking of free will in a couple of different ways:

A) The machinations going on inside the organism are all consciousness is, and could be explained in terms of naturalism, step by step, if only we had enough knowledge. But once the organism makes a decision (which would be a result of the internal machinations) that organism has the ability to carry out its wishes. Therefore, the organism is "free" to do what it wants.

B) The freedom of the organism to do what it wants may be a part, but what happens on the inside is more important. If the machinations of the brain mean everything in terms of how someone decides to do something, or if there is no intangible consciousness which has the ability to make decisions that the machinations then have to adjust to, then there is no free will.

I hope I haven't caricatured anyone's view, but this is the best I can do in this short space.

Is either of these summaries of free will suitable to you, just in terms of how the view should be approached?

Do you, as a compatibilist, hold something like view "A?"

Thanks.

Wonderment
03-01-2008, 05:40 PM
This was a fantastic wide-ranging discussion.

One approach to jury bias would be to abolish juries. Most democracies do not have jury trials, and part of their theory is that trained jurists are better qualified than the public to judge.

I know that to American ears this is anti-democratic blasphemy, but much of the rest of the world finds jury trial bizarre (although having watched so many American and British movies they may now see the point).

Under a reformed system, however, judges could spend a couple of years in college learning about, addiction, early childhood development, adolescence, decision-making under stress, poverty as an influence on future behavior, etc.

Judges would make better decisions on guilt and innocence, and the appellate process would continue to sort these issues out (thus reducing the power of any one judge).

The jury system has the supposed virtue of the wisdom of the crowd of 12, the unanimity requirement for conviction, the deliberative discourse virtue, and the collective folk wisdom of a group of ordinary people. Jurors are also educated with brief lectures from a judge. And the current process of jury selection eliminates some juror bias. BUT, as the science of psychology advances, might not a system of experts produce more justice?

Wonderment
03-01-2008, 06:46 PM
I found this to be an especially interesting aspect of the discussion.

It seems to boil down to the importance of how to avoid suppressing empathy when self-interest and rationalization affect moral decision-making.

I saw "American Gangster" last night. The Denzel Washington character knows right from wrong and believes in the general moral system (with some rationalizing), but he seems incapable of empathizing with the victims of the heroin epidemic that he helps create. He is capable of manipulating the moral code through rationalization, and then some mechanism kicks in that suppresses empathy.

Politicians often act similarly. When Bill Clinton rushed to Arkansas to supervise the execution of a retarded inmate, he probably knew how morally grotesque his opportunism was. But he was able to "turn off" any empathy he might ordinarily have for the family of the executed man. Like the "American Gangster," he rationalized the moral code (knowledge) and empathy suppression followed.

When George Bush engages in preemptive war with "collateral damage," a similar process of rationalization and suppressed empathy is in play. Both moral code and empathy are somehow suspended, although preserved for future activation. The day after bombing Cambodia, Nixon can worry about his daughter's piano performance and his dog's tummy ache.

Bloggin' Noggin
03-01-2008, 07:21 PM
You think apparently that we are wrong to distinguish in the law (and in ordinary life) between someone who responsibly does wrong and someone who is not responsible for the wrong they do. This would be a major revision of our ordinary views. Perhaps you are right, but if you base that on neuroscience, it sounds to me as though you've got an important neuroscientist against your view -- Gazzaniga himself:

http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/9165?in=00:27:20

One assumption you seem to make is that free will and moral responsibility are impossible if determinism is true. This ignores the compatibilist position that I hold (poor benighted non-neuroscientist that I am) AND that GAZZANIGA HIMSELF appears to hold. He's a bit unclear here in his explanation, but what does seem pretty clear is that he doesn't foresee his law and neuroscience project issuing in the result that we are not morally responsible.

To me it sounds as though he thinks(roughly) that people who understand the rules, understand that they are breaking them and are capable of controlling their impulses so as to conform to the rules, should be regarded as responsible and should be punished when they do wrong. In other words, responsibility is not absence of causal determination, but the presece of the right sort of causal mechanisms. The ability to "do otherwise" that incompatibilists talk about is just the ability to control your impulses and to grasp what you are actually doing.

You took yourself in your initial post to be interpreting Gazzaniga, and therefore I took you to be doing the same. Hence my assumption that you did not intend to depart so extremely from our ordinary view as ultimately you appear to. Sorry you saw it as a "distraction", but I don't think my interpretation was unreasonable.

Bloggin' Noggin
03-01-2008, 08:02 PM
Very chilling the little comment about the power of "first impressions" in so deeply programming the attitudes of the electorate that they then become more or less immune from inputs of very important later information.[/B] Explains I think much about why, after such a long tenure of kid-gloves treatment by the awe-struck media, Monsieur Obama still enjoys a level of popularity essentially unrelated to his skill set. Equally relevant to Ms. Clinton who, having somehow been painted black through efforts of Gingrich et al, seems quite unable to shake the effects of early smears on her reputation.

EW

It couldn't just possibly be that Obama (a) just comes across as more authentic (whether because he is or because he's a brilliant actor or whatever -- see Charles Fried's remarks about Obama i the diavlog with Josh Cohen) and (b) He's run a much better campaign (have a look at all the ridiculous excuses Mark Penn is always offering the media and the fact that the Clinton campaign only found out about the combination primary-caucus in TX a week or two ago).

Besides, Obama's short elective resume was apparent from the very beginning, and no very bad stories about him have emerged even by now, so I fail to see how the mechanism you're talking about is relevant.

You are free to feel that the media have been unfair to HRC -- I'm inclined to think there's some truth in that (though it certainly doesn't explain the excitement gap). You're also free to think that those of us who favor Obama are mistaken, though I think it's hard to maintain that ALL of us are irrational. There's also certainly some Clinton hatred out there (though again, I don't see that much of it among most democratic voters -- I personally would have been pretty happy with Hillary if there weren't someone I preferred in the race). But I don't see how you can make it out that we're just ignoring counter-evidence subsequent to our initial impression.

The fact is that Obama has passed the tests given him by the eleection. He has NOT just made big speeches and stirred people up -- he has found a way to ORGANIZE that enthusiasm in his support. For those of us who would like to move in a more participatory and more liberal direction in this country, the fact that Obama can call on a grass roots organization (as opposed to calling on party operatives in Texas, as the Clintons do) is confirmation of the promise we saw to begin with-- the promise of moving the status quo.
Also, given the polls, it's less clear that HRC can beat McCain. This may be the result of irrational and unfair Hillary hatred among independents, but we live in the actual world, not in the world that would be more just to the Clintons. Given that Obama has a good head on his shoulders (unlike GWB) and given that he has good advisors, I'd much prefer an inexperienced Obama to a very experienced "national greatness conservative" McCain.

I'm not clear why Hillary supporters have to regard Obama supporters as irrational. This Obama supporter certainly doesn't regard the Hillary supporters as irrational. We just weigh different factors in a complex decision differently on my view.

Wonderment
03-01-2008, 09:54 PM
I agree with B-noggin' about Obama v. Clinton, but I also agree with East-West that the first impression experiments mentioned by Prof. Gazzaniga are chilling.

Certainly many people may weigh lots of factors in ultimately making a political decision about a candidate, but the degree to which first impressions matter (the first 30 seconds as Gazzaniga said) is still stunning.

I like to think I came to a rational conclusion about Obama, but I'm a bit humbled by the study of the students evaluating their teachers. I'm sure all the students at the end of the course who correlated so highly with the first-30- seconds group believed they had made quite rational decisions which they could back up with convincing arguments.

Jay J
03-01-2008, 10:03 PM
Yea it seems like "fedorovingtonboop" didn't realize what Gazzaniga was getting at.

But I would like to query you a little more about combatilbilism.

If free will, as you say, is the ability to control your impulses, then surely no one has it, right?

It would be as you say "responsibility is not absence of causal determination, but the presence of the right sort of causal mechanisms."

That explanation seems to say that some people's physical constituents cause them to murder, and some people's physical constituents cause them to give to charity. In either case, neither is particularly able to control what makes them do what they do.

I'm not sure why one is more "responsible" for their actions than the other. The person who appears to be "choosing" to control their impulses is in fact just acting under the influence of a different type of physical constituent than the murderer is responding to.

I posted on this earlier,

http://bloggingheads.tv/forum/showthread.php?p=71055#poststop

but this post may be closer to the mark I was trying to hit.

I'd be content with a response to either one.

fedorovingtonboop
03-01-2008, 10:13 PM
i'm not talking about the law and i never focused on it because it's not interesting or important and i have no idea why you keep redirecting the conversation to something i haven't said, don't care about and isn't relevant. all these vague terms like "causal determinism" are outdated and unnecessary. you are not even discussing the issue i brought up.
-->the issue i was trying to discuss, because mike brought it up, is that since the brain makes a decision about .250 milliseconds before we're aware of it, what's the point of "blame"? he then essentially says that that is irrelevant because this magic "free will" would be "free from what?" all we've learned is that your brain is making decisions before you're aware of them. this doesn't excuse your behavior because your brain is still making the decision. the concept of "free will" is pretty much irrelevant because what are you being freed from? all we mean is that your unconscious brain is making all the decisions and other parts of the brain sometimes have the ability to abort those initial urges. then he pokes fun at people who are uncomfortable with this evidence because they want to believe they "freely chose" to do something when really our lower brain regions are making choices and then our "I" (prefrontal cortex?) is making up reasons why we did them. they want to believe that there is "something" about humans that's inexplicable that exempts us from physical law. the difference between us and a bird is that they don't make up reasons for doing whatever they did because they don't have brains as advanced as we do - they simply react (just like we do) and don't care.
if i were to have a discussion about insane asylums vs. jail i'd be fine with either but that's not what i'm getting at.

You_had_me_at_hello
03-02-2008, 10:06 AM
Hi,

OK, I'm interrupting regularly scheduled programming here just for a bit because the thread I wanted to respond to is now lost in the mists of time.

I want to respond to Brendan (Even though I haven't been here long I can call you that can't I?) ---

First of all, Yes, I was extremely interested and curious about your response.

Thank you so much for responding-----In my mind, your phrase "mindless religious nuts" just was not jibing with the general tenor and content of the rest of your comments on the thread. It was dissonant. IMHO, the phrase is dicey. It touches upon issues of justice. Is it really even possible for this phrase to express justice? Does it really describe REAL people or is it just basically a made up phrase that doesn't really describe anyone when you really, really, get right down to it?

You did a great job of answering the question and clarifying your position.

I really loved what you said earlier in that same thread about people expressing their own opinions and not just repeating "talking points", about the importance of doing one's own thinking, etc. I loved what you said about rationality. Also, I am really impressed with the flow of your ideas, and how you really think about things, your consideration for others, and even have the mental flexibility to change course in your opinion, if you deem a change of course is in order.

You explained yourself with great clarity in response to my question, so thank you. Also, I would like to thank the other posters for their thoughtful questions to Brendan. Which made me think about things too. For instance here are three questions that I have been seriously asking myself:

1. Do I have "blind beliefs"? Things I just accept on "blind faith"? What are they?

2. Is a lack of a belief in God, itself a belief? (thanks Piscivorous for this one).

3. Do I want to join the "dark cult of Piscivorous"?

I love this site; I learn a lot every time I visit here, and the considerate, intelligent, and thought- provoking comments definitely contribute to the positive experience.

Anyhow, I hope to visit here about once a week, (maybe not comment that often). Next time I'll actually comment on the diavlog.

PS --- Some interesting things about unicorns: Legend has it that they were untamed, wild beasts, and that only virgin damsels could tame them. The unicorn would kneel by her and lay it's head on the lap of the virgin and fall asleep.

It was some sort of story about fidelity.

I don't believe in the same unicorn that you don't believe in.

OK, I've decided that I want to contribute money --- just send in a check for $50.00--- but BHtv is strangely making that difficult for me to do, haven't they learned
anything from Barack Obama ---- Just have an address where people can send in a check! (although the store is very nice, AND a great idea, with all due respect I don't need more "stuff")

Anyhow, as soon as they get back to me, I'll send it in. Great place, and everyone here adds to it.

JIM3CH
03-02-2008, 11:00 AM
Do you think you are free from bias? I dare you to take one or two of the association tests in the link below:

https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/

Enjoy; and prepare to be surprised about yourself.

You_had_me_at_hello
03-02-2008, 11:42 AM
for Brendan,

I mean the unicorn that is the white horse with a horn coming out of it's head in the comment: I don't believe in the same unicorn that your don't believe in.

Bloggin' Noggin
03-02-2008, 12:00 PM
I think a lot more needs to be said about the experiment before we can take it to show that the final evaluations were so irrational -- that the students were "in the thrall" of their first impressions. Those first 30 seconds might reveal a fair amount about the teacher's style. The interpretation that the students were irrational may be the professor's favored interpretation (didn't they see how very much I improved after that first half minute?). Another possibility is that you were looking at the floor and talking into your beard in the firstlecture and that you pretty much continued to do that all the way through, even though you may occasionally have produced some very brilliant mumblings.
Those first 30 seconds probably do get alittle too firmly fixed in our minds, but perhaps the reason they do is that they contain a great deal more information than we imagine is possible. I'd suggest rerunning the experiment with really good teachers half of whom bumble about for the 1st minute and then revert to their normal very good teaching style. I find it hard to believe that the first bumbling minute would condemn these teachers to low scores for the rest of the semester.

Another thing: professors are almost always at a distance from students, even though they "know" them for a long time. But boyfriends and girlfriends usually do see past that first impression and learn the underside of the outer image that formed their first impression.

Bloggin' Noggin
03-02-2008, 01:20 PM
Yea it seems like "fedorovingtonboop" didn't realize what Gazzaniga was getting at.

But I would like to query you a little more about combatilbilism.

If free will, as you say, is the ability to control your impulses, then surely no one has it, right?

It would be as you say "responsibility is not absence of causal determination, but the presence of the right sort of causal mechanisms."

That explanation seems to say that some people's physical constituents cause them to murder, and some people's physical constituents cause them to give to charity. In either case, neither is particularly able to control what makes them do what they do.

I'm not sure why one is more "responsible" for their actions than the other. The person who appears to be "choosing" to control their impulses is in fact just acting under the influence of a different type of physical constituent than the murderer is responding to.

I posted on this earlier,

http://bloggingheads.tv/forum/showthread.php?p=71055#poststop

but this post may be closer to the mark I was trying to hit.

I'd be content with a response to either one.

Hi Jay,
What I mean by "impulse control" is probably a far more empirical, less metaphysical thing than you have in mind. See the last part of this NOVA (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/apegenius/)special on what separates humans and the Great Apes.

It often happens that we have several desires asking for satisfaction at once. And it also often happens that if we act on what is currently the strongest desire, we lose out on an outcome that would be better for all the desires in question. If I am able, not only to calculate long term interest, but also to keep my strongest desire in check as a result of this calculation, then I have "impulse control" as I'm using the term. (See the experiment near the end of the Nova episode where they tell children they can eat this gummy bear whenever they want, but if they wait, they'll get five.)

The other side of this "impulse control" is a sense of oneself (and one's interests) as extending into the future and beyond the impulses of the moment. Punishment (as opposed to protective segregation) only makes sense for a creature capable of this kind of self-awareness/control.
Of course, so far the story sounds extremely self-interested -- as though the only reason we didn't murder was fear of punishment. In fact though, a creature that can think of itself as something extending beyond the impulse of the moment and able to act on that impulse has discovered the arena of value -- if I can act from an awareness of my long-term self, overriding desires, I can presumably also see my cruel desires from outside in the same way and control them on the ground that I don't want to be cruel.

Someone who kills on impulse due to a tremendous provocation that a normally rational human being would have a hard time resisting is understood to have diminished capacity. The hit man can't make the same claim that the money made him do it. A great deal of impulse control surely went into the laying of his plans. He doesn't have trouble controlling his impulses -- we have seen his actual will, not some outside force -- and his will is unconcerned with the value of other people.

Since it seems you've got incompatibilist intuitions, I'm sure that won't satisfy you, but maybe it will give you an idea how I look at the issue.

Bloggin' Noggin
03-02-2008, 01:37 PM
i'm not talking about the law and i never focused on it because it's not interesting or important and i have no idea why you keep redirecting the conversation to something i haven't said, don't care about and isn't relevant. all these vague terms like "causal determinism" are outdated and unnecessary. you are not even discussing the issue i brought up.
-->the issue i was trying to discuss, because mike brought it up, is that since the brain makes a decision about .250 milliseconds before we're aware of it, what's the point of "blame"? he then essentially says that that is irrelevant because this magic "free will" would be "free from what?" all we've learned is that your brain is making decisions before you're aware of them. this doesn't excuse your behavior because your brain is still making the decision. the concept of "free will" is pretty much irrelevant because what are you being freed from? all we mean is that your unconscious brain is making all the decisions and other parts of the brain sometimes have the ability to abort those initial urges. then he pokes fun at people who are uncomfortable with this evidence because they want to believe they "freely chose" to do something when really our lower brain regions are making choices and then our "I" (prefrontal cortex?) is making up reasons why we did them. they want to believe that there is "something" about humans that's inexplicable that exempts us from physical law. the difference between us and a bird is that they don't make up reasons for doing whatever they did because they don't have brains as advanced as we do - they simply react (just like we do) and don't care.
if i were to have a discussion about insane asylums vs. jail i'd be fine with either but that's not what i'm getting at.

I was under the impression that your first post was an attempt to respond to a question I asked -- because it appeared as a response and because you seemed expressly to address a question I asked. That question had to do with moral responsibility, which, while not "about the law" clearly has something to do with it. Surely it's no wonder that I interpreted you as addressing me.
Two comments:

they want to believe that there is "something" about humans that's inexplicable that exempts us from physical law.
Here you presuppose an incompatibilist view of responsibility, which is precisely what both Gazzaniga and I reject.

the difference between us and a bird is that they don't make up reasons for doing whatever they did because they don't have brains as advanced as we do - they simply react (just like we do) and don't care.


When workmen build a skyscraper, they might offer the reason for putting a beam here, that the architect's plans say to put it here, and the architect or an engineer could go on and offer an explanation why that beam needed to go there given the overall plan, and the architect could explain how his plan attempts to maximize workable space and beauty, while minimizing cost. Accordint to you, all these rational explanations of what people are doing are invented after the fact as rationalizations of some innate impulse like that found in nest-building wasps?
If neuroscience is telling us this, then it's nuttier than astrology.

bjkeefe
03-02-2008, 01:55 PM
YHMAH:

Thanks for your kind words. I moved my reply down here, rather than attaching it to your post, out of the interest of de-cluttering the threaded view. I do hope some others chime in, and hopefully, they'll do it down here.

I want to respond to Brendan (Even though I haven't been here long I can call you that can't I?)

Of course. That's my name, and in fact, the way I prefer to be addressed. I use "bjkeefe" as a handle on the web for the purpose of disambiguation; e.g., most of these results (http://www.google.com/search?q=brendan+keefe) aren't me. (A TV "reporter?" Shudder.)

Thank you so much for responding-----In my mind, your phrase "mindless religious nuts" just was not jibing with the general tenor and content of the rest of your comments on the thread. It was dissonant. IMHO, the phrase is dicey. It touches upon issues of justice. Is it really even possible for this phrase to express justice? Does it really describe REAL people or is it just basically a made up phrase that doesn't really describe anyone when you really, really, get right down to it?

As for my attitude about religious extremists being "dissonant," I don't know what to say. Maybe I'm a mass of contradictions. Maybe it's just a case of having a particular dislike. (You might have just noted I feel about the same way about at least one other group.)

I don't think the phrase I chose describes a made-up person. I have met such people, watched them on TV, listened to them on the radio, and read about them. As for it being a made-up phrase, I dunno. In some sense, maybe -- it did pop into my head when I was thinking of such people. On the other hand, it seems a common enough assemblage of words that I doubt it's original to me.

I'm not sure what my choice of phrase has to do with justice, or the expression thereof. If you mean that it suggests that once I label a person as such, I am disinclined to respect that person, that's probably true. On the other hand, the person in question started with a blank slate upon my having met him or her, and would have earned the label, and only after displaying some number of those characteristics. So am I not allowed to form an opinion about a person, after hearing that person opine on a number of topics? Am I required to think of that person as equal to others I respect more (whether I agree with them or not)? I don't think so. I don't think I'm being unfair to mark such a person as less worthy of respect.

Note that I am not, and have not, advocated stripping such people of, say, the right to vote, hold office, or any other civil right. Nor do I, or have I, urged physical violence, stalking, or anything of that nature against such people. I would like it if the general public grew to share my contempt for them, but I restrict my goals to social shunning and my tactics to public discourse.

On an unrelated note:

OK, I've decided that I want to contribute money --- just send in a check for $50.00--- but BHtv is strangely making that difficult for me to do, haven't they learned anything from Barack Obama ---- Just have an address where people can send in a check! (although the store is very nice, AND a great idea, with all due respect I don't need more "stuff")

Boy, if that isn't a test to see if the site owners are reading the comments!

There was a time, long ago, when Bob Wright floated the idea of a "tip jar" -- presumably, a button linked to PayPal that accepted small contributions. It never did appear, for reasons not stated. You might try an email to feedback@bloggingheads.tv if you feel strongly enough about this manner, although I do have to say that I think every spare nickel you have should (continue to) go here (https://donate.barackobama.com/page/contribute/abamtstd75). ;^)

I know what you mean about the store being a less than perfect way to make a contribution. I, too, have enough coffee mugs and T-shirts.

fedorovingtonboop
03-02-2008, 02:38 PM
i can see i'm getting absolutely nowhere. this isn't some big mystery, i'm just spouting exactly what the leading researchers are saying. all this talk about compatabilism and such is one step removed from reality. try these books:

http://www.amazon.com/Quest-Consciousness-Neurobiological-Approach/dp/0974707708/ref=pd_bbs_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1204483725&sr=8-2

http://www.amazon.com/Synaptic-Self-How-Brains-Become/dp/0142001783/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1204482954&sr=8-1

http://www.amazon.com/Mapping-Mind-Rita-Carter/dp/0520224612/ref=sr_1_10?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1204483026&sr=8-10

http://www.amazon.com/Blank-Slate-Modern-Denial-Nature/dp/0142003344/ref=pd_bbs_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1204483100&sr=1-2

ah, I just looked on wikipedia and i now realize why i have no idea what you're talking about. it's because you're a "philosopher"! i hate to continue being a jerk but i can't help it. ......philosophy has become obsolete due to the last twenty years of neuroscience, cosmology and quantum physics. everyone has moved on to strings and branes and neurons. the pic of thomas hobbs next to your title on wiki could be considered a clue. i know i'm not a nice guy at all but i have to inform you that calling yourself a "compatabilist" is not only pretentious (especially since i feel your off base) but it makes you seem behind the times. nobody uses these terms anymore! i think you should switch to hawking instead of hobbs.

bjkeefe
03-02-2008, 10:46 PM
Jim:

I took a similar test about presidential candidates, and it was almost embarrassing how much I preferred Obama. Visualize a ruler: Obama was at 11 7/8"; the next two were at the midpoint, and Huckabee was at about 3".

One interesting wrinkle: according to the test results, I slightly preferred McCain to Clinton.

So much for such tests, I say. Easily explained by how focused I am on the primaries. But come November, if I had to, I know which lever I would pull.

While sobbing, admittedly.

Bloggin' Noggin
03-03-2008, 10:57 AM
i can see i'm getting absolutely nowhere.
ah, I just looked on wikipedia and i now realize why i have no idea what you're talking about. it's because you're a "philosopher"!
i hate to continue being a jerk but i can't help it.

Well, self-knowledge is a good thing, even if, by your own theory, you can't control your impulses. I wonder what improvements might come about if you believed you had the freedom to control them...

......philosophy has become obsolete due to the last twenty years of neuroscience, cosmology and quantum physics.

Well, so you assert, and of course, I'm convinced, since I believe every anonymous poster who adopts the supremely arrogant tone of a college freshman.

I'll simply note that one of your sources -- Steven Pinker -- clearly takes philosophers more seriously than you do (the section in _Stuff of Thought_ about Lakoff draws heavily on work by Richard Boyd, whom Pinker cites -- there's an assignment for you!)

the pic of thomas hobbs next to your title on wiki could be considered a clue.

I have no idea what page on wikipedia you are talking about -- whatever it is, it wasn't composed by me.

i know i'm not a nice guy at all but i have to inform you that calling yourself a "compatabilist" is not only pretentious (especially since i feel your off base) but it makes you seem behind the times. nobody uses these terms anymore!

Are you claiming that philosophers never use the term any more? -- or just that your particular crowd doesn't use it any more? If the latter, why should I care?

bjkeefe
03-03-2008, 03:51 PM
......philosophy has become obsolete due to the last twenty years of neuroscience, cosmology and quantum physics. everyone has moved on to strings and branes and neurons.

Speaking as one who can become impatient with philosophers at times, and as one who prefers hard science whenever possible, I still have to say I couldn't disagree more.

There will always be the set of questions can be addressed with science, and a set of questions that cannot yet be. Philosophers help us to think more clearly and critically about such questions. Often, today's philosophical questions are the seed for tomorrow's scientific investigations.

And let's not forget the etymology. Philosophy means, literally (http://define.com/philosophy), "the love of knowledge." While one does encounter the occasional philosopher who seems to think straining at a gnat is way too broad a question, there are plenty more who add considerable worth to human thought and discourse. Just to take two examples, I don't know how we'd begin to talk sensibly about love and ethics without philosophers.

fedorovingtonboop
03-03-2008, 05:22 PM
"I don't know how we'd begin to talk sensibly about love and ethics without philosophers."

....uh, we'd probably use a marriage counselor, advice columnist, political scientist, or really a neuroscientist because there's not really anything more to "love" than chemicals. You see? Not necessary. They used to help but now-a-days there's no way you're going to find out about anything useful without theoretical physicists and cosmologists, etc.....you know, people who are actually smart. actually, hawking said philosophy was outdated himself, i believe in one of his books. There's a reason why you don't see any "philosophy" books making any waves like Pinker, Greene, Susskind. They'd get paid if they were worth anything.

fedorovingtonboop
03-03-2008, 05:36 PM
jeez! I'm being ganged up on by bloggingheads trolls!
i said some people have "free won't" so you're getting it wrong again and also, i only become arrogant when trying to overcome another's arrogance (of inferring that they have earned the title "philosopher" and that if they had earned it- thinking that it would be a virtue)

this argument isn't even addressing the issue i was initially talking about but i will say that the reason why i could tell you were a "philosopher" is because you're obviously not familiar with the most current research.

there's nothing that says "college freshman" more than seriously calling oneself a "compatabilist (philosopher)"

-anonymous

bjkeefe
03-03-2008, 05:54 PM
fed:

You're entitled to your measures of worth. I do not think the only way to measure the worth of philosophy is by book sales and salaries paid, even if I agreed that no one makes any money doing philosophy, which I don't.

I also do not happen to agree that neurology has yet had much useful to say about many aspects of the human condition. I would also say, especially in the particular case of love, that marriage counselors and advice columnists are, in my sense of the word, philosophers. The good ones, anyway.

Finally, I'm not sure why you feel like you're being ganged up on by "trolls." If you make a statement in a public forum, you should expect dispute. That's sort of the point of having a forum -- to debate. It'd be kind of boring if we all agreed with one another, don't you think?

If you can't take disagreement, I wonder why you bother to share your thoughts in the first place.

fedorovingtonboop
03-03-2008, 06:35 PM
those were meant as digs...because both of you have, like, nine hundred posts and post first on every vlog.....perhaps you need a posting break?
why would i say that money is the only measure of success?.....again, it's called a "dig"

i assume that by "neurology" you mean neuroscience and in that case....what planet are you living on?! have you read the material??? no free will, our unconscious brain controls everything, no specific module for language, no such thing as color?

seriously?......not much to say? i'd say click on the links i left for the other guy because you're missing out on some vital info.

bjkeefe
03-03-2008, 07:21 PM
fed:

those were meant as digs...

If you really were just kidding around, okay.

i assume that by "neurology" you mean neuroscience and in that case....what planet are you living on?! have you read the material??? no free will, our unconscious brain controls everything, no specific module for language, no such thing as color?

I beg your pardon for my error in terminology.

As for my awareness of the state of the art in neuroscience, I'll grant that I am not completely conversant. However, I do have some familiarity with the field, and it is my impression that it is about where biology was a couple of centuries ago; e.g., it is gathering observations, connecting one small piece of the puzzle with another, and like that. This is not meant to disparage the work, merely to note that it is very new.

I am aware that one can show there are some unconscious processes going on before conscious actions, for example, but I hardly think it's at all proven that free will does not exist. I grant the difficulty of defining precisely what is meant by "consciousness" and "free will," but if you'll permit some looseness, there is no sure way to say what I will be doing tomorrow, even if you know every possible thing about me up to today. It is not even possible to say with any degree of certainty what I might eat, when I'll get up, what I'll first do when I sit down at my computer, etc. So, it may be the case that "free will" is an illusion, but as far as living day to day goes, it's an illusion so good that there is no practical reason to think it's not "reality." It's like the idea that I might be part of some giant computer simulation. Fine if so, but so what? Until I can be shown that this really might be the case, there's no benefit to assuming it's true, and no sense in living as though it were.

Additionally, though some interesting results have been obtained, say, in describing which parts of the brain light up when people consider ethical dilemmas, there really isn't yet any way to talk about the grand sweep of ethics in a rigorous and scientific way. For example, I don't think you can make many predictions about how ethics might evolve based on the results obtained, so far, by neuroscience. Any useful prediction you can make about how people will likely respond in a given ethical quandary is based upon experience obtained in ways other than neuroscience.

Finally, I don't know what point you're trying to make when you say "no specific module for language, no such thing as color," but the first thing that hearing such a statement makes me think is, "Exactly. We still don't know a lot about how the brain works."

fedorovingtonboop
03-03-2008, 08:10 PM
i honestly can't take this anymore. i hate to sound like a snob both of you need
to do some reading and that's why i posted links.
think of it this way instead:
you're still making the decision ...just slightly before you're aware of it....that's it. "free will" is a secondary, metaphysical argument that adds an extra something that cannot be explained by science no matter what. it's not even in the realm of science.

bjkeefe
03-03-2008, 08:12 PM
fed:

i honestly can't take this anymore.

Promises, promises.

Jay J
03-04-2008, 01:57 AM
Thanks Bloggin,

I think we both realize that we aren't going to persuade one another to change views now, at least not on a forum like this, but I was wondering if I could run by you my understanding of what a compatibilist believe about consciousness.

In order to be a compatibilist, one has to also be a materialist (philosophical naturalist, reductionist, etc) and believe that consciousness is in principle explainable in terms of the natural sciences. If we had access to all 3rd person information (objective facts), we would be able to explain, step by step, not only the functionality of the brain, but subjective experience itself (the hard problem).

I know we probably don't have the time or inclination to get into it in much detail, but does the above seem right to you?

Bloggin' Noggin
03-04-2008, 10:30 AM
I will try not to respond to your tone or to your assumption of some vast authority on philosophy and neuroscience.
Let me just direct you, NOT to a long list of books of my own suggestion, but rather to one of the books you yourself cited. Not only that, I won't just tell you to "read this book" more carefully -- I'll give you 5 pages out of that book. You tell me to go off and read _The Blank Slate_ above. As it happens I own the book and have previously read the portion on Determinism and Responsibility. I've gotten it out again and found the relevant section for you.
I'll direct your attention to pages 175-180 of _The Blank Slate_ In this section, he cites with approval the philosopher Dan Dennett, who classifies himself as a "compatibilist" and his book _Elbow Room_. Pinker then proceeds to take a very standard compatibilist line and to make arguments familiar from philosophical discussions of moral responsibility: He argues that moral responsibility is compatible with determinism -- as Gazzaniga did in this diavlog (albeit not so clearly as Pinker).

Now I have just raised a problem for you from within your own source. So far, your response has been to adopt an air of unearned (and supercilious) authority and vaguely gesture toward an argument, rather than to offer anything that actually looks like an argument for your position. If you respond with an actual counterargument or by a reasonable request for clarification (and with something like civility), I'll respond. Otherwise, I'll give your future posts exactly the attention they have deserved so far.

Bloggin' Noggin
03-04-2008, 11:15 AM
Thanks Bloggin,

I think we both realize that we aren't going to persuade one another to change views now, at least not on a forum like this, but I was wondering if I could run by you my understanding of what a compatibilist believe about consciousness.

In order to be a compatibilist, one has to also be a materialist (philosophical naturalist, reductionist, etc) and believe that consciousness is in principle explainable in terms of the natural sciences. If we had access to all 3rd person information (objective facts), we would be able to explain, step by step, not only the functionality of the brain, but subjective experience itself (the hard problem).

I know we probably don't have the time or inclination to get into it in much detail, but does the above seem right to you?

Hi Jay,
Perhaps you don't have the time or inclination for a discussion of free will. My behavior in this forum has shown that I have time even for a completely worthless exchange over free will -- I would infinitely prefer having a real discussion with you.
In answer to your question, I think basic compatibilism just asserts that people could be morally responsible for their actions, even though the laws that govern their behavior are deterministic. This says nothing about the nature of those laws. We could be pure souls without bodies at all, and the standard problem of whether one could "do otherwise" would arise if we assume that the laws that govern these pure souls are deterministic.
The Ginet/van Inwagen (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_will#Incompatibilism) argument makes no appeal to the nature of the laws beyond their being deterministic. I would therefore deny that compatibilism is committed to "reductionism" or to a solution to the "hard problem" of consciousness.
And since I'm very skeptical that someone could start with a description of neurons and end by knowing what chocolate tastes like (without ever tasting chocolate or anything like chocolate), it's a good thing I can be a compatibilist without taking on the assumption you attribute to compatibilists.

There are reductionist arguments against moral responsibility too of course. My formulation of "compatibilism" in connection with these arguments would be something like this:
Any form of mental-physical "reduction" that is actually true is compatible with moral responsibility and with the effectiveness of deliberation.

I hope you do have time and inclination to continue the discussion.

Jay J
03-04-2008, 04:45 PM
Bloggin',

Yea I would totally dig a discussion over free will. I suppose it just seemed like we were reaching a...dead end, in terms of how much more could be said, and I didn't want to whip a dead horse.

I thought that asking about your understanding of compatibilism may reveal the source of the disagreement, or reveal my hunch that we were at a dead end. And lo and behold, it appears to have opened up more possibilities.

It usually helps to organize my thoughts the way I will below, but of course this is mostly for my benefit, we don't have to stick to any particular format.

1) It may be useful for us to decide whether our views on morality are realist or nominalist (i.e. moral skepticism: emotivism, error theory, prescriptivism, etc). I believe I fall into the moral realist category, but I may not, my views lean realist but they're not fully mature. I've seen you say a couple of times Bloggin, that you have "faith" that your insights about the world (or perhaps even about "life") actually match up with what's "out there." That's a pretty minimalist use of the word "faith" compared to the way it is normally used, but it's a faith I share. Having said that, let's get out the hammer and tongs and go to work on a couple of versions of moral realism.

2) Our society seems to adopt a 2nd-person view of morality. In other words, we're accountable to one another. Stephen Darwall has done some interesting work in this area:

http://www.lsa.umich.edu/philosophy/philosophy_detail/0,2874,19777%255Farticle%255F35269,00.html

This view is pretty Kantian, and in that way it seems, IMHO, underwhelming. I don't see how we could actually be accountable to one another in any way other than nominally. This would go for any being, including a divine being. If we're all autonomous, atomistic, separate individuals, then it seems that there is nothing actually in between us. So 2nd-person accountability seems like a mental construct...a really good mental construct, granted, but nevertheless a only a nominal agreement.

3) The way some ethicists have tried to get around moral skepticism is by positing "rational" obligation. Philosophers who attempt this make me believe that they didn't fully comprehend the challenge posed by skepticism in this area. This type of obligation seems to rest on the neutral content of "if, then" reasoning, or the "hypothetical imperative." The problem can be spotted right away, and it is that Hitler could have easily applied it to his plans; "IF you wish to commit genocide, THEN it is a good idea to use gas chambers." The moral content of the hypothetical imperative is neutral. In order to believe in the normativity of rational obligation, one must posit something like, "it is good to be rationally consistent." But then we're back to square one, which is that moral statements seem arbitrary.

4) So what's all this talk of morality for anyway? Well it seems to me that we should figure out if we can get a handle on the concept of responsibility before we say that free people have it. I mean, even if people posses a robust free will, this doesn't necessarily mean that they're responsible in any way other than nominally. We can eschew metaphysics if we want, but then we won't even take a stand on the topic, and just base our legal system on the protection of society. The legal system is relevant insofar as we feel the need to attribute responsibility to the accused, so that we can feel justified in locking them away. But we wouldn't need that, in a society that completely eschewed metaphysics. We could just recognize that a person's history showed that they were a threat to society, and we could lock them away, or remove them from society. If we choose to do that, then where is the practical need (or even the philosophical need) for the idea of moral responsibility? Surely it would help regular folks sort out what they feel they should do, but for people who wish for their beliefs to be completely warranted, what would the concept of responsibility (particularly the 2nd-Person kind) be accomplishing?

5) When free will becomes intertwined with the idea of moral responsibility, it seems that a step has been skipped. What is responsibility? What are we responsible to? Who are we answering to? We don't need the concept for the law to make sense, it seems.

6) At least on the reductionist view of consciousness, compatiblism seems to be equivocating when it uses the term "free will." On the reductionist- materialist view of consciousness, the universe is inherently non-experiential. It would follow that the universe, and even its constituents, have no "will," with the possible exception of relatively recent examples of the "emergence" of subjective experience. So a bunch of pieces of non-will merge together in complex arrangements and form something that looks like a will. What seems to be happening here is that physical constituents are zigging and zagging and that the result is something we come along and label the "will." Some have constituencies that are more apelike and reptilian, while others have constituencies that are more refined and civilized. In either case, however, things more fundamental than a surface "will" are in charge, whether that fundamental constituent ends up forming a person measured and calm, or ill-tempered and erratic.

7) Now, what to do about this non-reductionist compatibilism? Well, I think David Chalmers has something interesting to say about consciousness (duh?). And here I'm not only talking about how he proposed that we might one day have to simply posit consciousness (the kind the hard problem is concerned with) as a fundamental property of the universe. He has also said that these kinds of fundamental properties probably have laws of their own. In this way, even if one accepted an intangible, free-floating consciousness, it may still be the case that everything is determined. This brings to mind Schopenhauer's words, paraphrased, "A man can definitely do as he wills, but he cannot will and he wills."

8) While it's difficult to imagine any part of existence which escapes Schopenhauer's insight, it's also hard to imagine what determinism means if it's extended beyond the machinations of the material "stuff." If a will is intangible, then it could be the "first" cause of an action, with the machinations acting in accord with the will. However if the machinations (be they reptilian or refined) are the "first" cause of an action, then the so-called "will" seems more like a surface appearance, masking a whole host of non-experiential zigs and zags. In that case, why call it a 'will' at all?

9) It may be helpful to me if you asses my summary of the faults of reductionist-compatiblism.

10) It also may help me if you say whether you lean toward a view like the the one in the snippets from Chalmers and Schopenhauer, or if you're agnostic. It seems to me that if you accept my critique of reductionist-compatibilism, then you can't be agnostic anymore. There may be some other option(s) I have neglected, but if you agree with my take on reductionist-compatibilism, then it seems that you will commit to a view like Chalmers, or at least accept that "emergence" has created subjective experience which goes beyond the sum of its parts (the "parts" being the material stuff).

Thanks for your time, Bloggin'.

Bloggin' Noggin
03-04-2008, 06:53 PM
Hi Jay,
Wow! You open up not just one can of worms, but several all at once!

Unless you'd rather talk about moral realism, I think I'll try to put that aside for another day. I think PF Strawson's seminal paper "Freedom and Resentment" is helpful here. He points out that there are a number of nonmoral (or premoral) "reactive attitudes", like resentment, that involve assessments of responsibility beyond purely causal responsibility. If someone is pushed out of a window and lands on you, you don't resent him when you recognize that it wasn't his doing, even though he's causally responsible for your injuries. The most basic point I want to make here is that assigning this kind of responsibility goes deeper than morality, and deciding about the exact nature of moral obligation and moral facts can therefore probably be set to one side when we take up the issue of what this responsibility is.
Strawson further points out that this notion of "responsibility" and the reactive attitudes that include it are part of what it means for us to look at someone as another person. When we start to give, not merely one-off excuses for people ("he was tired that day," "someone slipped LSD into his drink" etc.) and treat them as generally not responsible, as we do with deranged people, when we put them in the category of mere causal mechanism about which the question of responsibility simply doesn't arise, we are regarding them as outside the realm of humanity -- like machines or lions. (Please note that the word "mere" in "mere causal mechanism" is doing a lot of work -- I obviously don't think freedom or responsibility depend upon our behavior being uncaused.)

When we get to the later part of your post, your focus is primarily on how we can give a materialist account of consciousness. I can see that there is probably a connection between that and responsibility, but here too, I think we could get lost in the problem of consciousness and never get back to free will itself.
You evince no interest at all in the standard problem of causal determinism -- as exemplified by the Ginet argument:
1. If I am to be responsible for my action, I must have been able to do otherwise.
2. If determinism is true, then my action was determined by the state of the world long before my birth and the laws of nature.
3. When I chose my action, I could not have changed either events long before my birth or the laws of nature.
Therefore, (4) I could not have done otherwise.
Therefore, (5) I am not responsible for my action.

(That's from memory -- I should look and see if I've left something crucial out.)
Even though you seem more interested in the problems that what Aristotle would have called material causation might pose for free will than in this standard problem of efficient causation, I wonder whether this kind of problem might not be the place to begin. If you're bothered by the problems materialism might pose for free will, I find it hard to believe that you would be unconcerned with this problem. And if we can see our way through this problem, then maybe that can serve as a model for the solution of your favored problem.

So, here's my question: do you find psychological determinism by past events (how you were raised etc.) a problem for free will as well? Are you a compatibilist about psychological determinism and free will/responsibility? Or do you see problems for free will only when determination by physical forces comes into question?

Jay J
03-04-2008, 08:26 PM
Bloggin',

Now we're getting into the juicy stuff!

I think I have some clarifying questions, points, before I move on. Then you will probably have one or two clarifications, and maybe we'll finish this conversation in the next 10 months. You know how philosophy can get. ;)

I had thought that I was addressing the Ginet argument, though it was probably in a round about way. I agree with the formulation as far as it relates to free will (but I think it seems to accept the folk notion of responsibility, which I don't think I do). I would add that what I was trying to get at is that the formulation doesn't explicitly (or maybe I need to read it too) address what's going on inside the organism. I understand that the person can be a causal factor, and that the person's "will" can be carried out through a decision, even in a deterministic world.

But if physical determinism is true, then the happenings inside the brain actually cause us to believe we have a will. It matters allot to me which direction things are going. In other words, is there a will, which the machinations of the brain respond to? Or do the machinations of the brain cause us to have the experience of a "will?"

See if determinism is true, then I suppose I find myself sympathizing with the Churchland's argument, which is that there really is no such thing as a "will."

If physical determinism is true, then the distinction between reptilian impulses on the one hand, and refined habits on the other, seems dubious and ad hoc. In either case, the direction of the will isn't going in the way I want it to. If the direction of the will starts in ways that can in principle be explained step by step through naturalistic reductionism, then I'm going to side with the Churchlands on the subject of whether the will even exists at all.

To take a stab at your last question(s), I think I can deal with a sort of broad psychological determinism as compatible with free will. I think issues of how a person is raised can get at the Philosophy 101 description of "soft determinism." Of course compatibilism has been called this too, but you know what I'm getting at right? I mean it's clear that some people really don't have very many options, both materially and because of poor upbringing. But I would say that even if a tiny sliver of free choice can be exercised, even if only in thought, then I'm gonna go ahead and call that free will. So upbringing and severely limited choices are things I can accept, without questioning free will.

I do think material or physical determinism, specifically, causes problems for free will. And that gets back to how I see the distinction between refined behavior and impulsive behavior to be arbitrary. If materialist determinism is true, then I side with the Churchlands in saying that there really is not such thing as the will. Now I will stop being redundant and wrap it up...

So where do we go from here?

BTW, I've run across Strawson's article before, are we ready to get into that yet? It's unclear to me how it helps.

What say you Mr. Noggin?

Bloggin' Noggin
03-05-2008, 02:24 PM
Hello Jay,
I wonder if free will really is the issue you are concerned about. My main reason for wondering this is that the Ginet argument (which makes no appeal to the nature of the determining causes) is surely pretty much parallel to any argument from physical determinism. In both cases, you start with facts seemingly beyond the agent's control and say that these facts determine the choice quite independently of the agent -- the agent himself becomes irrelevant to the outcome ("his" action). In one case, these facts may be psychological laws and facts which themselves could not have been chosen by the agent (facts about the distant past). In the other case, you start with psycho-physical or physical laws and physical facts which are also taken to be beyond the agent's control. Yet in the former case, you don't see a problem for free will (if I read you correctly), and in the latter case, you do. What accounts for the difference?

As I see it, the problem of free will -- or the apparently metaphysically intractable part of the problem (versus the more practical problem of educating people so that they have more autonomy) -- is the result of a kind of double-vision. We're imagining, not just determination, but predestination. If determinism is true, then Laplace's demon, knowing the entire state of the world at some time in the distant past, could predict what we will do ahead of time. (It seems to me there are relativistic problems with this formulation -- there is no such thing as the state of the whole universe at a single instant -- since the Big Bang, but put that aside.) But the fact that someone can predict what we will do does not automatically diminish our freedom. We predict our friends' actions pretty accurately all the time. The worry arises when we imagine that Laplace's demon might TELL us what we'll do and yet we still couldn't escape doing it just to prove him wrong. Even some predictions told to the agent that wouldn't change the outcome don't bother me. Suppose I'm offered a choice of a million dollars tax free or decapitation, and Laplace's demon, or even you, tell me your prediciton that I'll choose the million dollars. I won't feel particularly unfree just because I'm doing what I know was predicted. We have to imagine a case where I'm choosing between two rationally indifferent options (or anyway not so clearly stacked one way), like ordering the pepper steak or the coq au vin at a restaurant. It certainly would be troubling if you could tell me I would order the steak and no matter how much I wanted to prove you wrong, I found I still couldn't avoid ordering the pepper steak.
But THAT doesn't follow from determinism. In the actual world, the demon knows the actual chain of events involves his NOT telling you what you will order. In those circumstances, he knows you will order the pepper steak. But if he HAD told you what you would order, then initial conditions would have been different, and you might have chosen differently just to prove him wrong. Your choice was determined and predictable, but NOT inescapable.

Another version of the same worry and the same double vision is to argue that if determinism is true, then it doesn't matter whether I deliberate or not -- I'll still do the same thing. But this manifestly doesn't follow from determinism. The deliberation that takes place in the actual world is part of the causal chain that results in my action. If you suppose that that portion of the causal chain were absent, then initial conditions are different, and the result that those initial conditions determine would probably be different as well.

I think a similar double-vision is operative in the case of materialism. The worry here is that I could conceivably look at the physical facts and determine at time T purely on the basis of those facts and the physical laws of nature whether I will raise my hand at time T+1. If I know at T what's going to happen at T+1, then any deliberation I undertake in the meantime will be ineffective. My hand will go up, even though I were to decide not to.

But this reasoning secretly presupposes the falsehood of the materialism that we were supposedly assuming. My initial calculation was based on the physical state of my brain BEFORE I determined the answer to my calculation. If materialism is true, then there can be no difference in my psychological condition without a corresponding difference in my material condition. After doing the calculation about what I will do, I have a new belief (that I will raise my hand at T+1). If materialism is true, this new belief puts me in a different overall brainstate from the one I used as the basis of my calculations, thus rendering the initial prediction obsolete. If I redo the calculation now, I may come up with the conclusion that I will NOT raise my hand. But now that piece of information has changed my beliefs and hence my brain state. Each prediction both becomes available both as a new belief which can enter into deliberation AND as a new physical state which can (by means of the physical correlate of that deliberation) alter the initial physical conditions and thereby alter the physical outcome.

(Here I'm assuming that "material determinism" = "materialism", and that minimally, materialism means that there can be no psychological difference in a person's state without a material difference in the world (often in the person's brain state, though the physical difference could be elsewhere in the world, as Putnam's Twin Earth examples suggest).

Let me just comment on this remark:
But if physical determinism is true, then the happenings inside the brain actually cause us to believe we have a will.
If you adopt the Churchlands' view, then "beliefs" are just as fictional as "will" or intention or deliberation etc.

Obviously, I haven't been at all rigorous in my approach above -- didn't even deal directly with the Ginet argument. I'm just trying to deal with the issue intuitively for now. But if I'd tried to be really careful and rigorous, this post would amount to a long paper.
I'll see what you have to say in reaction and try to tighten things as needed.

If my answer is unsatisfying, perhaps that will be because I've not understood waht you mean by "material determinism". In that case, maybe you could define it for me and explain why, given that definition, my treatment above won't work.

Jay J
03-05-2008, 04:37 PM
Hi Bloggin,

Let me sort of work backwards from what you said in your last post:

First, I would agree with the Churchlands completely if I agreed with them on the state of the world. For now, suffice it to say that if they are right about the state of the world, then I agree with their conclusion that there are no such things as beliefs, and that there is no such thing as a will. The thing is, many people agree with the Churchlands on the way world works, but disagree with their eliminative-materialism when it comes to propositional attitudes.

I admit that their conclusion seems pretty counterintuitive, but I'm comforted by the fact that I don't see the Churchlands as denying "what-it's-likeness" as much as they are saying that what we see as our will or our "belief" is not what it appears to be. So in conversations about compatibilism v. incompatibilism, we're assuming the world is determined, which I'm sure I don't have to tell you.

Now I want to get into what I mean by terms like "material determinism" or "physical determinism" or what have you. The reason I brought up Chalmers and Schopenhauer before is to contrast some of their words (which at least out of context, seem to lead to another type of determinism) with what I'm calling material or physical determinism. Chalmers says that even if we have to sort of throw our hands up and simply posit experience as a fundamental property of the universe, this fundamental property may have its own laws. Also when Schopenhauer says (roughly) "a man can certainly do as he wills, but he cannot will as he wills," this brings to mind the possibility that perhaps determinism makes the most sense, even if the hard sciences stop short of explaining consciousness step by step or fully. If the view I'm throwing out there (hinted at by Chalmers and Schopenhauer) is true, then there really can be an agent with a will whose deliberation is a part of the causal chain. But determinism might be true, in spite of the fact that there was an authentic will playing a role.

However if determinism is true, not in a Chalmers-like or Schopenhauer-esque sort of way, but rather in a materialist way, then there really is no will which is playing a role in the causal process. A materialist or physicalist determinism would say that not only our impulses, but also our thoughts, inclinations, emotions, etc are all the secondary result of more primary causes in the brain. True enough the environment would play a huge role there too, but all those environmental influences would have their own, reducible, micro influences as well. This is what I meant when I talked about how important it is which direction things are going. You say:

"Here I'm assuming that "material determinism" = "materialism", and that minimally, materialism means that there can be no psychological difference in a person's state without a material difference in the world (often in the person's brain state, though the physical difference could be elsewhere in the world, as Putnam's Twin Earth examples suggest."

I would agree but just want to add that the brain must be a part. I know that seems obvious and what I'm about to say seems obvious, but I think it must be explicitly stated that the psychological difference would result from something happening that is not the will, be it from internal or external influences. The thing with external influences, however, is that they must go through the brain in some way, shape, or form. Our sense organs would sense "water" or whatever it actually was, and then we would have something happen in another part of our brain telling us that we perceive something a certain way. It seems like what we perceive as a "belief" or a "will" comes along pretty late in the process. In a materialist world, propositional attitudes are a "Johnny come lately" who wish to take the credit for something they played no part in. So I don't see deliberation as "real" if in fact the materialist story is correct.

I think I should acknowledge a mistake I've made though, and hopefully it won't be too big a burden on my view. I've been referring to Chalmers and Schopenhauer as hinting at some form of "determinism" in this post and in another, I think. What I should have been saying is that, particularly Schopenhauer, hints at a lack of free will, which is not necessarily the same thing as determinism. The lack of free will hinted at contrasts itself with a robust, libertarian free will. But I think we can retain the term "free will" if in fact there is a way for an agent to have an authentic will, (which still may not be "free" to Schopenhauer) even if events in the world combine to severely limit the agent's choices.

We could envision a person being told they will be shot unless they give up a certain piece of information. It looks like they have no choice at all. They played no part in the "bad guys" decision to be cruel, and the agent has no way out of the situation. But of course the agent could just say "You know what, screw you!" And people have decided that premature, violent death was a choose-able option before. So I don't see those kinds of circumstances being a problem for free will, at least not when materialism is set to the side.

But if the materialist story is correct, I just don't see where we locate the justification for calling something a "will" at all. And this would go for beliefs as well, and it also wouldn't bode well for what appears to us from the outside to be "deliberation."

Jay J
03-06-2008, 12:51 AM
Bloggin,

I'm going to be going out of town tomorrow afternoon and will probably be away from the computer over the weekend. Just wanted to let you know that I won't be able to keep up with the pace we've set over the last day or two. I'll probably be back in full force Monday night or early next week.

For now, in case I haven't sufficiently explained my view, I've included a link to a Galen Strawson (P.F.'s son) interview.

My friend sometimes says that we should be nimble enough to use a "line item veto" on philosophers, and I completely agree, since much of what they say ends up being jumbled into one view, when accepting parts of it may not compel you to accept all of it.

I think my friend's advice is particularly applicable in the case of Galen Strawson, and his relation to my argument. The kind of a state of the world he talks about I find compelling even though I don't see the need to discount free will just because reality may not fit with some popular notion of it. Even if there are only tiny amounts of free will, I think that would still warrant the term "free will."

The bigger objection I would have is that he seems to uncritically accept the popular notion of responsibility. He reaches the same conclusion I do, (at least insofar as I reject the notion of 2nd-person responsibility) but takes a different route. Perhaps then it is too picky of me to quarrel, but it seems important to point out; Strawson says that we don't have free will, therefore we don't have moral responsibility. But that assumes that if we did have free will, we would have moral responsibility, and I don't think that necessarily follows. I mean, there doesn't seem to be any automatic reason why one can't be a moral skeptic AND believe in free will, regardless of what moral skeptics have usually said about the topic.

Having said all that, I think Strawson gets at what I mean when I say that perhaps there is no free will, even if determinism is not true. I'm ambivalent about that for now...

Have a good rest of the week, and a good weekend.

http://www.naturalism.org/strawson_interview.htm

Bloggin' Noggin
03-06-2008, 12:03 PM
A materialist or physicalist determinism would say that not only our impulses, but also our thoughts, inclinations, emotions, etc are all the secondary result of more primary causes in the brain. True enough the environment would play a huge role there too, but all those environmental influences would have their own, reducible, micro influences as well. This is what I meant when I talked about how important it is which direction things are going.

Hi Jay,

I think what you are describing is epiphenomenalism, not materialism. The epiphenomenalist about mind would say that mental phenomena are non-material, causally impotent phenomena which are themselves caused by material facts or events. If epiphenomenalism is true of mental phenomena, then, yes, there's no free will. But epiphenomenalism is deeply implausible and unsatisfactory. The epiphenomenalist has trouble understanding psycho-physical "interaction" from one direction, but acts as though he has no trouble understanding the interaction from the other direction. If it's hard to see how mental states could affect physical states, then why is it any easier to see how physical states could cause mental states? Either there's a problem for both directions or for neither direction: epiphenomenalism is just inconsistent.

Non-eliminative materialists do not regard mental states as non-physical phenomena: mental states, for them, just ARE physical states. If one physical state can cause another and mental states are physical states, then it shouldn't be mysterious how mental states (belief, desire, deliberation, intention) can cause physical states (the elevation of my hand or the tilting of my head). There's a lot of disagreement and uncertainty about how to spell out what we mean when we say that mental states are also physical states: type-type identity (which I don't think anyone accepts any more), token-token identity or a more non-reductive materialism which says only that mental states and events "consist of" or "are constituted by" states of a clearly physical nature.
All of these forms of materialism are committed to the supervenience of the mental upon the physical. This is the claim I mentioned last time: There can be no mental difference without a physical difference. If I go from believing that snow is black to believing that it's white, this cannot happen without a corresponding physical change.

Your worry results from treating material states as CAUSING mental states (and not vice versa), but the materialist doesn't see the relationship between mental and physical states as causal at all -- at least not in the standard sense (what Aristotle would call "efficient causation" -- event A at time T resulting in event B at time T+1). The materialist sees the relationship as either one of IDENTITY or of what Aristotle would call "material causation" -- i.e., explaining the powers of something in terms of the powers of the material that makes it up). But such "material causation" (better to call it "material explanation") does not involve the positing of two separate states or events, one mental and one physical -- and THAT is the source of your free will problem.

Jay J
03-06-2008, 02:43 PM
Hi Bloggin,

I'm on my way out of town and I see that you replied, and I've got time for one drive-by post before I leave.

First of all, thank you for setting me straight on materialism. I had heard about mind-brain identity before, but I had not understood that all forms of non-eliminative materialism held this view and didn't see a causal process between the physical and mental.

But you've got to forgive a guy for missing this. I mean, at least some forms of non-eliminative materialism believe in emergence right? That is to say, consciousness is not present in material per se, it...emerges (?) after certain configurations of matter are present. I suppose it is believed that although consciousness is not present in matter itself, but comes into existence when matter configures itself in a certain way, at the same time consciousness it not CAUSED by matter, but instead is identical to it. You got to admit, that's not, well...obviously intuitive.

The eliminative-materialist story seems to make more sense to me because of what I've just said. But I'm not committed to the view. I think we both realize that we're mostly saying what follows from certain premises, rather than vigorously advocating one view or another. If in the process of asserting what follows from certain premises we advocate a view, so be it I guess. I only say that because I'm trying right now to set out what makes sense to me, based on materialist assumptions.

And with these assumptions, I think another view is coherent to me, and that is the materialist-panpsychism of Galen Strawson. Some may come along and question how believable this is, but I'm trying to leave that out here, and stick to what I find harmonious with certain assumptions. If there is an identity between the material and the physical, then it must be that the mental is inherent in the physical, and vice versa. Here's an article by Strawson on this topic:

http://www.rdg.ac.uk/AcaDepts/ld/Philos/gjs/rmchomsky.htm

It's kinda long, but it can probably be skimmed over to get the gist. Also I think it would be wise of me to say that while Galen Strawson describes himself as a materialist, I realize too that materialism is not typically thought to entail panpsychism. So the materialism I've been discussing has been the everyday philosophical version, the one which does not see consciousness as ubiquitous or as a fundamental property of the universe.

I realize that we may have taken a side-road, and I'm trying to stay aware of that, and not lose my place. I've got a string from the original topic to this one in my mind, and I'll try to keep hold of that string.

If we end up taking this path for a while, that's fine with me. For now, suffice it to say that I had believed I was being as fair as I could be to materialism by describing it the way I did. This is because to me if consciousness is not caused by the physical, but is identical to it, then it must be that the mental is identical to non-anthropomorphic matter as well, as in Galen Strawon's view. But since this is not the way materialism is normally viewed, I think then it is compelled to go in the direction of the Churchlands.

Whether the Chuchland's view collapses into epiphenomenalism may be relevant, and I appreciate the point, and perhaps we can pick it up soon. But for now, it seems to me that materialism is compelled to go either in the direction of Strawson or the Churchlands. What do you think of that interpretation?

BTW, in the time I've typed this, I've realize that there's snow and sleet and rain and wind between me and my girlfriend's house (she lives 5 hours away, I was gonna drive there) and it's only supposed to get colder, to freezing actually, so I think my trip is canceled. I'll be around to reply probably...

Bloggin' Noggin
03-06-2008, 03:41 PM
Thanks for the Galen Strawson interview. I've read about his argument before, though I haven't read anything directly by him. I certainly agree with him that determinism is something of a red herring. The real problem behind the "problem of determinism" is this notion that free will involves being causa sui. I think Strawson is basically right that THIS is essentially what Libertarians (of the metaphysical, not the political variety) seem to want, and I think he's right that this radical version of free will is really incoherent. Here, for future reference, is Strawson's argument:

I suppose itís possible that you might have acquired the first want, thatís the want for a want, because you wanted to! Itís theoretically possible that you had a want to have a want to have a want. But this is very hard to imagine, and the question just rearises: where did that want come from? You certainly canít go on like this forever. At some point your wants must be just given. They will be products of your genetic inheritance and upbringing that you had no say in. In other words, thereís a fundamental sense in which you did not and cannot make yourself the way you are. And this, as you say, is the key step in the basic argument against ultimate moral responsibility, which goes like this: (1) You do what you do ó in the circumstances in which you find yourself ó because of the way you are. (2 ) So if youíre going to be ultimately responsible for what you do, youíre going to have to be ultimately responsible for the way you areóat least in certain mental respects. (3) But you canít be ultimately responsible for the way you are (for the reasons just given). (4) So you canít be ultimately responsible for what you do.

If Strawson is right (in fact, if Hume is right), the term "compatibilist" is a bit off, since determinism isn't really the problem -- unless we think of it as the compatibility of free will and NATURALISM.
Anyway, like other compatibilists, my approach is to deny that we need this extreme and incoherent form of free will. When it comes to responsibility, what we seem to care about is whether an action and its consequences (especially for others) authentically represent the agent's will, not whether the agent was able to make his will from scratch. If I shoot someone, the question that matters is whether I just regard other people's lives as less important than mine. If I shot him just because that was convenient for me, then the answer seems to be "yes" -- I don't take other people's lives to be as important as my convenience. The action truly represents who I am and what I willed. But suppose I shot him withuot intending to hit him -- i was just testing out my new gun, unaware that he was there. Or suppose I shot him believing that he was attacking me and this was the only way to keep him from killing me. In these cases, it matters whether I took reasonable care to be sure that no one was in the way or that this really was my only way to defend myself. If I took reasonable care given the circumstances, then my action doesn't speak for me -- at least if I regret the consequences.
On the other hand, if I didn't take reasonable care, then my action does show that I value other people insufficiently (and presumably less than I value my own life), and I do bear responsibility for these consequences.

I don't think this entirely eliminates the notion of "self-choice" from free will or moral responsibility, but the "self-choice" involved is much less radical than that envisioned by Strawson. Unlike children and animals, adults are able to "see themselves from outside" -- from another person's point of view -- and for the same reasons, we are capable of VALUING as opposed to merely desiring. That comes into my story above. A "brute" can't make the kind of judgment I described about how "important" someone else's life is in comparison to its own -- the brute wants something and if killing is the necessary means, then that's what it will do. A brute can't ask "what kind of brute do I want to be, and will this action represent the kind of brute I want to be?" An adult human of normal mental abilities is able to ask whether a contemplated action represents the kind of person he wants to be. If someone recognizes that his action is the action of a heartless jerk, and he's OK with that, then he is choosing to be a heartless jerk. And, since normal people are aware that their actions speak for them and that they should examine their actions from this angle when deliberating, even one who chooses the action of a heartless jerk without considering whether it is such an action can be considered to have chosen to be a heartless jerk.

But this kind of "self choice" is, I think, coherent and compatible with a naturalistic view of the world, unlike the extreme version of the libertarian.

How far do I differ from Strawson? He admits that in SOME less exalted sense, most people are morally responsible, and I agree. But apparently, he regards this lesser sense as insufficient, or perhaps even a kind of sham -- I don't agree with that. The free will debate originated in connection with a) getting God off the hook for moral evil in the world and b) justifying ETERNAL punishment for finite moral evil. Both of those contexts seem to demand what Strawson calls "Deep Moral Responsibility". But in the context of merely human choice and human reproaches and punishments, I don't see why we need "DMR". When someone treats me as less important than himself, his action says something to me. When I express my resentment back, or when society punishes him, those actions say something in response (something like "this is how your action looks from the other end"). When the punishment is not eternal, ordinary responsibility is enough.

Bloggin' Noggin
03-06-2008, 04:10 PM
First of all, thank you for setting me straight on materialism. I had heard about mind-brain identity before, but I had not understood that all forms of non-eliminative materialism held this view and didn't see a causal process between the physical and mental.

Just a quick note of correction for the moment. I didn't say that all materialists are identity theorists. Many are token-token identity theorists (or were last time I looked). Usually this is formulated in terms of the identity of physical events and mental events.
The type-type theorist says that all mental events of a certain sort (e.g., pain) are physical events of a single sort (in the hackneyed example, C-fibers firing).
The token-token theorist notes that many uncontroversially physical objects (like chairs) can't be defined in this way. There are metal chairs and wooden chairs and beanbag chairs, and they can all be quite different shapes and sizes. The token-token chair theorist would say that "chair" is not physically definable, but that each and every chair is identical with some physical object. The token-token theorist of mind says that each particular mental event is identical with some particular token physical event, but admits that mentally similar events may be physically quite dissimilar.
Richard Boyd seems to go beyond token-token theory. Think of chairs again. If I take a particular metal chair, is this chair identical with the matter that makes it up? Seemingly not, since you can destroy the chair without destroying the matter (by, say, melting it down). And yet chairs are not mysterious non-physical entities that could exist without the matter that composes them. Perhaps the identity theorist has gone too far in supposing that material things must be identical with their matter. Perhaps composition is a different relationship than identity, and perhaps being composed of matter (or material processes) is sufficent for being a material thing or event. If so, this opens up the possibility that mental events consist of physical events, even though they are not identical with physical events (i.e., events defined in terms of physics).
I'll try to respond more fully to the whole post later, but I just didn't want to mislead you.
Sorry to hear about your bad weather! I hope you can make your trip -- unless of course it isn't one you wanted to take anyway.

Jay J
03-06-2008, 05:02 PM
Hi Bloggin,

I was looking forward to the trip, but I've got spring break coming up soon, and will be able to make it then, thankfully.

I want to add a thing or two as well:

1. I am beginning to see that IF I could accept the form of materialism that you're...advocating (?) I would then be able to see compatibilism as coherent.

2. But the issues I talked about in my last post are sticking points. The types of non-eliminative materialism you laid out in your last post are interesting, and may be something we have to delve into...also I appreciate the care that is being taken to have everything on the table. For now though, I would like to try and have the categories be a little more broad, and hopefully that will work. In my last post, I think I touched on three types of materialism:

a)Eliminative Materialism: at least as it concerns this discussion, this is eliminative towards propositional attitudes.

b)Panpsychist Materialism: this view would hold that everything is physical, but that includes the mental. This would preclude, however, drawing a line in nature where consciousness "emerges," and would hold that SOME form of experience (however low-level) permeates nature.

c)Reductive Materialism: at least at it concerns this conversation, wouldn't the varying types of this view all hold that there is some time in the history of the universe where consciousness experience is not in existence, and then when arrangements of matter become sufficiently organized, conscious experience "emerges?"

OK so only 'a' and 'b' make sense to me. Or I should say rather, only 'a' and 'b' are coherent to me. Especially since I now have to face the fact that 'c' seems to posit something that is both "emergent" and "uncaused." That isn't easy for a person to get their head around is it?

And while I see that if I can be convinced of the success of the kind of materialism you're talking about, then I can accept compatibilism, I also think that if I can't find a coherent brand (by my lights) of non-eliminative or non-panpsychist materialism, then compatibilism will still be something I can't adopt.

A response to either of my last two, or both, will be fine with me.

Take care.

BTW, I don't know when you read this, but I just had to edit. I meant to say that option 'c' posits something which both emerges and is uncaused. It's corrected now, but just in case you already read it. If this is the first time you've read it, well...never mind...

Jay J
03-06-2008, 06:18 PM
Great! Now we've got a couple of different lines of argument going at once!

I agree that Galen Strawson denies a form of free will that many of us aren't striving for when we talk about free will.

But he does use an approach I endorse, and that is that he concedes that perhaps our common practices don't match what is true about the world. If we say there is no such thing as responsibility, that doesn't mean that society will stop using the idea. When we're in our armchair, we're just trying to ascertain the way things are. I happen to think that society would be better off if it had started by setting up a system of rewards and punishments, and putting people away who demonstrated that they're a threat to the safety of those around them, rather than needing some sense of moral responsibility (however robust or nominal) to be possessed by the accused.

However even if I could be convinced that I'm wrong about that, it wouldn't change my belief that philosophy is under no obligation to make sense of our common practices, as much as it is charged with saying whether our common ideas make any real sense.

With P.F. Strawson on the other hand, he seems to not worry so much about what I do. In "Freedom and Resentment," he seems to defer to our common reactions, and tries to make his philosophy fit around that, rather than what Galen does, which is to be narrowly focused on what we can be warranted in saying, no matter how easily the result will fit into our daily lives.

Having said that, Galen scores well on the 'Jay J' meter, compared to his father. But I would prefer that Galen reject responsibility on some other grounds, since he seems to assume that if we had robust free will, that we would then be somehow morally accountable, and that seems like a conflation of a couple of different issues to me. There must be some unstated (but needed) intermediate premises there, and I imagine I would object to at least one of them. I also wish that Galen would get more into (he gets into it a little) which type of responsibility we don't have (1st person, 2nd person, etc) or if any and all types are lacking.

I'm not sure how much more we can get into this line of thought, but just to wrap up the post, although I now see that if I could be brought around to see the type of determinism (based on non-eliminative materialism) you're discussing as coherent, I would then adopt compatibilism, I still don't see how I could be brought around to thinking that moral responsibility followed from that.

Bloggin' Noggin
03-07-2008, 01:52 PM
Jay,
I'm going to skip evaluating father relative to son, because it's a side point and because my view would be in partial agreement with you and partial disagreement. Let me just say that, though I have big disagreements with Peter Strawson about what philosophy is supposed to do (simply explore our conceptual scheme and stop there pretty much), I think "Freedom and Resentment" is a great and deservedly influential paper. For one thing, as I pointed out before, it shows that the notion of responsibility goes considerably deeper than "morality" -- and that thinking of agents as responsible is so deep a part of how we look at ourselves and each other that it's very hard to see how we could actually put Galen's view into practice in our lives. Galen seems to accept this point to some degree himself.
I think one can uncritically accept too much of common sense -- but one can also uncritically and arrogantly reject common sense out of hand. I would rather start with common sense but take a critical approach to it. Think of a science popularizer who tells you that common sense is wrong: objects are not solid because they contain lots of empty space. This popularizer may or may not be right about commonsense physical preconceptions, but our practices do not in any way depend on this definition of "solid". Something is solid if we can't move through it. I think we need, not to look at commonsense assumptions about free will, but at what kind of free will our actual practices seem to require.

I happen to think that society would be better off if it had started by setting up a system of rewards and punishments, and putting people away who demonstrated that they're a threat to the safety of those around them, rather than needing some sense of moral responsibility (however robust or nominal) to be possessed by the accused.

I'm not clear what you're saying here. The distinction between someone who can be influenced by rewards and punishments and someone who can't be but is still dangerous is pretty much the practical legal distinction we make between people who are responsible and people who are not. The question for moral responsibility in law and practical life comes down to this: can you foresee the consequences of your actions and the meaning that other people will assign to those actions given those consequences and control your impulses sufficiently to act in accordance with this awareness?
Rewards and punishments only work with people who are responsible in this sense. Are you denying that most people are responsible in this sense? Or are you saying that our actual practices presuppose a much stronger sense of moral responsibility than this (Galen Strawson's "DMR")? I don't see the justification for either claim.

However even if I could be convinced that I'm wrong about that, it wouldn't change my belief that philosophy is under no obligation to make sense of our common practices, as much as it is charged with saying whether our common ideas make any real sense.

Well, we have to determine what those common practices really presuppose if we are to determine whether they make sense or not. I don't really see the reason for supposing that our common practices presuppose something nonsensical. I certainly think Libertarians are presupposing a kind of responsibility that's incoherent (or at least impossible to reconcile with the way the world actually appears to be). But I think the Libertarians are wrong to think this view is presupposed by our ordinary notion of responsibility. I think "Freedom and Resentment" suggests exactly this (at least in my reading of it).

With P.F. Strawson on the other hand, he seems to not worry so much about what I do. In "Freedom and Resentment," he seems to defer to our common reactions, and tries to make his philosophy fit around that, rather than what Galen does, which is to be narrowly focused on what we can be warranted in saying, no matter how easily the result will fit into our daily lives.

I also wish that Galen would get more into (he gets into it a little) which type of responsibility we don't have (1st person, 2nd person, etc) or if any and all types are lacking.

I'm not sure what you mean by 1st person or 2nd person responsibility.

I'm not sure how much more we can get into this line of thought, but just to wrap up the post, although I now see that if I could be brought around to see the type of determinism (based on non-eliminative materialism) you're discussing as coherent, I would then adopt compatibilism, I still don't see how I could be brought around to thinking that moral responsibility followed from that.

The above passage also puzzles me -- it seems to get things backwards. As a compatibilist, I try to identify what kinds of free will/responsibility we need or could reasonably want. The distinction between simply being causally responsible for bad consequences and being morally responsible for the bad consequences of ones acts is pretty much fundamental to the law and to human interactions generally. If there's any kind of free will that we seem to need, it would be the kind involved in moral responsibility, as that notion is understood in the practice of law (not necessarily as it is understood by Libertarians).
Moral responsibility (of some sort) is THE MINIMUM we can ask of a conception of Free Will, not something that might or might not follow from granting that we have free will.

Bloggin' Noggin
03-07-2008, 03:53 PM
Hi Jay,
I'm glad you can make your trip later anyway.

I've long been fond of panpsychism. Haven't read GS's defence, but I was long ago attracted by Nagel's defense. Of course, pansychism kind of replaces one mystery with another, so I think it's probably too early to decide in its favor. The mystery for the panpsychist is how you can have just a tiny bit of (nearly unconscious) consciousness and how such atoms of consciousness can fit together to form a full-fledged consciousness. Panpsychists probably don't get out of questions about "emergence" in other words.


c)Reductive Materialism: at least at it concerns this conversation, wouldn't the varying types of this view all hold that there is some time in the history of the universe where consciousness experience is not in existence, and then when arrangements of matter become sufficiently organized, conscious experience "emerges?"

OK so only 'a' and 'b' make sense to me. Or I should say rather, only 'a' and 'b' are coherent to me. Especially since I now have to face the fact that 'c' seems to posit something that is both "emergent" and "uncaused." That isn't easy for a person to get their head around is it?

Careful! I didn't say that anything was "uncaused" -- materialists aren't committed to some events not having causes. Step back a bit: consciousness is not the only thing that "emerges" from physical properties. Life emerges from chemistry, yet the biological laws that govern life are NOT just the laws of chemistry -- natural selection is not a principle of chemistry. What seems true is that any particular biological event is going to ALSO be describable in physico-chemical terms. How do we deal with these dual descriptions of the same event?
We could assume that there are really two events, one of which causes the other. This would be the dualist or epiphenomenalist approach: the chemical process of breaking down fats and proteins somehow causes a separate process of "digestion." This approach seems silly to us now, but of course at one point, the vitalists did believe that one needed to posit a new fundamental force to explain life.
Another approach is to say that every biological event is IDENTICAL to some chemical event. This would be the token-token identity approach as applied to life. You have a single event described in two different ways.
A third approach would be to deny that the events are strictly identical, but to insist that one is logically or metaphysically dependent and inseparable from the other, so that you still don't wind up with the dualist problem of attempting to relate two entirely separate events -- one chemical and one biological. (This is the equivalent of Boyd's position on mental events.)

The materialist of either sort is going to regard the emergence of mind and mental events on the model of the emergence of chemistry from physics or life from chemistry.

And while I see that if I can be convinced of the success of the kind of materialism you're talking about, then I can accept compatibilism, I also think that if I can't find a coherent brand (by my lights) of non-eliminative or non-panpsychist materialism, then compatibilism will still be something I can't adopt.

The question of whether consciousness can be accounted for in the same way that life can be accounted for in terms of underlying physics, without the addition of super-physical entities or forces, may be a difficult and interesting one. But it's not that clear to me exactly how it connects with free will.
Remember that Chalmers distinguishes between the "easy problem" of understanding mind functionally -- in terms of inputs, internal processing and outputs -- and the "hard problem" of understanding consciousness itself and how it can arise out of matter. To me, free will appears to be on the "easy problem" side of the line. On my own view, "free will" is something like "responsiveness to reason." If I am addicted to some drug, my free will is diminished -- I have to struggle with myself to act on what I regard as my best reason. If I am very closed minded and hide-bound, I may have a reason to act, which I fail to recognize. I may in that case be constrained by my upbringing, even though I don't feel constrained (as in the case of addiction). You may not be able to give a functional description of consciousness that captures what consciousness is in itself. But I don't see why we couldn't give a functional explanation of good deliberation (deliberation that is recognizes the reasons that one has, weighs them properly and effectively results in action on the outcome of that weighing).

I think this is where the experiments that our friend, Mr. Boop, alludes to might come in. There's that experiment that supposedly establishes that all our actions are essentially impulsive and that "reason" and consciousness only enter in after the fact to provide a rationalization. Of course, I don't think the experiment establishes anything of the sort -- that "result" is simply incredible and anyway bears little relation to the experiment. But it does attempt to make a connection between consciousness and free will in a fairly explicit way, and considering where it goes wrong might help us focus on what's worrying you.

Jay J
03-07-2008, 08:44 PM
Hey Bloggin,

It feels kinda anti-climactic when conversations like this can boil down to something so simple, but I guess what I am objecting to is the use of he word "moral" in front of the word "responsibility."

I don't deny the kind of responsibility Strawson talked about, and at least at times in this exchange I feel like I agree with the type of responsibility you're talking about. But as far as the law goes, at least in the academic discussions I've been involved with, it seems like DMR is important to people. Also our legal system treats people who are deemed mentally ill differently than those deemed mentally "competent." I know I'm not telling you anything new here, I'm simply drawing a conclusion based on that reality, and that's that it seems like there is more than a practical distinction is being made in the law between people who are able to understand what they're doing and those that lack some key capability.

When someone is deemed mentally incompetent, and perhaps sent away to a mental facility, it then seems like our system has made a decision somewhere along the way to value the "liberty" of the people ahead of the liberty of those who are being put away for crimes they were deemed competent and *morally* responsible for. When the person is thought to be rehabilitated, we say "well, I guess we should let them go now." I don't making a habit of quoting the late-night talk show host Bill Mahr, but I think he's got the right attitude when he says "whatever happened to GUILTY by reason of insanity." In order for us to make the decision to let people out of mental facilities as soon as they're deemed competent again, it must be that we're valuing their personal liberty over the protection of society, since it doesn't take much imagination to realize that these people are more of a risk than the average Joe, and as it happens people who have been deemed rehabilitated have been released to commit more violent crimes.

Richard Posner has said that society would be better off by just using a "protection of society" reason for putting people away. It really does seem to me that our legal system has notions of genuine moral responsibility which go beyond the practical consideration of how to protect society. Do you have a different understanding?

I agree that rewards and punishments work only when people have sufficient mental competency to respond to them, but the part about safety is where the emphasis is when it comes to people who lack the kind of responsibility you're been discussing. If we were putting the safety of society ahead of the liberty of those put in mental facilities for violent crimes, then we would keep them there longer than simply long enough to rehab them. What I mean is, we would take more caution. I understand that protection of society is part of what we do know, but it really is my understanding that we have old fashioned notions of DMR built into our legal system.

I have no way of knowing whether P.F Strawson is right or not about what our common notion of responsibility presupposes, but I know his interpretation strikes me as counterintuitive, and it seems the same for many people I've talked to. And I agree that we shouldn't prematurely suppose that common sense notions are nonsensical, I guess this space is too short for me to get too much into why I think what I do about these things.

BUT, on what I mean by 1st and 2nd person responsibility, Stephen Darwall has talked allot about the 2nd person perspective. It essentially means that we're accountable to one another. 1st person would mean that we're accountable to ourselves, and 3rd person would be some impersonal concept or law. Ummm, I guess some examples would be:

1st person: I suppose someone could say they're accountable only to themselves, or someone could say that human beings are inevitably going to feel certain ways after doing certain things, like "edified" by helping little old ladies across the street, or "de-edified" by knocking little old ladies over.

2nd person: We have some real obligation to those around us and others are right to point our fault if we fail to meet this obligation.

3rd person: I think Kantian notions of obligation could fit in here, and ideas about rational obligation, as well as perhaps belief in karma.

Back to what I was saying about feel will, I guess we seem to have a different understanding about where the law stops in what it presupposes. And back to the way I started the post, the "minimalist" or non-DMR type of moral responsibility the law could use does not seem to warrant the word "moral" in front of it.

If we disagree on that, I don't know what we could say about that. Some of my reasons are that people really do seems to mean something real when they make moral claims, and people have all kinds of ideas about what morality is. I don't know what percentages there are, but a great chunk of people probably aren't aware of their underlying presuppositions about morality.

I'm not sure how long the topic of moral realism v. moral skepticism can be kept out of this, but for now suffice it to say that the word "moral" means something else to me aside from the type of responsibility Strawson acknowledges, and the type I think I understand you as advancing. At the very least, I would be quite surprised if I found out the consensus meaning of the word "moral" was as...nominal or...minimal as it seems you are suggesting.

Bloggin' Noggin
03-08-2008, 12:02 AM
Hi Jay,

The meaning of the term "moral responsibility" should be understood primarily in contrast to causal responsibility. If someone throws me out the window and I land on your head and kill you, then I am causally responsible for your death. If I survive, no one would hold me "responsible" in another sense-- no one would think it made sense to punish me for that or even to resent me for that. Come to think of it, I suspect that "moral" here probably means "of, pertaining to, or acting on the mind, feelings, will, or character" (dictionary.com's seventh definition). In other words, when I'm thrown out the window, the explanation of my killing you dosn't go back to my will or character, but only back to my body. "Morality" isn't directly being invoked at all.

Now I doubt you would actually deny that there is a distinction here, whatever you would like to call it --or would you? We could call it "personal responsibility" or whatever you like -- the essential thing is that it is not merely causal responsibility of any sort (i.e., it's a more specific sort of causal responsibility).

I don't know what Maher has in mind. I suspect he's reacting to those people who assume that all evil is a form of insanity -- or those who want to deny that anyone is ever responsible for any bad action. If someone kills his daughter because he's so crazy that he believes she is a sheep or a devil, would you say he was "guilty by reason of insanity"?

Sure this guy is dangerous (at least while he is insane), but that's not the same as saying he's guilty.
You seem SOMETIMES to be saying that the only relevant issue for the law (and I guess for morality, where law doesn't apply) is whether or not someone is dangerous. If they are dangerous, lock them up. If not, don't. There's no room for punishment (seen as a backward-looking penalty) -- there's only room for a forward-looking prevention of future harm. Yet at the same time, you invoke rewards and punishments. Could you clarify this for me?
You seem at times to interpret punishment as merely a protection of society from future harm from the individual in question. But in that case, there would be no sense to punishing people who are no longer dangerous. Dr. Mengele in Argentina probably didn't pose a great future danger, for instance. Once a murderer ceases to be dangerous is punishment unnecessary at that point?
I'm personally drawn to a retributivist theory of punishment, but even a deterrence theorist must recognize a difference between those who are responsible and therefore deterrable and those who are not responsible and therefore undeterrable. A deterrence theorist can also recognize the difference between punishment and preventive detention. Are you asserting the view that punishment is rational only when it amounts to preventive detention?

You worry that we value the liberty of potentially dangerous formerly crazy people -- that's a topic for quite another day. It shouldn't affect whether we think someone was responsible for his actions. One can recognize that the man who really thought he was killing a sheep and was incapable of recognizing otherwise was not responsible, not guilty of murder, even when one decides he's too dangerous ever to be let out of jail again. The issues are completely separate.

Insanity, of course, is not the only defense. Ignorance is also a defense if it is not willful or reckless. I am not blamed or resented or punished if I feed you pesto in total ignorance that a) pesto contains nuts and b) that you are allergic to nuts. In every case, the real question is whether the effect could reasonably be traced back to my will or not.

I'm a little concerned that you

Richard Posner has said that society would be better off by just using a "protection of society" reason for putting people away. It really does seem to me that our legal system has notions of genuine moral responsibility which go beyond the practical consideration of how to protect society. Do you have a different understanding?

I certainly think that our legal system recognizes a distinction between protective detention and punishment. Whether or not the consequences would be better if we gave up on the distinction is somewhat irrelevant to the issue we're considering (though my suspicion is that the consequences wouldn't be good). As I said, I think we and the law both recognize a difference between being part of the cause of an event and that event's being part of our intention. But that falls far short of requiring people to be self-created beings (GS's "DMR").

I agree that rewards and punishments work only when people have sufficient mental competency to respond to them, but the part about safety is where the emphasis is when it comes to people who lack the kind of responsibility you're been discussing. If we were putting the safety of society ahead of the liberty of those put in mental facilities for violent crimes, then we would keep them there longer than simply long enough to rehab them. What I mean is, we would take more caution. I understand that protection of society is part of what we do know, but it really is my understanding that we have old fashioned notions of DMR built into our legal system.

I don't get the implicit argument here. The law and common sense and you and I all agree that the man who thinks he's killing the sheep is really not responsible for the death of his daughter, and yet somehow this shows we believe that people have DMR (i.e., are self-created, self-chosen)? I would expect just the opposite argument. Sometimes we get angry at people who do us harm, and it's very hard to let go of that anger and recognize that they are not responsible -- in such cases we might be tempted to believe that insane people chose their insanity. THAT argument that we believe in DMR would make sense to me, though I would, of course, point out that the law and our better judgment ask us to set aside that anger and look at the facts.

Well that's rather disjointed as a reply -- sorry. I guess I'd like to know whether you think preventive detention is the only rationally acceptable form of "punishment" -- or do you recognize a reasonable role at least for deterrence. And if you recognize a distinction between genuine (backward-looking) punishment vs. a merely forward-looking protective detention, don't you have to make a distinction rather like that that the law makes between those who are responsible for their actions and those that are not?

If so, what is the evidence that the law actually exceeds this fairly mundane notion of responsibility (the ability to understand the rules, the ability to see that your action breaks the rules and the ability to control your actions) -- what is your reason for thinking the law is committed to the view that we are self-chosen, self-created gods?

Jay J
03-08-2008, 02:24 AM
Hi Bloggin,

The fact that you see token-token identity (and those others you referred to) as having something going for it serves as evidence enough for me to look into it. Do you have a link that would help a layperson like me get started?

Having said that, until I do look into it more, it looks to me that the versions of materialism you've told me about still have a problem, given what my concerns were before. If emergence is a problem for panpsychism, it's definitely one for reductive-materialism. And if each view fails, we may have to throw our hands up and be agnostics about the issue.

But for the time being, it seems that this too is boiling down to the point in philosophy where one's gut tells them what to think, and this is a point where it's difficult to adjudicate between...instincts. See to me panpsychism, if it has one at all, has a much smaller emergence problem than materialism. Experience at a very low level has been referred to as "microexperientiality" and at a higher level, it's been called "macroexperientiality." Granted I don't have a razor-sharp image in my head about how experience goes from the micro to the macro, but it's something like the infant to the adult only on a much larger scale, if you'll forgive my vagueness for now. But I view this as fundamentally different than the problem of going from the wholly non-experiential to the experiential.

I didn't mean to put words in your mouth about what is uncaused. But in what you've said, it seems that the materialism you're espousing as consistent with free will posits that there was a time when experience was not at all a feature of the universe, and now experience is a feature of the universe. When life emerges from physics, or chemistry from physics, it still seems to me that we have 3rd person events leading to 3rd person events. I just can't avoid my strong intuition that 3rd person events leading to 1st person events are a completely different animal. They don't strike me as the same thing at all.

Now if biological events are identical to some chemical event, this seems...well I just don't see why we can't say that the chemical event causes the biological event. But maybe I'm missing something here.

Eliminative materialism is more satisfying to me since it points to non-experiential things which cause experiential things. Of course eliminative materialism is counterintuitive to me in other ways, but at least I see a clear picture: there was a time when experience was not here, then a bunch of stuff happened, and this stuff caused experience to appear. I'll admit to drawing a bit of an oversimplified picture, but what I'm getting at is that I like the fact that emergence is explicitly accounted for in the explanation...even if this account is unsatisfying. And when propositional attitudes are the topic, I find eliminative materialism more satisfying than any other type of materialism. With versions of identity, I am forced to wonder why certain physical events a million years ago were not identical to conscious experience, and now there are physical events which are identical to consciousness experience. Eliminative materialism, by drawing a distinction, at least lets me see a explicitly sequential, causal chain.

Now free will seems like a part of the easy problem of consciousness, so what on Earth does this stuff I've been talking about have to do with free will? Well it's time for me to sleep, so I'll get to it this weekend. For now, if I've stepped off the path a time or two, I would be open to being put back on.

BTW, I agree that the experiment you referred to does not necessarily lead to any global result about free will or internal deliberation.

Bloggin' Noggin
03-08-2008, 02:07 PM
Hi Jay,
I'm not fond of token-token identity theory -- I prefer the less "reductive" approach that I attributed to Boyd. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is always a good resource. Here's the whole entry on physicalism (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/physicalism/). You'll see they talk about token-token physicalism. My views are closer to what they discuss under "Emergentism" and "supervenience".


[QUOTE]Having said that, until I do look into it more, it looks to me that the versions of materialism you've told me about still have a problem, given what my concerns were before. If emergence is a problem for panpsychism, it's definitely one for reductive-materialism. And if each view fails, we may have to throw our hands up and be agnostics about the issue.

That's sort of close to what I'm advocating. For purposes of a discussion of free will, we shouldn't get too far into a discussion of physicalism and consciousness. It's not really a matter of throwing up our hands, but of bracketing the issue so far as possible. However plausible or implausible the physicalist views I've been talking about are in their handling of the separate issue of consciousness, we need only focus on their consequences for free will. I've pointed out that they don't seem to have the consequence you attributed to them. Since mental events are, according to non-eliminativist theories ALSO physical events. Physical events can cause other physical events, so there is no worry that intentions won't be able to cause us to raise our arms. That problem arises for dualism, not for materialism. The argument you originally offered presupposed that the materialist was secretly really a dualist or epiphenomenalist.

I didn't mean to put words in your mouth about what is uncaused. But in what you've said, it seems that the materialism you're espousing as consistent with free will posits that there was a time when experience was not at all a feature of the universe, and now experience is a feature of the universe. When life emerges from physics, or chemistry from physics, it still seems to me that we have 3rd person events leading to 3rd person events. I just can't avoid my strong intuition that 3rd person events leading to 1st person events are a completely different animal. They don't strike me as the same thing at all.

This again is an objection to physicalism itself, as opposed to a free will problem arising out of physicalism. The materialist will point out to you that the vitalists were quite sure at one time that living things couldn't just be made of "dead" matter. Sure chemistry might be reducible to physics, but NO WAY the life force could be reduced to combinations of physical forces.
I'm not offering that as a final argument, just pointing out that we are a) not in a position to settle the "hard problem" of consciousness here, and b) we fortunately don't have to given our focus on free will.

Now if biological events are identical to some chemical event, this seems...well I just don't see why we can't say that the chemical event causes the biological event. But maybe I'm missing something here.

You would admit, wouldn't you that events don't cause themselves? If a certain biological event B is identical with chemical event E, then E can't cause B because events don't cause themselves
Eliminative materialism is more satisfying to me since it points to non-experiential things which cause experiential things. Of course eliminative materialism is counterintuitive to me in other ways, but at least I see a clear picture: there was a time when experience was not here, then a bunch of stuff happened, and this stuff caused experience to appear.

I'm rather flummoxed by this description of Eliminative Materialism (EM). Dualists and most materialists are going to worry about how the mental could arise out of the physical. The eliminative materialist just tells us that our views of the mental are so wildly off base that we might as well be talking about "witches' when we talk about consciousness or beliefs or desires or sensations of dizziness. They basically just tell us to go study the brain and forget about consciousness or "experience".
At some point this strategy comes into play even among reductionists like Dan Dennett --but to a much lesser degree. Dennett has no trouble with desire, belief, intention etc. He just tries to suggest that philosophers are misleading themselves when they start talking about "phenomenal character" or 'qualia'. The eliminativist just goes much farther than Dennett, telling us to scrap even our commonsense notions of belief, desire and so on. If you have a problem with reductionists you ought to have an even bigger problem with eliminativists.

I'll admit to drawing a bit of an oversimplified picture, but what I'm getting at is that I like the fact that emergence is explicitly accounted for in the explanation...even if this account is unsatisfying.
Again, the eliminativist would say that nothing has emerged -- except an illusion or a folk theory.

Now free will seems like a part of the easy problem of consciousness, so what on Earth does this stuff I've been talking about have to do with free will? Well it's time for me to sleep, so I'll get to it this weekend. For now, if I've stepped off the path a time or two, I would be open to being put back on.


OK, I'm looking forward to it!

Jay J
03-08-2008, 11:47 PM
Hi Bloggin,

*I see the distinction between causal responsibility and the kind we need people to have to prosecute them. I just don't think the word "moral" is a warranted descriptor of the word "responsibility" in this case. I know this might seem to some like splitting hairs, but I see it as pretty important. The topic of moral realism and moral skepticism might have something to say about it, and the word 'moral' means something to me other than just the kind of responsibility we're talking about. I have no data that tells me that everyone else agrees with me on what the word moral means, but I guess what I have is an inductive argument: most people in the United States are religious, although most of the rest of the 1st world isn't as religious as the U.S., it seems that most people are not hard core materialists. In other words, many people have vague notions about what "more" there is in the universe. Buddhism is big in the Asian developing countries, and they have some idea abut karma and the like, Christians of course have a divine command theory or believe that morality is something arising out of the "telos" of the universe, and many people have vague notions about reaping what you sow and so on and so forth.

I understand that a definition of the word 'moral' can be found in the dictionary which justifies the use that P.F. Strawson advocated. But I think we need more than that in philosophy. The definitions of the word in the dictionary refer to the places norms would be found, but they don't tell us what people have in mind when they speak of morality. The examples of religious people I used above, along with my own strong intuition, is that people mean something more than the practical everyday responsibility that competent adults can assume. That's why I think people's attitude toward moral realism and skepticism would reveal what they really mean, rather than references to technical definitions. If people were offered a list of options which captured what they think morality is, or where it comes from, and the list looked something like this:

*Some unnamed moral skepticism
*Moral Relativism
*Emotivism
*Error Theory
*Prescriptivism
*Karma
*Divine Command Theory
*Universal Telos
*Some unnamed moral realism

I would be shocked if at the end of this most people choose a skeptical option. If I'm right, then people mean something quite mystical when they talk of morality. But even many moral skeptics (if they don't see the idea as nonsensical or noncognitive) here mean something similar, which is why they choose to reject the idea. Of course I don't know that I'm right that most people would fall into one group or the other, rather than simply seeing morality as something competent adults can assume. Apparently "experimental philosophy" deals more with the data of what people mean, so maybe one day they'll tell us? Anyway, what I feel even more confident of is that even if we're not in a majority, there are enough of us who mean a certain thing by the word "morality" (whether we're realists or skeptics) that it would clear up allot of ambiguity if instead Strawson's idea were referred to as something like "competent responsibility." It seems like there would be names for the idea which would make clear that there was more then causal responsibility at play, without using the ambiguous and emotionally charged word "morality."

When people like P.F. Strawson or Mazzati use the word "responsibility" they are often meaning it in the everyday sense, however there are enough people who think this word smells like something more than everyday competence. I know there's probably nothing to do about the word responsibility, but when the word "moral" is thrown on top, I think it adds to the problem quite a bit. All kinds of wires get crossed, and all kinds of ideas fail to address one another when "morality" becomes the topic. When someone says that if determinism is true, then there can be no moral responsibility, then someone like P.F. Strawson might say "oh yes there can." The problem is, there can be all kinds of different things that can be meant by this, and here I'm not only saying that there is vagueness present in our language, I'm saying that the word morality is unnecessary or superfluous when used by someone like P.F. Strawson. It would be better for someone like P.F. Strawson to say, "You're right, the kind of moral responsibility many look for is not present in my view, but we can still live our lives in a way where people take the kinds of responsibilities that competent adults do."

I said earlier that Galen Strawson perhaps dismisses free will too quickly since there are many people who would be satisfied with a form of free will which is less ambitious than DMR. But now I want to Galen as a bit of evidence for my intuition that morality often means something more than what P.F. was talking about. I mean it seems clear to Galen what people mean by "responsibility." I'm not as convinced as him, so I probably fit somewhere in between Galen and P.F. in terms of what people mean by 'responsibility' and particularly the moral kind, but I probably lean a bit to Galen's position.

Jay J
03-08-2008, 11:54 PM
Bloggin,

This is the second half of what I just tried to post, But I was told that it was too long...

*So that leads me to DMR, which Galen seems convinced that this is what people mean. I'm not as convinced as him, but I think he may be closer to being right than his dad. Now, you said several times that I am asserting that people who believe in DMR are requiring people to be "self-created." I don't think that's exactly fair. The issue of being self created is a PROBLEM for DMR, but that doesn't mean that most people have CONSIDERED the problem. So your question seems to be getting at whether people are right to believe what they do, not whether they actually believe it.

*As far as evidence goes, well it would probably be pretty inductive. Let me first try to clear away some more of the brush. You mentioned that the liberty of potentially formerly crazy people is completely separate from what we've have been discussing. I don't agree. I'll cop to being unclear and possibly inviting your interpretation, but I don't think it's completely separate from what we've been talking about. Let me try again:

If protection of society were our main concern, we wouldn't feel that it was "unjust" to keep someone in jail after they had been rehabilitated. Because we would pause before wondering whether their liberty was worth more than the risk they were to society at large. I may not have explicit proof off the top of my head, but I think it's at least not true that society has explicitly gone to a "protection of society" metric and discarded retribution. When I hear the word "punishment" I don't automatically assume that retribution or rehabilitation is the justification. We can imagine someone asking the question, "Why do we punish people, for retribution, rehabilitation, or protection of society?" As soon as the notion of "justice" in included in our legal deliberations, we've gone beyond the nominal type of responsibility you're advancing. I'm not saying that the law has completely sided with one view or another, but it seems to me that our common law, or constitution, our statutes, and the values that underlie these, are replete with morally realist notions about responsibility and justice. If we still have a different understanding about this, I'm not sure that much more can be said, at least about this sub-topic.

But it's probably not too important for the purposes of this discussion whether or not society has or does go to a less retribution oriented legal system. It started as a tangential point I was making, and it flourished into this. But to try to clear it up a little more:

To each of your questions about distinctions, yes, I think you have to make distinctions about who is able to prosecuted and who is not. If someone is pushed into a person and the person breaks their leg, well the one who was pushed and accidentally hurt someone isn't really a threat, while the person who intentionally pushes a person and causes them to break their leg is a threat, and it's at least not rationally necessary (even if it turns out to be practically necessary) to bring *moral* responsibility into the picture.

As to whether rewards and punishments are different from protection of society, I'll admit again to being perhaps a little hazy in my presentation, but I don't see a dichotomy here either. Rewards and punishments would be FOR the protection of society. It would be good for society to put away violent criminals, and it would be good for society to put away violent people who are violent because they're mentally incompetent. The rest of the population would take notice. Incentives which would lead to good behavior would lead to a safer society. You've acknowledged that you see a distinction between protective detention and punishment, but to me this isn't so clear. Once again it feels anti-climactic when disagreements like this come down to something simple (but hey what else are they going to come down to?) but I see the word punishment as pretty neutral, whereas I see the word "retribution" as something which doles out rewards and punishments based on some proportionality and sense of merit.

If we put some people away for murder who are mentally competent and some away for being mentally incompetent, what's the difference? Well I realize that the types of environments will different, but if you ask me both environments should be pretty clean, spacious, and orderly. If you look at the places mentally competent violent criminals are sent, it seems like downright revenge is our goal. In any case, putting away murderers will be somewhat of a deterrent, which will in turn serve to protect society. I didn't mean to imply that the only type of protection I was interested in was from the single individual who committed the violent crime, there is a deterrence factor as well which is important for the safety of society. As for the Argentine fellow, I don't know I guess I would have to decide whether there was a significant deterrence factor in keeping him in jail. If so, then OK, he should stay in jail. And I would fault on the careful side in terms of deterrence. So hopefully that clarifies a bit what I meant when I sometimes used rewards and punishments as my reason and sometimes used protection of society as my reason. They flow into one another for me.

Not sure if this answered your questions in a thorough manner...but the above is pretty close to hitting the mark of what I think.

As for the other thread we're working on, I'll get to that one as soon as possible...probably in the next day, or two or maybe three days...anyway, soon enough. I may have to break my answers up, like I did here.

Take care.

Jay J
03-09-2008, 12:38 AM
Bloggin,

On eliminative materialism, I had thought that there were ways to be eliminative about propositional attitudes without being eliminative about the fact that it's like something to be me. I may have been wrong about that, but I thought this was the category the Churchlands fell into.

But even then the problem I've been raising about non-eliminative and non-panpsychist materialism was one of coherence, rather than whether I saw the premises of each as something I could believe. Once again I may have been too vague, but I choose the word coherence because "validity" seemed too strong. In any case, I was trying to contrast coherence with the soundness of the premises and instead focus on whether the premises looked to me like they flowed.

It seems like eliminativism says,

A) There was this stuff.

B) This stuff did a whole bunch of things.

C) This process caused an illusion.

I may object to the conclusion drawn above, but it seems like it flows more than:

1) There was this stuff.

2) Now there is some other stuff.

3) The stuff from #2 is identical to #1, even though #1 was around for a while without #2.

I understand your point about the vitalists, but I just don't find that analogous to experience. Physical events which can be apprehended by 3rd person facts just don't seem like the same thing as experience to me. And all the things about life forces and such seem to fall into the 3rd person realm.

Anyway this post still isn't about what this has to do with free will...but just to finish up.

In a round about way, I think virtually all theories of mind are still burdened by dualism. I don't think dualism can just be declared away, unless of course you're willing to go as far as the idealist or eliminative materialist (who is eliminative about experience). Margarete Wherheim was on Blogginheads a while back, and she described herself as an "epistemological dualist." I remember you objecting to her use of the term to describe herself based on the other things she believed, but I really do think that's a good term for me to go by.

Once a theory accepts both mind and matter as real, I think there is a problem to overcome. On the other hand, I think the idealist and the eliminativist have some soundness problems, but I'm trying to leave those aside here. I don't think panpsychism overcomes the problem of the relation of mind to matter simply because they say they are inherent in one another, and I don't think the non-panpsychist identity-theorist overcomes it either. But at least the panpsychist posits that experience was already around in some way to begin with. And this allows me to see a clearer picture than the pictures drawn by other non-panpsychist or non-eliminativist kinds of materialism.

So I'm not getting at whether eliminativism is better ON THE WHOLE to what you've been advancing.

As for how this relates to free will, I think I have to take a breather. The free will post I have coming up may not be that earth shattering, but I need to take a break and let things settle. Talk to you soon, take care.

Bloggin' Noggin
03-09-2008, 12:46 PM
On eliminative materialism, I had thought that there were ways to be eliminative about propositional attitudes without being eliminative about the fact that it's like something to be me. I may have been wrong about that, but I thought this was the category the Churchlands fell into.

I would find that a very peculiar and unmotivated position to take. Dennett doesn't try to eliminate propositional attitudes -- he takes some sort of functionalist view -- but he takes an eliminativist position with respect to qualia (though he tries not to "eliminate" anything that would be part of common sense (the term "quale" is obviously a technical term). I can't see why the Churchlands would eliminate propositional attitudes in the name of materialism and then accept dualism at the last minute on the grounds that they can't eliminate qualia. I haven't read anything by the Churchlands in a very long time, so I guess I can't be absolutely sure, but I can't see why they would move to this view. Here's SEP's Eliminative Materialism entry (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/materialism-eliminative/#EliMatPhe).

It seems like eliminativism says,

A) There was this stuff.

B) This stuff did a whole bunch of things.

C) This process caused an illusion.

Since illusions appear to be mental states, this position could be regarded as self-refuting. At a minimum, it is a non-explanation. It's a promise that one day we will understand the brain and at that point we will see through all this talk of illusions and beliefs etc. (And what does "see through" mean, if propositional attitudes are to be eliminated?) This is AT LEAST as hand-wavy and unclear as the other materialist views.


1) There was this stuff.

2) Now there is some other stuff.

3) The stuff from #2 is identical to #1, even though #1 was around for a while without #2.

At this general level, there is nothing mysterious about the above. Chemistry existed before life came about. Life depended upon certain self-replicating chemicals came along. Nothing weird about that. No one is saying that biology is just chemistry, but individual biological creatures are describable at a chemical level. I know you say there's a difference between this and consciousness, but clearly your attempt above to show what's wrong with psycho-physical reduction fails -- or it would show us that life couldn't arise out of chemistry either. (Remember too, that only identity theorists claim identity -- a more cautious materialist view just says that each level "supervenes" on the lower (and more general level).)

In a round about way, I think virtually all theories of mind are still burdened by dualism. I don't think dualism can just be declared away, unless of course you're willing to go as far as the idealist or eliminative materialist (who is eliminative about experience). Margarete Wherheim was on Blogginheads a while back, and she described herself as an "epistemological dualist." I remember you objecting to her use of the term to describe herself based on the other things she believed, but I really do think that's a good term for me to go by.

I'm not quite sure what you mean by "burdened with". I do not think that they inconsistently invoke dualistic assumptions (as I claimed your initial materialism-is-incompatible-with-free-will-argument was). I would agree to this claim: Consciousness and its connection to the material world remains rather mysterious. We've certainly made progress, but Consciousness has not been explained. Dualists and materialists (even panpsychist materialists) all have handwaves in the middle of their intricate arguments -- steps that say "and then a miracle occurs" -- or "and then future science clears all this up". Essentially, all views of mind remain research programs, where people are betting on the broad outlines of a so-far unknown final outcome.

If epistemological dualism is the claim that introspection and self-report remain important to our understanding of the mind, then I certainly agree. Brain scientists continue to rely in important ways on introspection and self-report, though they don't take it as incorrigible (rightly so) -- this is a point against the eliminativist who thinks our self-understanding is so flawed that our belief in beliefs and desires is like a belief in witches. If that were true, one might expect them to simply study brains and behavior and completely leave out any reference to introspection.

Once a theory accepts both mind and matter as real, I think there is a problem to overcome. On the other hand, I think the idealist and the eliminativist have some soundness problems, but I'm trying to leave those aside here. I don't think panpsychism overcomes the problem of the relation of mind to matter simply because they say they are inherent in one another, and I don't think the non-panpsychist identity-theorist overcomes it either. But at least the panpsychist posits that experience was already around in some way to begin with. And this allows me to see a clearer picture than the pictures drawn by other non-panpsychist or non-eliminativist kinds of materialism.

Bloggin' Noggin
03-09-2008, 01:40 PM
Jay,
I didn't mean to settle anything much by pointing to Dictionary.com. I just meant to point out that the connection between "moral responsibility" and "morality" is less direct than you seem to assume. The term "moral" has many meanings -- many of these meanings are going obsolete. People used to speak of the "moral sciences" -- the less exact sciences, not Ethics alone. People still speak of a "moral certainty" -- meaning the kind of certainty we have about everyday empirical claims -- the kind of certainty relevant to a court of law rather than to a mathematician or even a physicist. "Moral development" primarily means "development of character" -- whether that character is particularly characterized by morality. I'm suggesting that "moral responsibility" means that one's character is responsible for the actions and consequences in question as opposed to one's body or impossible circumstances or mental illness or understandable ignorance. In other words, I think part of the confusion you worry about goes no deeper than our ignorance or confusion about the etymology of the word "moral." Perhaps we should rename it "agent-responsibility" or "character-responsibility" -- I'm happy to take up that nomenclature if you'd like.
As for religion, DMR is still conceivable on a religious view. Perhaps we "choose" who we will be in a fore-life before we are born. Maybe I shouldn't say it is actually conceivable, but it's as conceivable as many other "mysteries" accepted by religious people -- e.g., the Trinity.

I certainly wouldn't deny that religion played a role in the free will debate up to now or that ordinary people probably carry around some religious theory about free will in their heads (even some atheists, probably). I maintain only that very little of our practical application of the notion of guilt or agent responsibility or punishment deeply relies on these theories. They are mostly superstructure, not the foundation of these practices.
Not all our practices are thoroughly rational -- we may be drawn to treat some people as more responsible than they are by our own vindictive emotions. But I deny that ALL punishment is mere vindictiveness. Punishment and blame, if they aren't always rational, can be made more rational without being simply eliminated. It's true that we often rationalize our behavior after the fact -- but it would be ridiculous to maintain that this is the only role of reason in our lives. (After all, why would we develop reason at all if its only purpose is to tell ourselves false stories?)

People throw and catch baseballs without understanding the physics behind it in any explicit way. People speak grammatical English, even though they don't know anything about linguistics. People also carry around much false physics and false grammatical theories. Sometimes these false theories might interfere with their ability to speak well or to catch a ball, but mostly correcting people's theories isn't going to affect the practice.
I would liken those who worry excessively about free will to those who are afraid that if their physical views are wrong they won't be able to throw a ball any more -- that they haven't ever been able to throw a ball, in fact.

Incidentally, I think the same goes for morality. It is a practice most of which makes sense quite apart from any popular theoretical superstructures have been mistakenly built upon it. It doesn't rest on God or reincarnation, though it's true enough that a lot of people think it does. Not only would I take religion out of free will and agent-responsibility, I would also take it out of morality.

Anyway, I'm happy to rename "moral responsibility" as "agent responsibility" if you think this will avoid problems. The real question is "what kind of 'responsibility' must we attribute to others when we blame or praise and what kind of responsibility for our own actions do we really want or need? Once we understand this, then the question arises whether or not some argument shows we cannot have this kind of responsibility in reality. Like every good compatibilist, I maintain that this kind of responsibility is achievable (to different degrees).
I see there's another reply from you below. I'm going to put off responding to that for a while and try to get some other things done today. I'll respond either tonight or tomorrow to that.

Jay J
03-09-2008, 05:20 PM
It's big of you to agree to the name change. Now get on the phone to all the compatibilists in the world (yawl are in some club right?) and tell them that "Jay J" wants "agent-responsibility" to be a new term in the system. ;)

It feels a little nit-picky of me now that you've so easily conceded, and it appears obvious now that I agree with the type of responsibility you've been advancing. But I had not known for sure that the type of responsibility we were discussing would boil down to this, perhaps I should have known, but I didn't. Anyway, this is an example of a long exchange on a blog which has resulted in agreement, a rare occurrence for me.

My other remaining post in this thread that you will reply to later may be less necessary now. My thoughts on DMR and whether or not the law has this notion imbedded in it seems more and more tangential.

But I did I talk about what I meant by rewards and punishments on the one hand and protection of society on the other. Perhaps that issue will be put to bed as well.

As for compatibilism in general, and if materialism can make this coherent, well that leaves our other thread, and maybe we're getting closer on that one too...

Jay J
03-09-2008, 07:26 PM
Hi Bloggin,

Starting with what you said last in your last post, you said:

"Consciousness and its connection to the material world remains rather mysterious."

I agree with that, let's go with that sentence. Now based on that sentence, I want to say that any philosophy of mind that takes both consciousness and the material world seriously has several...land-mines to avoid. These land-mines are idealism, dualism, epiphenomenalism, eliminativism (yes I think this too is a land-mine, more on that later), etc. When people are thinking about which move to make next, they may wonder if this move will cause them to step on a land-mine. Sometimes philosophers will accuse one another of having stepped on one of these land-mines, even when the person who advanced the view believes that they've avoided the land-mines.

At this point it's hard for me to re-trace exactly the context this arose in, but I think this is what I was getting at when you told me that my worry didn't apply to materialism. You're probably right, technically, but I think I perceived that the mystery you referred to was rearing its ugly head, and that perhaps a land-mine wasn't being avoided carefully enough...anyway, if you're still interested in this, perhaps I can re-trace it. That's about as well as I can do on that for now...Sorry, but it's tough to keep up with the "Philosopher Queen" of Bloggingheads :)

On Eliminative Materialism, I appreciate the link. The link does appear to say that some eliminativists limit their view to eliminating aspects of what we would call the 'easy problem' rather than experience altogether. But this may not make any sense. So for the record, I agree with you on your critique of eliminativism. Once again, I was trying to cordon off the issue of whether the premises flowed into one another from the issue of whether eliminativism was superior to reductionism on the whole. This may not be an interesting approach, or even an important issue, but I think I started by saying something like "with eliminativism I can see the premises leading into one another." But I may have been too rough in my language on this too. For now, suffice it to say that when looking for harmony of coherence between premises, I can just take the premises as true, no matter how hard they are for me to believe.

One of the reasons that eliminativism is appearing to gain favor with me here is that it isn't a compatibilist theory. So when it says, "There is no will, therefore there is no free will" I can see that that seems to make a certain sort of sense, even if I find the premise extremely hard to believe. But for the record, I view eliminativism much the same way you do. Whether it's more or less coherent than the type of materialism you're advancing is something I'm happy to shelve, especially if it's keeping us from hitting the target of our disagreement.

So onto non-eliminative and non-panpsychist materialism...

Earlier, I gave this view of the kind of materialism we're discussing:

1) There was this stuff.

2) Now there is some other stuff.

3) The stuff from #2 is identical to #1, even though #1 was around for a while without #2.

To which you replied:

"At this general level, there is nothing mysterious about the above. Chemistry existed before life came about. Life depended upon certain self-replicating chemicals came along. Nothing weird about that. No one is saying that biology is just chemistry, but individual biological creatures are describable at a chemical level. I know you say there's a difference between this and consciousness, but clearly your attempt above to show what's wrong with psycho-physical reduction fails -- or it would show us that life couldn't arise out of chemistry either."

So maybe I need to delve in a little more to tell you what I'm thinking. The sequence I listed above seems to imply CAUSATION, if the sequence above implies only identity, then I think the stuff which came along later must have been around already in some way, shape, or form. I suppose my critique at this point needs to be reserved to identity theories, since I need to read up more on supervenience and the like.

But going back to the sequence above, if something comes before something else, and the thing which comes later is somehow said to rely on what was there before, causation seems to be implied. If something is identical to something else, then it seems that what comes later was there all along, and we only missed it. In other words, if A is around and then B springs from A, I am compelled to say that A caused B. If A is around and then B springs from A, but we say that they are identical, well then I'm compelled to say that B was there all along at least in some way. In my mind this applies whether we're talking about chemistry to life, or brains to consciousness.

But I'm still failing to see the analogy from life to consciousness. Chemistry to life seems like 3rd person to 3rd person, and brains to consciousness seems like 3rd person to 1st person. If you don't share this intuition, then by no means am I asserting that I've mounted a thorough or devastating critique of your view. Rorty gave a talk one time where he said that materialists like himself (a relativist materialist, how interesting) and Dennett just saw things differently than people like Chalmers and Nagel, and that a sort of bottom line gut level dead-end had been reached. I recognize this dead-end, and I don't claim to have anything to say that would convince Dennett or Rorty, if their bottom line feeling about uniqueness of consciousness is so different than mine.

What I'm trying to do is see if the premises of the system flow to me, if they are harmonious, consistent, coherent, valid, or what have you. As I'm sure you know, this is not the same thing as whether or not the premises are true. With panpsychism, eliminativism, and now with identity theories, (if you will allow me to put other theories of reduction off till another day) all I'm trying to do is see what happens after I accept as true the way the theory describes the state of world. I may not be able to accept the way the theory describes the state of world, but that is a whole other kettle of fish, even if I've been less than perfect in crossing into that realm in our exchange.

So my point about how all this relates to free will is actually pretty underwhelming, but thankfully short: IMHO, a theory should move clearly between premises if it is said to justify something like free will. I certainly agree with your ideas about the way competent people can "rise above" their own impulses and respond to outward signals and behave accordingly. But I base this on my own primary experience, not on ideas about determinism. If a philosophical theory is said to be compatible with free will, then that theory should be free of the kind of problems I've been raising (of course I may be out too lunch on what I've raised, but suffice it to say I don't think major problems can exist which are large enough to make understanding how it works too difficult). If there is a problem for physicalism generally, then this may be an epistemological problem, which I'm not necessarily focused on, but the epistemological problem may be so outstanding that it puzzles the reader to imagine how the premises are supposed to fit together. When this happens, I think the claim about an idea's compatibility with something like free will is suspect.

Feel free to set me straight on how I've characterized the materialism you've been describing.

To summarize, you told me early on that non-eliminative materialists were not compelled to say that the brain is the primary cause of consciousness, (or the physical the cause of the mental), but that the two are identical. The problem I'm having is that if something is missing, and then something emerges, then I'm having a hard time seeing how it can be identical to something which was there before. I mean, if event or ingredient B is identical to event or ingredient A, then event or ingredient B would have already been around as long as event or ingredient A was around right? If event or ingredient B is caused by event or ingredient A, then how can we say they're identical?

More broadly, if there is an emergence problem, then it's hard to say that what's causing the emergent thing would allow for free will, and if there is identity, then what's the justification for not being panpsychist?

I know the topic of free will is on the "easy" side of the problem of consciousness, and I feel fine making this distinction, but I don't see a dichotomy here between the easy and the hard. In other words, the things of the 'easy problem' exist within the conduit of what-it's-like to be me. If we haven't gotten clear on the what-it's-like side, then how are we to know that it doesn't determine the things on the easy side?

Bloggin' Noggin
03-09-2008, 10:48 PM
You mentioned that the liberty of potentially formerly crazy people is completely separate from what we've have been discussing.

I hope I didn't really say THAT. What I should have said (whether I said it clearly or not) is that there are many more issues involved than just the issue of responsibility, so any view we may have about the practical issue of protective detention will say little about the issue of responsibility. There are too many other controversial issues involved.

If protection of society were our main concern, we wouldn't feel that it was "unjust" to keep someone in jail after they had been rehabilitated.
If it were our ONLY concern, then we wouldn't be concerned about the injustice. If on the other hand justice and individual rights are among our values, then we'd at least be torn.

Because we would pause before wondering whether their liberty was worth more than the risk they were to society at large. I may not have explicit proof off the top of my head, but I think it's at least not true that society has explicitly gone to a "protection of society" metric and discarded retribution.
There are retributivist and deterrence theories of punishment. I think it's pretty clear that whichever of these theories is true, we are very clear that punishment is not merely protective custody. We clearly are willing to punish people who have done something wrong in the past, even if we do not believe that they continue to be a danger. Punishment is backward-looking, protective custody is entirely forward-looking.

Now, I'm not sure if you regard deterrence-based punishment as "protection of society" or not. It is certainly different from protective custody, but it's overall justification is protection of society.

As soon as the notion of "justice" in included in our legal deliberations, we've gone beyond the nominal type of responsibility you're advancing.
I suspect you are greatly, greatly minimizing the sort of responsibility I have in mind. It's certainly not "nominal" in the sense of "in name only".
More importantly, our conception of justice is probably the most important constraint on the conception of responsibility I'm advancing. I absolutely deny that there is any conflict between my conception of responsibility and any reasonable conception of justice. Maybe you could summarize what you take my view of responsibility to be and explain why it's inconsistent with justice?
I personally am inclined to accept some version of retributivism, so that should make your demonstration as easy as possible. I do not think my conception of responsibility is inconsistent with a retributive theory of punishment.

I'm not saying that the law has completely sided with one view or another, but it seems to me that our common law, or constitution, our statutes, and the values that underlie these, are replete with morally realist notions about responsibility and justice. If we still have a different understanding about this, I'm not sure that much more can be said, at least about this sub-topic.
I suppose I wouldn't disagree. I am a moral realist (or a moral objectivist) myself. I therefore don't see these presuppositions as incorrect. I don't understand why you assume that my conception of responsibility would be inconsistent with moral realism. Or do you think my naturalism is inconsistent with moral realism? I don't think those are inconsistent either.
I tried to put moral realism to the side in our current discussion because it seemed unnecessary to take on the issue to discuss agent-responsibility -- I didn't deny moral realism, I just put it to the side.

But it's probably not too important for the purposes of this discussion whether or not society has or does go to a less retribution oriented legal system. It started as a tangential point I was making, and it flourished into this. But to try to clear it up a little more:

As to whether rewards and punishments are different from protection of society, I'll admit again to being perhaps a little hazy in my presentation, but I don't see a dichotomy here either. Rewards and punishments would be FOR the protection of society. It would be good for society to put away violent criminals, and it would be good for society to put away violent people who are violent because they're mentally incompetent.
Suppose we develop a much better psychological theory than we have now and we can really know when someone who was mad has been cured and is no longer dangerous. In that case, there will be no justification for keeping the cured mad in protective custody. Yet a deterrence theorist would regard backward-looking punishments of responsible criminals as important to protect society by means of deterring others, even when the criminal in question is too old to repeat his own crime.


The rest of the population would take notice. Incentives which would lead to good behavior would lead to a safer society. You've acknowledged that you see a distinction between protective detention and punishment, but to me this isn't so clear. Once again it feels anti-climactic when disagreements like this come down to something simple (but hey what else are they going to come down to?) but I see the word punishment as pretty neutral, whereas I see the word "retribution" as something which doles out rewards and punishments based on some proportionality and sense of merit.
"Punishment" is necessarily backward-looking -- if I know you aren't guilty but I inflict pain on you because I think it will deter others from committing crimes, I'm not punishing you. That doesn't settle the difference between deterrence and retributive theories of punishment -- the deterrence theorist thinks there's a forward-looking element at a deeper level. As I said above, I find a retributivist view appealing. Do you have some reason for thinking my view of responsibility is inconsistent with retributivism?

To reiterate in summary, I think maybe you take my view of responsibility to be considerably more minimal and more revisionist than the one I intend to propose. I'd like to be clearer why you take my view of responsibility to be inconsistent with our notion of justice or with a retributive view of punishment. Why is it inconsistent with moral realism?

Jay J
03-10-2008, 12:46 AM
Bloggin,

A reason to keep people in jail, even those who have been rehabilitated, is to deter others, which would in turn serve to protect society. I'm not sure if we agree on whether this is the best way to go about things or not, but it seems that we agree that it's a coherent picture.

I don't think your view is necessarily inconsistent with retributive theories of punishment, I suppose it just depends on which theory you see as working best. It's just that these theories seem to try to get at some of the inherent badness of crimes and punish accordingly. I don't think there's anything automatically wrong with these views, but I just don't know that I can get at what crimes are "deserving" of what kind of punishment. I only feel confident that I can get at which types of violent people are a threat to society and the ways to remove them from society. I'm not saying any and all people who believe in retribution are buying into what I'm attributing to it, but I prefer a deterrence theory myself.

I'm not saying protective custody (I hope I didn't say that) is the only reason to remove people from society. Either way, what I was trying to get at is spelled out in my last post in this thread, which is to say more or less that a protection of society reason to punish goes beyond just keeping a violent individual in prison until that person is no longer a threat.

I agree that if justice and individual rights were among our values, we would be torn, but I don't see how these thoughts could kick in unless we had some notion of responsibility which went beyond what I understand to be "agent-responsibility." If we only had what I think I understand as agent-responsibility, then it seems like we would pause and probably,

A) given how apparently faulty our ability is to tell who is or isn't rehabilitated, or who will or won't have their mental illness triggered by the environment, fault on leaving people who have committed violent acts in the custody they are in, removed from society

B) wonder how to weigh the individual rights of those who've committed violent acts against the need to deter others in the future.

If there really is no concept of DMR, then why would we think someone's "rights" would kick in, even after they've committed a violent act? That's how the reasoning would normally work right? It would go something like,

"Well those people who are in prison knew what they were doing, and should stay behind bars, while this guy was incompetent, so surely it would be unjust to keep him removed from society now."

But why would it be "unjust" to keep him locked away and "just" to keep mentally "competent" prisoners behind bars? We keep prisoners behind bars who have committed violent crimes 60 years ago, even when they're old and frail, yet we feel obligated to release those who are "rehabilitated." I don't see what the justification for that could be if it wasn't some sense that the "competent" person was responsible in a way much deeper than that of the incompetent person. Now I'll grant that the person who is pushed into someone who is then injured is only causally responsible. I see the competent person as "agent-responsible" and the incompetent as...well whatever this person is, it's less important to me than protecting society. I don't agree that there would no longer be a justification for keeping the cured mad in custody when we got a perfect psychological method. I realize that it's not as if crazy people would respond to the incentive of seeing their fellow crazies in jail, but if each time someone killed someone, they went away forever, this would seem to be a stronger incentive compared to rehabilitating some killers. I hate to go beyond the terms of our discussion this much, but it encourages people to get insanity exceptions, and it's not hard to imagine that some will end up being illegitimate.

I'm not meaning to diminish the type of responsibility you have presented, but I have to admit to being a little deflated at the post I am responding to, since we recently seemed to come to some agreement (and that made me happy) that the word "moral" in front of the word "responsibility" was not crucial, and that the term agent-responsibility would do just fine. I'm not trying to explicitly say that the view is inconsistent with moral realism, I simply don't see them as the same thing. In other words, you may have some other view you rely on to justify your moral realism, but it doesn't seem to me that the "agent-responsibility" we've been discussing is the one you rely on. This is essentially a repeat of my reasoning that the word moral is better replaced by another word in front of responsibility.

So to summarize this post, I don't mean that I'm sure enough to say that there is any contradiction between agent-responsibility and moral realism, but I just don't see that agent-responsibility leads to moral realism either, I'm willing to leave retribution to the side.

Now that we're here though, I guess it was wise to leave it aside, since it's bound to be something we have crossed wires on as well, if in fact you see agent-responsibility as being a form of moral realism.

For the record, I'm kind of hard on most forms of moral realism. But I will grant that they count as such when they give a theory (believable or not) that shows that it's always wrong to do something horrible, say, like, torturing babies for fun.

It seems difficult to me to show that something is always "wrong" in ways which go beyond social convention, and have this idea be reliant on some form of reductionism or non-metaphysical theory.

Having said all that, I have to say that you're running me ragged. It wouldn't be a problem if I wasn't so OCD about responding to the posts you put up. I'm going to have to gain control over my OCD need to respond...am I showing agent-responsibility? Anyway, have a good next couple of days, I'll respond sometime around the middle or end of the week probably...

Bloggin' Noggin
03-10-2008, 03:15 PM
Hi Jay,
You've been busy. Didn't you sleep last night? Back to commenting on your comments:

But going back to the sequence above, if something comes before something else, and the thing which comes later is somehow said to rely on what was there before, causation seems to be implied. If something is identical to something else, then it seems that what comes later was there all along, and we only missed it. In other words, if A is around and then B springs from A, I am compelled to say that A caused B. If A is around and then B springs from A, but we say that they are identical, well then I'm compelled to say that B was there all along at least in some way. In my mind this applies whether we're talking about chemistry to life, or brains to consciousness.

What are "A" and "B" here? If A is chemistry and B is biology, then clearly A and B are not identical. This doesn't show very much though. Even the type-type identity theorist about life would admit that biology is a proper part of chemistry -- not identical with the whole of chemistry, but only that part that deals with self-replicating molecules like RNA and DNA. The token-token theorist would even deny this: he only needs to say that any particular biological process is identical to some collection of chemical processes. The non-reductive materialist would say even less: that each biological process supervenes on some chemical process (or set of chemical processes).
I'm aware that you think (and I'm sympathetic) that there's a special problem of reduction for consciousness. But THAT is an entirely separate argument. The argument you offer here, if it were a problem for one kind of "emergence" would be a problem for every kind. In other words, the argument you offer "proves too much".
Do note that my preferred version of materialism (non-reductive, supervenience materialism) does not even involve an identity claim, so even if you still think your argument gets off the ground with the identity theories, it doesn't seem to have any purchase at all with this version of materialism.

But I'm still failing to see the analogy from life to consciousness.
I am not making an analogy. I'm critiquing the argument you offer by showing that, if it works where you want it to work, it will also work against any case of "emergence" -- even those you would presumably want to accept.

What I'm trying to do is see if the premises of the system flow to me, if they are harmonious, consistent, coherent, valid, or what have you. As I'm sure you know, this is not the same thing as whether or not the premises are true.
Certainly, and it is precisely the validity of your argument that I'm critiquing by showing that, as it stands, it proves too much.

So my point about how all this relates to free will is actually pretty underwhelming, but thankfully short: IMHO, a theory should move clearly between premises if it is said to justify something like free will.

You are now passing me the burden of proof. But my initial reaction was that I didn't see why materialism was incompatible with free will. You offered an argument that it was incompatible which seemed to depend upon the assumption that mental states were distinct from and caused by physical states and that mental states had no equivalent ability to cause physical states. I pointed out that this epiphenomenalist view seemed inconsistent with the assumption of materialism (from which assumption you wanted to derive the impossibility of free will). If I am right, then you've shown that a materialist who inconsistently also accepts epiphenomenalism can't accept free will, but you haven't shown that a (consistent) materialist can't accept free will. You have been attempting in your follow up posts to back up the claim that the materialist is committed to treating the relationship of mental and physical events as causal, which is the dualist/epiphenomenalist assumption that I said was inconsistent with materialism. My response has been to critique the soundness of the argument you offered in support of that. If my critique is right, then you have not established any inconsistency between free will and materialism. That is as far as I claim to have gone: defeating YOUR argument that the two are inconsistent. I don't claim to have established once and for all that the two are compatible.
Now you seem to be passing the burden of proof to me, saying that I haven't established that they are compatible. I grant that, but I don't see how I could do that beyond considering and critiquing arguments that seem to suggest that the two are incompatible.

I certainly agree with your ideas about the way competent people can "rise above" their own impulses and respond to outward signals and behave accordingly. But I base this on my own primary experience, not on ideas about determinism. If a philosophical theory is said to be compatible with free will, then that theory should be free of the kind of problems I've been raising (of course I may be out too lunch on what I've raised, but suffice it to say I don't think major problems can exist which are large enough to make understanding how it works too difficult). If there is a problem for physicalism generally, then this may be an epistemological problem, which I'm not necessarily focused on, but the epistemological problem may be so outstanding that it puzzles the reader to imagine how the premises are supposed to fit together. When this happens, I think the claim about an idea's compatibility with something like free will is suspect.

Feel free to set me straight on how I've characterized the materialism you've been describing.

To summarize, you told me early on that non-eliminative materialists were not compelled to say that the brain is the primary cause of consciousness, (or the physical the cause of the mental), but that the two are identical. The problem I'm having is that if something is missing, and then something emerges, then I'm having a hard time seeing how it can be identical to something which was there before. I mean, if event or ingredient B is identical to event or ingredient A, then event or ingredient B would have already been around as long as event or ingredient A was around right? If event or ingredient B is caused by event or ingredient A, then how can we say they're identical?

You and I agree that, pace Dennett, consciousness has not been explained (at least not fully) -- all theories of consciousness are incomplete and involve a good deal of hand waving or promissory notes drawn on future science. But somehow you want to turn this problem about the details of materialism into a problem for the existence of free will or the compatibility of free will and materialism. You say that until materialism is worked out completely, we can't know for sure that free will is compatible with it. I suppose I'd grant that, but you can say the same about any theory that hasn't been totally worked out. Until we have the final theory of everything, we can have this kind of doubt about free will, or about anything.
You have offered a more specific argument, but I have tried to show that this doesn't work as it stands. In the absence of such a specific argument, the more general worry that MAYBE our final mind-brain theory will not allow for free will seems like more a philosophical anxiety than a philosophical problem. Anyway, I'm not sure how to provide reassurance when the worry ends up being so amorphous.

I grant you that consciousness seems to provide a problem for understanding how mind and brain fit together. It still isn't clear to me how this bleeds over into agency specifically and creates a separate big problem for responsibility or free will.

Bloggin' Noggin
03-10-2008, 04:33 PM
Hi Jay,
Didn't mean to run you ragged -- I was assuming that you had control over when you posted. Now that I know otherwise, I'm not sure what to do. I'm afraid I've already posted a reply on our other thread. I did it in ignorance -- which on my view means that I did it excusably. On your view, this may be irrelevant -- worse yet, maybe you'll have me locked away from my keyboard to protect society.

I hope it's OK if I make a quick observation, and let you think it over in the time between this post and your next one (NO HURRY!).

I'm beginning to suspect that your concern is not with what is normally called "moral responsibility" at all, but rather with what I might call "moral authority." I feel called upon to refrain from doing what is morally wrong, even if it would be in my own interest. This feeling that morality has some claim on me, and on everyone else, a claim we can't escape by just pointing out that we don't care about morality, is what I'd call a sense of moral authority. The question of moral authority is whether or not this sense that I have a reason to be moral is mistaken or whether there is really a reason of the sort that there seems to be -- something going beyond my own interest and my concern about being punished or rewarded.

I happen to think we do have such reasons. But whatever you think of that answer, I think we ought to distinguish between that question and the quite different question of whether I can override my immediate impulses in order to act on what I see as my overall best reason (whether this is a moral reason of the sort I believe in or a reason of long-term self-interest).

Of course, you might doubt that we have ANY reasons beyond what our immediate desires tell us to do. But if you doubt that, then why not adopt Hume's compatibilism: if we can do what we desire, we have free will -- the notion that our desires bind us in some way will be a mistake. Only if you imagine that you might have reasons other than those based on your currently strongest desire, would you feel any need to do otherwise than that desire tells you or to have any control over your desires.

But if you do believe we can have reasons to act based on long-term self-interest, then the issue of "moral responsibility" or "agent responsibility" arises EVEN IF you are a moral skeptic.

Well, I hope that's clear. I promised to keep this brief. Take as much time as you like. You don't even have to respond if you prefer not to. NO PRESSURE!

Take care!

Bloggin' Noggin
03-12-2008, 01:17 PM
Hi Jay,
I find I want to respond briefly to something I didn't comment on the other day:
On Eliminative Materialism, I appreciate the link. The link does appear to say that some eliminativists limit their view to eliminating aspects of what we would call the 'easy problem' rather than experience altogether.

Afer reading the above and writing my main response I went back and checked the EM entry in SEP that I'd referred you to.

Since Eliminativists are materialists, it would be inconsistent of them to admit that a materialist view of the world leaves out anything real -- any genuine part of the world. That would make them dualists. If some psychological state cannot be accounted for in materialist terms, then the materialist must deny that this psychological state (or rather our understanding of it) is a genuine part of the world.

I'm not sure how you are understanding "experience". Assuming only that it is a mental state or process, I would expect the eliminativist to take the line he takes with all mental states and processes: that they are commitments of a deeply confused and mistaken "folk theory" of behavior, which ultimately we will be able to jettison wholesale. But if he makes an exception for this one mental process, then, as a materialist, he must treat it as the identity theorists or non-reductive materialists do. At a minimum, it's got to be "constituted by" or "supervenient on" underlying physical processes. So on your view, the eliminativist will eliminate the mental processes that are (as Chalmers admits) easiest to "reduce" (in the broadest sense) to physical processes but attempt to "reduce" (again in the broadest sense) those mental processes that are hardest to reduce. I can't see why they would do this -- nor do I see anything in the SEP article that commits them to this (or to some more dualist position on experience).

What the article does say is that the Eliminativist arguments focus on propositional attitudes like belief and desire. But this is not because they want to preserve phenomenal qualities or "irreducibly 1st-person properties of mind". It's because the propositional attitudes are the most promising candidates for non-eliminativist materialist accounts of mind. More 'reductive" materialists like Dennett already admit that phenomenal qualities, understood as Nagel and Chalmers would like to understand them, must be eliminated. But they differ with the eliminativists in feeling that intentional states like belief and desire can be accepted as real parts of the (material) world.
The SEP article points out that the Eliminativist agrees with the dualist that mental states are irreducible to the physical, but, because he is a materialist, he therefore rejects mental states (as currently understood), treating them like the demons that were once thought to cause madness. Eliminativists focus on the easy problem because they deny that it is really any easier than the admittedly hard problem of phenomenal qualities, not because they think phenomenal qualities are easy and the "easy problem" is actually harder.

Anyway, that's how I read the passages you seem to be alluding to in the SEP article. If you found something in there that contradicts that reading, please let me know.

Again, this is just a quick footnote on a small part of your post. No need to respond to this.

Jay J
03-14-2008, 05:29 AM
Hi Bloggin,

I understand myself to be offering a coupe of different arguments, and perhaps one of which I've only clearly formulated recently. I'll grant that I see you as bearing the burden of proof, since I haven't understood myself to be advocating for a lack of free will necessarily, as much as against particular versions, based on certain premises.

I'll try to summarize very briefly what I'm getting at, and maybe you can tell me where it fails:

1) The "easy" problems of consciousness all seem to arise through the conduit of experience.

2) Since experience composes the "hard" problem, and since this problem remains unsolved, we can't be confident that our understanding of things like "beliefs" and "will" would hold up after the hard problem was solved, since what's going on in the hard problem may determine what's going on in the easy problem.

3) When I talk about a lack of confidence, I'm not only talking about a lack of certainty, since we lack certainty on virtually everything. Instead I'm saying that the hard problem looks like a huge outstanding problem, such that when it has it's say, no telling what will change.

4) The problems I've been raising I perceive to be things that a theory should clear up BEFORE it claims to have given us confidence in saying that free will and determinism are compatible. I don't know how to make the worry more specific than this. I am asserting that there is a project that needs completing before the project of compatibilism is a theory we can invest confidence in. If compatibilism is said to be sound before the project of the hard problem is complete, then that seems to me like saying that whatever the result, we've got the outline pretty much right regardless. I don't see free will to be so separate from the problem of emergence, based on what I've said before.

5) If the argument I've raised proves too much, then so be it, particularly on how this relates to free will. I'm not saying I feel completely comfortable with free will as it relates to panpsychism. I'm only saying that I feel more comfortable with panpsychism insofar as experience is just posited and this allows me to see how the will is supposed to be a cog in the wheel on causation. I should note however that I just don't see that emergence is nearly as big a problem for pansychism as it is for non-panpsychist materialism. I'm not sure that we can go anywhere from here if we disagree on this, but it seems to me that the move from micro-experience to macro-experience is like moving from the small to the large, whereas materialist emergence seems like moving from nothing to something. But I'm not claiming that my gut is decisive on this point. Also if my argument proves too much as it relates to eliminativism, so be it, since I'm not arguing for eliminativism on the whole.

6) Positing experience may raise some epistemological problems, but to me these are different than problems of coherence and I've been trying to focus on problems of coherence in this thread.

7) I think that if identity theories are to survive and retain their character, they collapse into pansychism, and emergence theories collapse into causation, which ends up either in eliminativism or epiphenominalism or both. On non-reductive supervenience, I'll have to read up on that.

As for the rest, I didn't mean to say that I had a knock out punch for compatibilism...meaning, I didn't mean to say that I could demonstrate that compatibilism was false. I don't know, maybe I overstated the case, it's hard to say by now. If you have an example for me, I'm willing to entertain something I've said which contradicts that. But for now, it seems that perhaps I see the obstacles compatibilism faces as more daunting than you do. The reason I don't hold eliminativism to a higher standard is that it denies the will, and therefore denies free will, which you have to admit makes a certain sort of sense. It seem that some of the arguments you've put forward lately show that other forms of materialism are not as burdened as eliminativism, which I agree with, particularly when soundness (as opposed to validity) is the issue. So maybe we should leave eliminativism there for now?

As for non-reductive supervenience, I'll look into it. The biases I carry into any investigation like this are:

If something like experience doesn't exist at all, and some sort of physical process comes along and causes, provides an adequate base for, becomes identical to, I'm going to question the emergence, and suggest that eliminativism or epiphenominalism is not avoided the way the theory claims it is.

If supervenience can avoid the problem of emergence and the problem of identity, then so much the better.

Jay J
03-14-2008, 05:39 AM
Hi Bloggin,

Your logic on eliminativism is impeccable. I agree 100%. Eliminativism comes with some very serious bullets to bite.

I was trying to limit the conversation to what the theories have to say about free will, and whether they retain coherence all the way down. I may have given eliminativism too much credit, but it seems to me that denying free will is a less ambitious claim for a materialist system to make, therefore it makes things easier perhaps.

Again your logic is impeccable, but that doesn't cause me to believe that all eliminativists follow this logic. I didn't mean to say that the entry you included says that eliminavists explicitly retain experience as irreducible, rather that they don't all deal with this. You may be completely right that they would also deny experience, but it doesn't seem too fanciful to me to think that a philosopher would be eliminative about some things but not about others. I should not have been so sloppy in my language to suggest that the entry demonstrates this, because what I meant to say was instead that the entry as stated at least would bear such an interpretation. By "such an interpretation" I mean at least that some eliminativists target "easy" problems of consciousness to such an extent that it's not obvious that they deny "what-it's-like-ness," even though perhaps they're underlying commitment should cause them to.

Jay J
03-14-2008, 06:01 AM
Hi Bloggin,

I've enjoyed the exchange. I just gotta learn to relax, that's all. I sometimes feel like I need to respond, respond, respond. I appreciate the low-key approach to the exchange as well...Thanks for giving me time.

I agree with the concept, so far as I know, of "agent-responsibility," (I prefer not to use the term "moral responsibility" since I think that when we're in our armchair, the word "moral" entails more).

But I come at this mostly through my gut. It seems to me that some people can respond to constituencies other than their reptilian impulses. If that's the case, then some people would be able to respond to incentives in society and our practices may still make some sort of local sense.

I just think it becomes problematic when an explicit commitment to determinism is made, but perhaps I need to read up on non-reductive supervenience.

Bloggin' Noggin
03-14-2008, 12:16 PM
Hi Jay,
Thanks for all the replies. I think I'll try to consolidate my replies into this message.
I'm aware that your objections to free will were not objections to free will per se, but rather to its compatibility with something else. That something else is not so much determinism, as I see it, but materialism (or at least materialism of a certain sort). But that incompatibility is still something that requires argument. What I claim to have established is that your argument that the two are incompatible (offered in an early post and supplemented in later posts by your emergence argument) does not establish its conclusion that there is any incompatibility. I showed this (I believe) by pointing out that your initial argument relied upon epiphenomenalism, which would be inconsistent with materialism. You tried to argue that the materialist in a way has to invoke epiphenomenalism (this is your emergence argument), so the problem still stands. I replied by showing that your emergence argument "proves too much" -- by which I mean that the argument as it stands must be invalid, since it reaches false conclusions in other cases where it applies (the case of life and chemistry).

You say "so be it" if your argument proves too much. Does this mean that you accept that the emergence argument is indeed invalid as it stands? If so, this would mean that you had undertaken a burden of proof which you haven't met so far. You could try tweaking that emergence argument of course.
At the moment, what you seem to be doing instead is switching to a different argument that until we have a complete theory, we can't know for sure that materialism is compatible with free will. This is true, but unless you have more of an argument, it's also true that we have no particular reason to think they are incompatible either. I'm happy enough to leave things at this point. I don't claim to be able to show that they absolutely are compatible no matter what future science and future theory reveal. I only claim that no incompatibility has been demonstrated. If you agree to that, then I guess we've reached agreement.

I do think we should be careful to distinguish between two claims and the arguments for them:
1. Free will is incompatible with materialism.
and
2. Free will is incoherent (a la Galen Strawson's argument).

On the first question, it seems we may have gotten to a kind of end-point: you suspect that there may be a problem, but haven't established that one exists. I admit that there may be a problem, but don't think one has been established so far.

Strawson's argument has nothing whatever to do with materialism. His argument would work (if it does) even in a world of pure souls without material bodies. It never makes reference to materialism. Rather, it argues that we can't choose our most basic desires. If we can't, he thinks we don't have free will. If we could, on what basis could we possibly choose?
This argument is much closer to the question of compatibilism/ incompatibilism as it's normally understood.
Perhaps we should turn our attention to question 2 and Strawson's argument.
My response to Strawson's argument is that the kind of free will we need does not require that we be completely free of history. What we need is to be able to overcome our desires when they conflict with our reasons. You APPEAR to grant that this kind of free will is possible, but...and I'm not quite clear how to fill in this "but". I guess you feel that this does not amount to real free will? Or anyway, you don't like to call the kind of responsibility that goes along with it "moral" responsibility -- for reasons I remain rather unclear on. I'm not sure what you think the word "moral" brings in that shouldn't be brought in.
I also suspect that you regard my version of free will as rather more minimal than I think it is, but I'm not clear how.
Perhaps it helps if I say that my view denies that Schopenhauer claim you started with. I think that we do have some ability to reshape our own wills. We can deliberate, not only about what we should do based on our current desires, but we can deliberate about which of these desires we should act on and which we should encourage and which we should discourage. We can decide to acquire new desires, and within limits, we can decide to eliminate or at least minimize certain desires. A smoker can give up smoking and eventually not even desire a cigarette. A greedy person can see himself "from outside" and see a reason to be less greedy, less selfish, and over time, he can, through a process of habituation, make himself less greedy, and so on.
I further claim that, although this doesn't rise to the level of being causa sui, it is sufficient for the kind of responsibility we hold people to in real life, and it is most of the freedom we actually want for ourselves. I mean, we could wish we had the freedom of angels. We don't have that, but most of us have the kind of freedom we can reasonably desire as contingent creatures. The kind of free will we really need, we have -- or anyway, I see no reason why we can't have this much free will.

Jay J
03-14-2008, 07:36 PM
Hi Bloggin,

*I think one of the reasons that you perceive that I view your version of free will as more minimal than you see your view, is because I see your view of *moral* responsibility as more minimal than you see it. If you're OK, at least for the time being, with calling this "agent responsibility" then I'm completely OK with it. However to me, if one is a moral skeptic, then even if Strawson's DMR were correct, one could still believe in a robust free will and not believe in *moral* responsibility at all. But where we are right now seems fine, since they could very well agree with what we've decided to call "agent responsibility."

*Apparently I didn't know what "proves too much" meant. The invalidity you say that my argument possesses is said to do with biology, life, and chemistry. I have said that I don't see an analogy between these things and the emergence of consciousness, but you have replied that you were making no such analogy. The reason I thought you were making an analogy is that it must be analogous if this example shows that I'm out of line in other areas. So for now, can you explain this in layman's terms to me?

*To try to be as clear as possible, I don't know if free will and determinism are incompatible. I see certain versions as appearing to be incompatible, at least insofar as there appears (to me) to be an incoherence at some point in the theory. We can certainly disagree on this, but it's not as if I'm the only person who has these reactions to compatibilist ideas. I don't purport to be able to demonstrate, once and for all, the falsity of compatibilism and the truth of incompatibilism.

*However if there is a lacunae somewhere in our understanding of how consciousness come to be, then at some point in a line of premises, there seems to be a need to commit a non sequitur, in that the premises don't necessarily establish the truth of the conclusion.

*It seems now that there is a proposal on the table, that perhaps the success or lack thereof of a theory does not have bearing on whether it is compatible with free will. But I guess I tend to look at the whole thing. People may say something like, "determinism is not compatible with free will," or someone may say, "compatibilism is incoherent." If the latter statement is the more warranted of the two, then so be it.

*That said, I don't pretend to have disproven anything, and there are probably forms of determinism which have a twist I haven't considered.

*If you perceive that I was aggressively arguing for incompatibilism early in the thread, then I'll plead guilty. But this was the form of materialism which sees consciousness as relying on physical causes, rather than identity. When you've offered me other ways of viewing materialism, I've tried to deal with those versions anew, and state what my objections were. At least in some spots along the way, I think my arguments have been more anti-compatibilism than pro-incompatibilism.

*And finally, I am going to need you to explain something to me in laymen's terms or in as straight-forward a way as possible:

How are we to make sense of the idea that consciousness has a causal role to play in the universe, while believing in determinism? Determinism is more or less the idea that every real phenomena is preceded by a cause, yes? If we decide that panpsychism is off the table, which seems like a common thing among determinists, then the type of determinism we're dealing with is largely non-experiential matter combining in such a way that consciousness is emerges or supervenes or what have you. So how do we say that consciousness has a causal role to play, once we've denied panpsychism and affirmed the idea that consciousness is determined by something not conscious? If the problem of emergence is glossed over, then I'm going to say that's a problem for incompatibilism, not just physicalism, since compatibilism bears whatever cross it's constituents bear. If your answer is to bring up chemistry and life and biology, then you're going to have to break that down for me, and tell me why it's relevant.

I'm not trying to be obstinate, it's just that I am but a lowly philosophy undergrad.

Thanks for the reply...

Bloggin' Noggin
03-17-2008, 02:13 PM
Your logic on eliminativism is impeccable. I agree 100%. Eliminativism comes with some very serious bullets to bite.

I don't think that's what I was arguing. Rather I was trying to explain the motivation behind eliminativism. I was doing this to explain why it seemed to me that the partially eliminativist theory you imagine, while a logical possibility, would be completely unmotivated. It would be straining at gnats while swallowing elephants.

You may be completely right that they would also deny experience, but it doesn't seem too fanciful to me to think that a philosopher would be eliminative about some things but not about others.

Well, described that way, it's not fanciful at all. As I pointed out, Dennett could be regarded as a kind of eliminativist when it comes to "phenomenal qualities" (though not about consciousness, which he puts entirely on the "easy" side of the line). And it would be logically possible for someone to eliminate belief and desire without eliminating phenomenal qualities, but as a position it doesn't make sense. It would be like rejecting the evolution of all non-hominid species based upon little outstanding problems in the theory, but insisting that Man alone did evolve, even though the problems of how he did are at least as great as for the other animals.

Bloggin' Noggin
03-17-2008, 03:09 PM
You asked for an explanation of "proving too much" etc. Let me do that as a separate bite-sized post. The point is a logical one and I will illustrate it in a field far from that we've been considering.

Consider someone who makes the following argument against the morality of homosexuality:
Homosexual sex uses an organ for something other than its "intended" purpose.
Therefore it is unnatural.
Therefore homosexual sex is wrong.

One way to criticize this argument is to show that it "proves too much." Hands are clearly not "intended" (whether by evolution or God) for standing. So standing on one's hands is "using an organ for something other than its intended purpose. If we accept the above argument about homosexuality just as it stands, then we are also committed to the claim that handstands are immoral and wrong. Yet most people (even those who offer the above argument about homosexuality) do not believe handstands are wrong or "unnatural" in any bad way. If you don't accept THAT conclusion, then, as a matter of logic, you have to admit that the argument does not establish its conclusion. But the arguments are of exactly the same form, so there is no way to say that the first argument establishes its conclusion while maintaining that the anti-handstand argument doesn't prove its conclusion. Either they both work or neither works -- that's what I mean by "proving too much".

Suppose the person who offered the first argument says "But you are assuming that homosexuality has something in common with handstands, and I don't think they are the same."
But of course the critic of the argument isn't really assuming that they are the same thing. But both clearly have in common the one feature that is relevant to the argument as it stands: they both use an organ for something other than its intended use.

If the person who offered the argument in the first place thinks there is a significant difference between the two things, then it's HIS job to go back and reformulate the argument so that it's clear why it rules out homosexuality and not handstands. There may be some more refined version of the argument which doesn't "prove too much" -- the criticism is directed not at ALL possible reformulations of the argument but at the argument as it is currently formulated.

Your argument against the reduction of mental events to physical events did not invoke anything specific to these types of events -- if it were a problem for this kind of "reduction", it would be a problem for ANY sort of reduction. Yet, most people (probably you yourself) would accept other forms of reduction, though -- e.g., biological events to chemical events. Therefore, your argument proves too much because it "proves" both true conclusions and false conclusions. Any argument that can "prove" false conclusions doesn't prove anything.
I am not saying that there is no relevant difference between biochemical "reduction" and psycho-neurological reduction. I'm saying that your argument AS IT IS STATED applies to both equally, and therefore proves too much. If you can reformulate it so that it applies only to psycho-physical reduction, then it will be a different argument and my objection that it proves too much may not apply. But, as it stands, it doesn't establish its intended conclusion.

The point has to do with validity. People sometimes use the term "valid" in an impressionistic and fuzzy sort of way. But validity can be rigorously defined for arguments. A valid argument is one whose premises cannot be true unless its conclusion is also true. The strategy I employed here with respect tot he anti-homosexuality argument is to show that the argument must be invalid because you can plug in a true premise (hands are not meant for standing on) and get a false conclusion (handstands are immoral).

I hope that clarifies what I was trying to do in my earlier posts. I'll try to come back later and answer the rest of your last post.

Jay J
03-17-2008, 08:47 PM
Bloggin,

Your example about homosexuality shows a person who lays down a rule and then has a hard time when someone points out behaviors (that the homophobe has no problem with) which would also violate the rule.

The problem I'm having is that in order for you to believe that I've done that, it seems that you have to have read my words out of context. The context that I was always writing in was one of the emergence of consciousness, not causation in general.

I would not be shocked if you could produce a quote or two which would bear your interpretation of what I've said, but we were always talking about consciousness, rather than things which can be understood purely in 3rd person terms.

I don't know what to say about the people who used to deny that "life" could be understood in the terms we do now, other than that I don't see the relevance.

I will say though, that if you are talking about life as some category that is separate from consciousness, then the category seems fairly imposed. I'm not suggesting that there are no differences between physics and chemistry, or biology and chemistry, I'm simply saying that the categorical line between them seems arbitrary and pragmatic, whereas the line between the third and first person perspective seems inherent, irreducible and sui generis. This is what I've been saying all along.

I'm not asserting that I know for sure that the first person will never be reduced to the third person, but what I am saying is that anyone who claims that this is in principle possible bears the burden since it's not at all obvious how the understanding of 3rd person facts could lead us to understand 1st person experience. When we're talking about physics to chemistry to biology we're talking about facts which can all be understood in the third person. So these categories are drawn by us, based on what we see and understand.

I'm certainly not asserting that the categories are complete and total mental constructs which aren't really out there at all, and I'm not denying that Mother Nature can change her spots.

What I am saying is that what we can be most confident of is that there are some things out there that are happening, and we observe these things, try to make sense of them, and give them names. Often times we see changes, and we notice differences between things, so we come up with categories. It's not as if these things aren't there at all, it's just that so far as we can tell, all they really seem to be are habits of nature, in whatever form they come in.

On the other hand, it is not at all obvious that conscious experience would arise from these habits.

Granted, I didn't say, at each step along the way, "This argument applies only to consciousness," but I also didn't say, "this argument applies to all forms of apparent emergence." Our discussion was about consciousness for most of the way, so I was talking in that context, when I was talking about problems of causation and emergence.

So if you still think I have "proved too much" on emergence, then you're going to have to tell me where I've asserted a rule which would be violated by the onset of life.

I'm sure neither one of us has the stomach for a drawn out conversation of whether I did or didn't "prove too much," but it's actually pretty important, since we seem to have happened upon a fundamentally important question to our argument: whether or not I asserted a rule which is violated in the appearance of life (or chemistry to biology or what have you) just the same as it is with the emergence of consciousness.

Jay J
03-17-2008, 08:57 PM
Bloggin,

If there is a significant distinction between biting a bullet on the one hand and straining at gnats while swallowing elephants on the other, then I'll be happy to concede the point.

You pointed out the technical definition of "validity" in one of your recent posts, so you must understand well the distinction between the validity and the soundness of a line of reasoning. If I've overlooked a problem of validity eliminativism has, then I'll cop to it.

But for certain, I was never arguing for the soundness of Eliminativism. The thing is though, it seems that most of your arguments about Elimnativism target the soundness or perhaps even the usefulness of Eliminativism. I have no beef with you here.

However I am still a little confused on the difference between my partial eliminativism and philosophers who are eliminative about some things and not about others. Maybe you're saying that there is no difference. If so, then I'm no longer sure what we're arguing about here, since I never set out to say that partial eliminativism was a motivated position.

Bloggin' Noggin
03-18-2008, 07:00 PM
Hi Jay,

Here's the argument I'm referring to:

1) There was this stuff.

2) Now there is some other stuff.

3) The stuff from #2 is identical to #1, even though #1 was around for a while without #2.


It isn't an explicit argument, but there does appear to be an implicit argument based on the indiscernability of identicals (A=B only if A has every property B has). The argument alludes only to "stuff" and the fact that one "stuff" was around before the seemingly "other stuff" came about.

So, since the premises nowhere invoke something special to consciousness, if this argument works against consciousness being physical, then it works against living processes being chemical processes (since chemistry preceded life).

Of course, the solution to the mystery is that, sure, chemistry was around before life, but the kind of complex chemistry involved in life was not around all the time. What looks like a vast and incomprehensible leap on one level can be understood on the level of chemistry as the gradual evolution (not in Darwin's sense) of more complex chemistry.

We don't currently fully understand how such a thing could happen with consciousness, but it wasn't long ago that we didn't in the least understand how it could be the case with life.

Again, I am not making the materialist case here. I'm just pointing out that the argument I quoted above does not show what you take it to show.

On the broader issue, you assert that the materialist bears the burden of proof that consciousness really is explicable in material terms. I'm fine with that claim.
But our original argument was over whether materialism was incompatible with free will. You maintained that it was incompaible, and you offered an argument for that. I critiqued that argument on the ground that it assumed not only that conscious states weren't identical with physical states, but that
the materialist treats phsyical states as the cause of (epiphenomenal) mental states. I pointed out that the materialst would not regard the relationship as causal, and therefore your argument assumed something incompatible with materialism. It therefore didn't establish its conclusion.

The argument I just quoted above was intended to persuade me that the relationship had to be causal after all, so that your original argument would go through.
As I see it, then, you did (correctly) assume the burden of proof that materialism is incompatible with free will, but that, on examination, your arguments don't meet that burden.

Jay J
03-22-2008, 11:26 AM
Hi Bloggin,

It seems to me that much (but not all) of our problem here is semantic.

My line of reasoning you quoted was in the context of arguing over identity theories, emergence, etc.

The problem I was having is that the example of biological processes being identical to chemical processes seems to be different from at least some identity theories of mind, because when the discussion is chemistry to biology, the name "biology" refers to something which presumably is different enough from what is thought of by "chemistry" that a new name is warranted. Granted, we can view biological processes as being identical to chemical processes, but what we have decided to call biological processes are *caused* by chemical processes (at least more...fundamental chemical processes).

You told me early on that at least some identity theories of mind avoided problems of causation from 3rd person to 1st person, but it seems to me that simply asserting identity doesn't get you around problems of emergence. In the area of chemistry to biology, we can talk about how this or that happens and causes some other thing to happen. We can't do that with consciousness, at least not the hard problem.

The reason I didn't specifically invoke consciousness is

A) We were already talking about consciousness, similar to the way that if we were talking about college basketball, I would say, without clarification, that Indiana University is the last team to go undefeated. You could reply that I didn't clarify which sport I was talking about, but I would reply that we were already talking about basketball.

B) I understood myself to be responding to a claim which asserted that a way out of emergence problems was an identity theory. My line of reasoning you quoted above doesn't avoid responsibility for explaining causation. In other words, it's not as if we have to stop talking as if what is commonly thought of as chemistry as having items which have causal power which bring about what is commonly thought of as biology.

The relationship you're talking about with chemistry and life still seems "3rd person to 3rd person," it's not obviously comparable to 3rd person to 1st person, so the invoking of the example of chemistry to life seems to boil down to "hey, we've solved big problems of explanation before." Also, your argument that the materialist would not necessarily treat the relationship as causal does not seem to apply to chemistry to life. Here's where it gets a little semantic...you could respond by saying that life was only chemical, and I would agree, but there is *something* happening with life which we believe warrants its own name, and even if biological processes are only chemical processes, we don't say that biological processes aren't caused by something which would more commonly be thought of as more fundamental chemical processes. So I basically still don't see the power of the comparison.

As for what we were originally arguing about, I've said in a recent post that if there is a difference between saying that materialism is incompatible with free will on the one hand, and saying that compatibilism is incoherent on the other, then I'll happily concede the point and say...If you could convince me of the soundness, validity, and coherence of materialism and its relationship with consciousness, then I would see it as compatible with free will, and "agent responsibility."

Perhaps what I should say is that I see good reason to reject materialist accounts of consciousness, and therefore see compatibilism as not persuasive, since there is a lacunae or two in our understanding, thereby causing a seeming non sequitur or two. And since the easy problems of consciousness exist within the conduit of the hard problem, so as long the hard problem is unsolved, there's no warrant for confidence about what could be causing the nature of the easy problems.

If rejecting compatibilism is different than saying that determinism and free will are incompatible, then I need to repent and revise...

Bloggin' Noggin
03-24-2008, 02:24 PM
Bloggin,

If there is a significant distinction between biting a bullet on the one hand and straining at gnats while swallowing elephants on the other, then I'll be happy to concede the point.

You pointed out the technical definition of "validity" in one of your recent posts, so you must understand well the distinction between the validity and the soundness of a line of reasoning. If I've overlooked a problem of validity eliminativism has, then I'll cop to it.

But for certain, I was never arguing for the soundness of Eliminativism. The thing is though, it seems that most of your arguments about Elimnativism target the soundness or perhaps even the usefulness of Eliminativism. I have no beef with you here.

However I am still a little confused on the difference between my partial eliminativism and philosophers who are eliminative about some things and not about others. Maybe you're saying that there is no difference. If so, then I'm no longer sure what we're arguing about here, since I never set out to say that partial eliminativism was a motivated position.

Hi Jay,
Was out of town for a bit, so I'm only getting to this now.
As I was using it, the term "validity" is purely a property of arguments (the same goes for "soundness". An argument is valid if its assumptions could not all be true while the conclusion is nevertheless false. An argument is sound if it is valid AND its premises are all true. I assume that when you apply 'validity' to a theory, you mean that it is coherent, though possibly not true, and when you say that it is 'sound', you mean that it is not only coherent, but true?

My point didn't concern eliminativism in general at all, but only your mixed version of eliminativism (eliminating propositional attitudes while not eliminating "experience").
I take it that you want to consider a position that either some eliminative materialists ACTUALLY hold or one that WOULD BE a good position for a materialist to hold, whether someone actually holds it or not. If it were simply a nonstarter, it wouldn't be worth considering. I haven't seen any evidence that any actual materialist holds this view. And I have tried to show that there's a good reason for this -- that it is a "nonstarter".

If your mixed eliminativist is a materialist at all, then it seems he will be mired in whatever difficulties you ascribe to materialisms that accept the "emergence" of the mental from the physical. If he is actually a dualist about experience, then he isn't a materialist. If he isn't a materialist, what would be the motivation for eliminating propositional attitudes in the first place? The elimination of belief and desire only makes sense as part of the elimination of the mental in general. And I think actual eliminativists bear this out: I've never heard one say "I reject folk [psychology, EXCEPT FOR that part that deals with experience."

My sense is that you will grasp the first horn of this dilemma, saying that panpsychism is a form of materialism and that you don't believe it has a problem accounting for the emergence of the mental. I think we should be careful here: Panpsychism is not a form of substance dualism, but it does seem to involve property dualism. Substance dualism says that there are two kinds of basic things or stuff in the universe: mind and matter. The property dualist says only that mental properties cannot be fully accounted for in terms of the physical properties of the physical constituents of minds. Minds may be physical things (brains), but it isn't possible to account for the mental properties of these physical minds in terms of the properties of their physical constituents. This raises a problem of "emergence" for the property dualist. Pansychism responds by saying that mental properties were there all along -- given what we know about our own minds, we must posit mental properties inhering even in things (like rocks or atoms) that we would otherwise not posit.
If you look at Thomas Nagel's paper, "Panpsychism", you'll see he quite explicitly appeals to property dualism. I think Chalmers is also pretty clear about being a property dualist or "dual aspect" theorist.

Anyway, to return to the main point, you seem to see your mixed version of eliminativism as an open option -- one way of dealing with the mind-body problem. My argument is that, however good pure eliminativism is as a response to this problem, the mixed version you propose is not. It simply adds the problems of the other approaches (either dualism or non-eliminative materialism) to the problems of eliminative materialism.

Bloggin' Noggin
03-24-2008, 03:59 PM
Hi Jay,

This final statement confuses me:
If rejecting compatibilism is different than saying that determinism and free will are incompatible, then I need to repent and revise...

Certainly compatibilism is normally understood as the claim that free will and determinism are compatible. What I've been saying is that determinism has nothing to do with materialism. Determinism says that, given the full state of the world at one time, the laws of nature determine only one possible future -- the appearance that the future consists of an indeterminate tree of branching possibilities that could go either way is only appearance. Materialism is not really involved -- the laws of nature and the state of the world could be entirely mental, so far as determinism alone is concerned.

Now, as Strawson points out, determinism in this sense could be false without particularly rescuing free will. Perhaps there are branching possibilities, but if these branching possibilities are just a matter of chance, then we may still not have free will. I tried to finesse this (and accomodate your desire to talk about materialism in connection with free will) by redefining "compatibilism' as the compatibility of "naturalism" and free will.

The reason I didn't specifically invoke consciousness is...
I'm not concerned to make some kind of cheap point against how you said something, so explanations here are unnecessary.
I recognize the Nagel-What-Is-It-Like-argument as some kind of challenge for materialism. But it sounded to me as though you were offering a separate argument, which was intended to show that we had to regard mental events as CAUSED by physical events, and it sounded as though this argument was based not based upon the indiscernability of identicals. As a matter of fact, you seem to continue to offer this argument -- even in the context of chemistry and life in the current post. You say that we must also recognize that biological events are caused by the chemical events that constitute them. So the evidence of the current post suggests that you do buy the quite general argument I attributed to you.

The problem I was having is that the example of biological processes being identical to chemical processes seems to be different from at least some identity theories of mind, because when the discussion is chemistry to biology, the name "biology" refers to something which presumably is different enough from what is thought of by "chemistry" that a new name is warranted.

It's clear that many chemical processes are not biological processes. Even a type-type identity theorist, who thinks that biology just is a part of chemistry would therefore not identify ALL of chemistry with biology. Such a theorist would regard biology as a part of chemistry -- that part dealing with self-replicating molecules like DNA and RNA. Such molecules didn't always exist in the history of the universe, and they might never have arisen if the universe had evolved in a different way. So even a type-type identity theorist of biology would still say that biological processes came into being after merely chemical processes.
I don't think there are any type-type identity theorists any more (though I could be wrong). The token-token identity theorist would actually admit that biological laws are not identical with even a subset of chemical laws. Biologists would presumably want to talk about, say, the repeated evolution of wings. But the notion of a wing cannot be defined in purely physical or chemical terms -- wings can be made of quite different stuff and configured in a number of ways (consistent with aerodynamic constraints). Laws governing the evolution of wings will not, therefore, be purely chemical laws. The process of digestion could be quite a different chemical process in different forms of life -- what makes it digestion in each case, is a functional property (it is a process which breaks down ingested material to provide energy and to be incorporated into the creature's body). The token-token theorist would admit that laws concerning digestion are not chemical laws, but he would NOT admit that digestion in a particular creature at a particular time is something over and above the chemical processes that realize it. Take the digestion of a particular piece of broccoli. Part of that process in a particular creature would be the breaking down of the vegetable matter by hydrochloric acid and various enzymes. We don't have two processes, a chemical process involving hydrochloric acid and a biological process, digestion, one of which causes the other. According to the token-token theorist, we have ONE event described in two different (and differently illuminating) ways.
The non-reductive approach could admit that we do have in some sense two events, but he would still deny that one event is "over and above' the other -- in the way that one might admit that the statue is not identical with its bronze (since the statue could be melted without destroying the bronze), while still denying that the statue is something "over and above" the bronze.

Consider the statue again -- maybe that will help. Even if we admit that the statue and the bronze are distinct, we do not regard them as causally related. The bronze doesn't cause the statue -- we might say that it IS the statue, or if we're more cautious we might say that it constitutes or "makes up" the statue. Even if we admit the two are distinct, we don't want to say that they are separable items -- you can't do something to the statue without affecting the bronze that makes it up. And we certainly don't want to say taht the bronze causes the statue.

To think of the statue in that way is to take the same thing over twice. The materialist maintains that your position, which treats life as something CAUSED BY the chemical processes that constitute it, makes the same mistake of taking the same thing twice over and treating one as the cause of the other. The digestion of this bit of broccoli is not some new event above and beyond the action of the hydrochloric acid on the broccoli which is caused by that chemical action. The digestion of this bit of broccoli just consists (at this stage) in the action of the hydrochloric acid.

Well, I wish I'd explained that better -- understanding how things are related to their constituents is metaphysically tricky, and I don't feel I did a very good job of explicating this. You could have a look at Richard Boyd's article "Materialism without Reductionism" (Boyd, R. 1980. "Materialism Without Reductionism: What Physicalism does not Entail," in N. Block (ed.), Readings in Philosophy and Psychology, Volume I (pp.67-106). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press) for a better explanation.

The main point is that you DO seem to be offering a separate argument from the Nagel "What is it like to be a bat" argument, and this separate argument should be evaluated on its own terms. I suggested that this argument would apply to many other cases of emergence. You actually seem to accept and defend this consequence in your last post. I tried to show that this argument presupposes things that the materialist will not admit, and I further (unclearly) tried to show why accepting the argument in the case of life and chemistry would be unappealing (like the view that the statue is caused by its matter).

I still wonder if we couldn't bypass some of these difficult questions of "constitution" and materialism and talk more directly about free will and determinism or about Galen Strawson's argument against free will (which nowhere invokes materialism).

Jay J
03-27-2008, 02:05 PM
Hi Bloggin,

First I'll quickly clarify what might have been a cryptic statement in my last post. I said,

"If rejecting compatibilism is different than saying that determinism and free will are incompatible, then I need to repent and revise."

What I meant is that perhaps a rejection of determinism will result in one saying that they reject compatibilism, since they don't accept determinism, they wouldn't classify as a compatibilist. This might be different from rejecting, in principle, the compatibility of determinism and free will, if determinism were accepted.

I agree with you that we may be able to talk more directly about free will and determinism. I had focused on materialism since that seems to be a common deterministic outlook, but I think you're right that they can be treated separately, at least for the time being.

I'll try to explicate what I see as a few fundamental issues between us:

*I don't agree that the "hard problem" can be set aside when talking about the coherence of determinism. The "easy" problems arise in the backdrop of the hard problem. In other words, we can't imagine any of the easy problems existing without raw experience existing. In that case, who knows what's causing these easy problems, since we haven't got a clue about what's causing the hard problem? I understand that we have local explanations of the easy problem, but we lack all understanding on what could be a more fundamental explanation for the existence of the mental in the first place.

*I also can't see how a consious decision can be thought of as a cog in the wheel of determinism. To me determinism, in order to remain intelligible, must posit *causal* determinism. To talk about determinism as if predictability is the defining characteristic, withouth taking a hard stance on causation, doesn't explain anything we wish explained, at least not in an intelligible way. But I wish for this to remain a tangential point, since I'm content dealing with a view of determinism which states that only one state of the world is possible at any given time, given past states of the world.

*I take your point about statues, and I apprecaite it, it was good. I hate to be nit-picky about it, but with the statue we know what caused it to come into being as it is, and that's the sculptur. But with the view of determinism that reigns, there is no sculptur, and there is no intangible consciousness, at least not one that is excluded from the deterministic rule that only one possible outcome can come about at a given time.

*If the bronze is analogous to chemical processes, then we're left scratching our head about just what has happened in terms of the appearance on the scene of consciousness, and of biology for that matter. If we have claimed to have fully explained biological processes in terms of chemical processes, then it must be that a chemical somthing happened and caused something we feel comfortable calling a biological something. If I'm off base here, then I dispute the orthodoxy that we've fully explained biological processes.

*If we think of a person who is being held at gunpoint, and who is being held by a person who has already decided to kill them, whether or not they give up some key piece of information, we can still imagine that the conscious decisions of the captive are non-deterministic, and "free." The captive can decide to tell the capture to "screw off" and hence get shot. Of course we already know that the captive was going to be shot anyway. I have no problem saying that decision to tell the capture to screw off was free, and if we agreed on that, it would be sufficient to estalbish an agreement that free will exists. But with determinism, I can't make any sense of the decision the captive made, if in fact this determinism is said to be compatible with free will.

*I know I focused exclusively on free will in the last bullet point, but I want to go to my larger and more salient point, which is that I can't make sense of the emergence of a free conscious decision arising from a deterministic state of the world. Where does the "decision" come from? If there is only one way for the world to be at a given moment, then this would also hold true of what goes on inside our heads. There can be no ultimate interior/exterior distinction, or consciousness/matter distinction, since EVERY real phenomena was the ONLY possible outcome, based on past states of the world. If this is the case, then there are no real "decisions" in the sense that we think there are. It seems to me that you're trying to have your cake and eat it too here. You're saying that conscious decisions are a cog in the wheel of determinism, but neglecting to say anything about the fact that this conscious decision would be subject to the same..."rule" we've establihsed for all of reality, and that's that these conscious decisions are determined by other things, to the degree that even the decision itself could have turned out only one way.

*A decision which was already determined by factors beyond your control, such that your decision can only turn out one way, is not necessarily a decision. Simply having the subjective experience of making a decision does not necessarily mean that we actually made one. We can imagine a situation where a person is under the influense of drugs and thinks they made a decision, but factors beyond their control caused them to do things more mechanistically, acting in ways different from people we imagine to have "agent responsibility." The problem is, from a metaphysical standpoint, I can't see the warrant in making any distinctions between the person with "agent responsibility" and the person under the influence of hard drugs. They're both simply under the sway of factors which will determine that even their subjective decision can only be made one way.

*How can we make sense of how the "decision" even fits into this system, without violating the fundamental rules of determinism?

BTW, I'll take a look at the source you cited, just don't have time right now.

Jay

Jay J
03-30-2008, 04:54 PM
Bloggin,

I'm not a fan of eliminative materialism (EM) at all. I guess I got too cute for my own good in bringing it up to begin with, but I've been trying to back that up ever since, when I tried to make sure and say that I wasn't commenting on how sound the idea struck me.

So for the record, I don't like EM, and this subtopic isn't as interesting to me as the other we have going now about determinism in general.

...

Remember Micheal Moore's movie "Sicko?"

Well allot of people were like "You think CUBA has it good compared to the United States?!"

When for me it was more like "Man even CUBA has a heath care system appraoching ours, that's sad!"

My mention of EM was more in the spirit of my reaction to 'Sicko' rather than thinking Cuba was being held up as better than the United States.

As I said, I've been trying to back it up ever since, and was never arguing for ANY form of EM as an actual possibility.

And I also have never seen an eliminativist say that they aren't eliminative about experience. But I also haven't seen all elminativists say they are either. As for whether that would be a good idea, well I just can't get very ineterested in that. What I was doing was conceding a point here and a point there to certain..."eliminations" based on certain premises, but even then I wasn't suggesting that EM would be any grand idea or workable solution.

As for whether I would say that panpsychism has no problem accoutning for the emergence of the mental...well, maybe.

I would say that panpsychism has no philosophical obligation to account for the emergence of mentality since it has already bitten a bullet and posited consciousness as already around in some way. But that doesn't mean I think that panpsychism solves the mystery of the relation of mind to matter, at least not in any intelligible way.

Bloggin' Noggin
04-01-2008, 05:01 PM
*If the bronze is analogous to chemical processes, then we're left scratching our head about just what has happened in terms of the appearance on the scene of consciousness, and of biology for that matter. If we have claimed to have fully explained biological processes in terms of chemical processes, then it must be that a chemical somthing happened and caused something we feel comfortable calling a biological something. If I'm off base here, then I dispute the orthodoxy that we've fully explained biological processes.

We've gotten very deep into materialism -- deeper than we need to, I think. Let me see if I can make my original point more simply.

Your problem about matter and free will is based in dualist interaction problems.
Suppose I decide to move my arm and as a result my arm moves. I see my arm move and as a result I believe that my arm has moved. My decision and my belief are mental events and the movement of my arm is a physical event. A dualist believes that the mental states are non-physical states. In the story I just told, a mental state caused a physical state which turned around and caused a mental state. If the dualist wants to accept this commonsense story, he must admit that physical states can cause non-physical mental states and vice versa. The trouble is that there doesn't seem to be any room for non-physical states to insert themselves between physical causes. We can look at the physical causes of my arm movement -- some complex brain process, B, say. On the dualist view, all the same physical causes could have been present without the non-physical mental state of decision. If my arm moving depends upon my decision, then we should find that brain process B can be present without causing my arm to rise -- whether it has that effect or not should depend upon an additional non-physical cause being present. Yet we have reason to think that physical causes are sufficient for their effects -- we don't seem to need non-physical causes to explain what happens in the physical world.
This is a problem for dualism which goes well beyond any problem of free will. If I see a snake and snake-perception causes me to flinch involuntarily, free will doesn't come in at all -- it's an involuntary reaction. Yet it is a case of a mental event causing a physical event. If mental states are non-physical, that's a problem.
The materialist doesn't face this problem because he doesn't believe that mental states are non-physical. They are, according to him, physical states, and there's no special mystery about one physical state causing another. The materialist can admit that decisions have effects on the physical world without denying that physical causes are sufficient for physical effects.

Material determinism ("physical effects are completely determined by physical causes") is no problem for the materialist -- there are no interaction problems. Perhaps there is a free will problem for dualists, but this is a symptom of the quite general problems of dualism. The problem is just a problem for dualism -- how can ANY mental state (decision, perception, whatever) influence the physical state of the world? The worry isn't "how is free will compatible with material determinism?" -- rather it is "how is dualism compatible with material determinism?"
If the dualist can find a satisfactory answer, then that answer will handle the special case of the will. If the dualist brackets the question for now, then he should bracket the special case of free will as well.
I conclude that your concern is entirely an issue within the materialist/dualist debate in philosophy of mind, not really a special problem for free will.

Accordingly, I'll put aside this issue next time and discuss the issue of free will apart from "material determinism".

Note Regarding Your Quote Above:
I think you are biting a very big bullet there -- vitalism. Recall my example of digestion. Digestion is certainly a series of processes (and different processes in different organisms. But one stage in that process in humans is the breaking down of food constituents by hydrochloric acid and enzymes. According to what you say above, you want this chemical process to be a CAUSE of the biological process of digestion. But that doesn't seem right -- the chemical action of hydrochloric acid and enzymes on the food is simply one constituent PART of the digestive process. It doesn't CAUSE digestion, it IS (a part of) digestion.

Jay J
04-02-2008, 12:50 AM
Hi Bloggin,

*For the record, I'm a big believer in methodological naturalism. It's when we set foot in the philosophical realm that I dispute this or that naturalistic claim.

I'm happy to admit that I'm off base about chemical processes and biological processes, but I add that I dispute that biological processes have been fully explained, if in fact a causal story isn't traced from the bottom up. I'm not suggesting that science needs re-ordering, I'm only saying that the interpretation that biological processes have been fully explained is not something I would endorse.

If our current scientific picture of the world tells a causal story I've neglected, then you can tell me about it.

*I don't agree that there are no interaction problems for the materialist. If this were true, it would mean a great mystery in the philosophy of mind was solved. Materialism can define away the mystery, but that doesn't make the problem go away. Mental processes like decisions are not obviously understandable completely in terms of 3rd-person, observable, physical processes. I think every single theory has interaction problems. Acting as if everything is simply a physical process doesn't make anything more intelligible than it was before.

This is not too dissimilar to what I said in a recent post about panpsychism, which is that I don't hold panpsychism responsible to talk about emergence since it posits that consciousness was already somehow around, but that doesn't mean panpsychism has solved some sort of mystery.

Bloggin' Noggin
04-02-2008, 02:23 PM
I think the dualist goes a step further than the materialist. The materialist may admit that it's hard to see how mental states are ultimately physical, but the dualist in effect insists that the mystery is not resolvable. The materialist may admit we don't fully understand, but he starts working on the problem, with a certain amount of success in the "easy problem" of functional states and propositional attitudes.

In any case, I think my point about free will still stands. The dualist has the problem of fitting non-physical causes into a seemingly complete system of physical causes. This problem is FAR more general for the dualist than any issue of free will, but insofar as the will is a non-physical cause according to the dualist, there will be a problem of how the will can achieve anything in the physical world. This isn't quite the problem of free will, since your will could affect the physical world while still being very unfree -- we might call it the problem (for dualists) of the EFFECTIVENESS of the will, or maybe the problem of free motion.
I don't see how the materialist faces this problem of fitting non-physical causes into the physical world. The materialist can admit that we don't fully understand how mental states can be physical states without seeing any particular puzzle about how the will can affect matter. I may not understand exactly how a certain watch works and therefore I may not be able to answer every worry that maybe it isn't working right. But that's hardly as problematic as insisting that the hands are moved by immaterial watchworks, since in that case I need to explain how immaterial watchworks can possibly influence material watch hands without violating physical laws.

The dualist problem is that an immaterial will somehow has to intervene in the physical world, when physical laws seem sufficient to account for what happens in the physical world. The materialist doesn't have this problem, since he doesn't commit himself to immaterial causes of material events. I don't see how one can make an argument against the effectiveness of the will on materialist assumptions. (You tried to do so at the beginning of our discussion, but as I pointed out, you were invoking dualist assumptions which the materialist would reject.)
To put this another way, if you were to persuade a materialist that there was a problem about the effectiveness of the will, you can't do it on materialist premises -- you will have to FIRST persuade him that property dualism is rationally unavoidable, and then using dualist premises, persuade him that the will can't be effective in the physical world. So long as the materialist is not persuaded of the inadequacy of materialism, there is no reason for him to have problems with the effectiveness of the will in the physical world.
Anyway the problem is a problem for dualism, not primarily for free will, so if our focus is free will, I think it makes sense to bracket the problem of interaction when looking at free will.

Jay J
04-07-2008, 10:51 PM
Hi Bloggin,

I guess our disagreement has allot to do with whether it makes sense to bracket the issue of interaction when looking at free will.

My contention is that determinism can't make sense of a decision existing according to its rules, if in fact that decision is said to posses causal power and to be free.

I said a little earlier that I don't hold panpsychism responsible for explaining the emergence of consciousness since it simply posits consciousness as existing. But I also added that I don't think panpsychism has solved some sort of mystery either. Similarly, if materialism posits consciousness as explainable in terms of materialism, that's fine with me. But if a materialist says that their idea is compatible with something like free will, I think they're using a ill-prepared concept as their base. So long as the problem of the relation of mind to matter is unexplained, I'll probably continue to think that.

I don't think materialism can just declare that mind is material and be done with it. I'll grant that they don't necessarily need to explain interaction, but if they then go and say that their idea is compatible with the idea of the freedom of the will, then I think it's perfectly legitimate to object that the idea of a free "decision" existing is still mysterious, and therefore the compatibility of the ideas certainly isn't something we can be confident of.

You have said that perhaps we should be talking about determinism in general, rather than materialism in particular, but at this point it seems like "six or half-dozen."

You mentioned that every theory of mind does some hand-waving and writes promissory notes about what future information will reveal. It seems to me that the same thing must be happening with compatibilism in general, since the problem of how a decision even takes place within its system is not at all obvious. Having a theory that's incomplete is no crime, but when one commits to something like compatibilism, it seems to me that there should be some warrant for why the person adopting the theory has confidence in it. The problem for me is that I don't see the warrant for confidence.

You mentioned that the materialist starts working on the problem and has some success with the "easy" problems. But that to me is no warrant for confidence in dealing with the harder problems. If confidence is the feeling, it must be that the problem is being viewed like a football game or something. It's almost as if our favored team is trailing by 5 touchdowns at halftime, and after halftime they come out and score a touchdown and a field goal, so there's reason for optimism. After all, the things our team will need to come back are just like the things they just did, they're things like touchdowns and field goals, and there's no mystery of how far we have to go.

But that's not the case with mentality. We have no idea how far we have to go, and no one as of yet has even been able to articulate what a solution would look like.

Similarly, it's very difficult to imagine how a decision even exists in a deterministic system. In other words, I'm very skeptical that any sense can be made of how an agent has guidance control in a deterministic system.

To me this problem must be cleared up before there is any warrant for confidence in the truth of compatibilism, or warrant for confidence that the idea is intelligible or makes sense on the whole.

Bloggin' Noggin
04-09-2008, 01:08 PM
Hi Jay,

I just noticed your reply -- hope it hasn't been there for a long time.

You have said that perhaps we should be talking about determinism in general, rather than materialism in particular, but at this point it seems like "six or half-dozen."

I'm a bit puzzled by this, since it seems to imply that materialism is a form of determinism and I don't see materialism as any form of determinism. Determinism, as I understand it, is the view that a full specification of the state of the universe at one time determines one and only one future -- i.e., our sense that more than one future is possible, given the present state of the world, is just a matter of our own ignorance of the full state of the world or the laws of nature. The possibility of multiple futures is epistemic, not metaphysical, according to determinism.
Materialism just says that minds are made of matter and that mental properties are explicable in terms of physical properties. It is perfectly compatible with indeterminism -- i.e., with the real, metaphysical possibility of many alternate futures.

You mentioned that every theory of mind does some hand-waving and writes promissory notes about what future information will reveal. It seems to me that the same thing must be happening with compatibilism in general, since the problem of how a decision even takes place within its system is not at all obvious. Having a theory that's incomplete is no crime, but when one commits to something like compatibilism, it seems to me that there should be some warrant for why the person adopting the theory has confidence in it. The problem for me is that I don't see the warrant for confidence.

I don't maintain that there never could be an as-yet-undiscovered argument that will show that free will is impossible or that it is incompatible with determinism or with naturalism or with brain science. I DO maintain that no argument I've seen succeeds in proving any of these claims -- at least for the kinds of "free will" that I think we want or need. Similarly, I don't maintain that there could never be evidence that unicorns exist or existed (perhaps somewhere in a galaxy far, far away). I'm a unicorn denyer, but I don't go so far as to say there could never be evidence of unicorns. I'm a compatibilist, but I don't deny the possibility that someone might one day prove to me that compatibilism is untenable. In the absence of such an argument, I continue to be a compatibilist while admitting that I might be wrong. Compatibilists don't need to claim certainty to have some confidence in their view -- nor do unicorn denyers or anyone else.

You mentioned that the materialist starts working on the problem and has some success with the "easy" problems. But that to me is no warrant for confidence in dealing with the harder problems. If confidence is the feeling, it must be that the problem is being viewed like a football game or something. It's almost as if our favored team is trailing by 5 touchdowns at halftime, and after halftime they come out and score a touchdown and a field goal, so there's reason for optimism. After all, the things our team will need to come back are just like the things they just did, they're things like touchdowns and field goals, and there's no mystery of how far we have to go.

But that's not the case with mentality. We have no idea how far we have to go, and no one as of yet has even been able to articulate what a solution would look like.

1. Again, the problem of mind and matter is not the same as the problem of free will and determinism, though a dualist conception of the answer may cause problems for understanding free will (but it causes problems for ALL mental-physical interactions, not just those involving the will). The materialist answer doesn't cause these problems, and it remains open as a possibility. If you can show that we must be dualists, then we do seem to have a problem of (not really free will, but) the effectiveness of the will. But so far we haven't reached this point -- all options seem to have a downside.
2. Your final claim is very controversial. I happen to agree that the materialists haven't completely made the case. But many materialists would deny your claim that we don't have an idea what the solution would look like. Dennett certainly thinks he's got a pretty good idea and that the Nagel bat argument is based on a Cartesian error about the nature of phenomenal states.

Similarly, it's very difficult to imagine how a decision even exists in a deterministic system. In other words, I'm very skeptical that any sense can be made of how an agent has guidance control in a deterministic system.

THIS is the question I think we should discuss. Can you explain why you find it so difficult to imagine this -- please start with your conception of "determinism". You can use my definition above: there is only one possible future, given the precise state of the universe at some time now or in the distant past.
Given that understanding, I will give you a quick sketch of how it is possible. Suppose that I have a certain nature, and suppose that what I want when I desire free will is for that nature to be expressed in my actions. Determinism says that the entire state of the universe INCLUDING MY NATURE determines what will happen in the future. It does NOT say that the state of the universe MINUS my nature determines what will happen. In some cases it does -- and these are the cases where I am unfree. For example, if you drop me out the window, it isn't open to me to decide not to accelerate toward the center of the earth. It isn't open to me whether I fall or not. But in other cases, the future is NOT determined by the facts OUTSIDE me -- they are only determined, given who I am and what I decide. As far as I can see, the incompatibilist confuses determinism with the claim that everything is determined apart from my nature and my deliberations -- they confuse determinism with fatalism.
Here's an illustration of the difference. Oedipus, having heard a rumor that he is not really the son of those he thinks are his parents, hears an oracle that he'll kill his father and marry his mother. Suppose Oedipus had thought those two claims through and had decided to avoid killing anyone old enough to be his father or marrying anyone old enough to be his mother. If you think that Oedipus was FATED to marry his mother and kill his father, then you will have to believe that this care on Oedipus's part would have done no good -- somehow he'd still have ended up doing both -- just as it's fated once you drop me off the Empire State Building that I will land with a splat, no matter how I deliberate after that point. If you think that Oedipus could have avoided his fate if only he'd been more careful to think through what he'd heard, then he wasn't fated to kill his father and marry his mother, though it remains possible that that outcome was determined -- i.e., it's possible that, given Oedipus's nature and given all the facts beyond that nature, only one future was possible.

To me this problem must be cleared up before there is any warrant for confidence in the truth of compatibilism, or warrant for confidence that the idea is intelligible or makes sense on the whole.

What is "this problem"? If you are referring to your trouble conceiving of free choice in a deterministic world, then I don't think you have presented a problem here -- I mean a philosophical problem that other people might attempt to solve, as opposed to a personal inability to imagine something. An argument (like the Ginet/van Inwagen argument or like the Galen Strawson argument) would give us a definite public problem to discuss -- as opposed to a generalized worry or an intuition that maybe compatibilism is wrong.
In response to your general inability to imagine free will in a deterministic context, I've tried to diagnose that inability above. If you find that diagnosis unsatisfying, I can attempt to be more rigorous in the context of a more rigorous argument. I don't think I can eliminate all worries anyone might have that possibly compatibilism isn't true.

Jay J
04-09-2008, 10:49 PM
Bloggin,

I am not asserting that a lack of certainty is the problem with compatibilism; I'm saying that I don't see warrant for confidence. This is different. The former is vulnerable to something as obvious as the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and this isn't my argument. My argument is that the cart has been put before the horse... that an unfinished project needs finishing before there can be warrant for confidence in the truth or intelligibility of compatibilism.

Also, I can imagine the compatibilist story. Perhaps I should have been more forthcoming about this before. I acknowledge that compatibilism includes your nature as one of the things which determines what will happen in the future. I see that.

What I am saying is that you have to look backwards a bit and explain how on earth your nature and deliberations got to be what they are now given a deterministic world. If the conditions of the past determined with 100% certainty what your deliberations and nature now are, then I don't see any warrant for confidence that your nature and deliberations are any freer than the people who you say lack "agent-responsibility." I don't think this involves any confusion with fatalism. What it involves is the denial that it makes any sense to talk about Oedipus having a nature which is somehow a given of the facts of the world, when if we knew enough about the world, we would know exactly what determined Oedipus' nature and deliberations, and this would mean that it was arbitrary to set up an ultimate distinction between those with responsibility and those without it, since in either case the nature and deliberations of the people involved are only a product of past conditions of the world which determined what those natures and deliberations would be.

I'm not asking you to eliminate all imaginable worries anyone could have, but I do think my worry goes beyond something tangential that can be put off. And even if you could convince me that no one else has ever worked on what I'm bringing up, it wouldn't necessarily dissuade me from thinking what I now think. I don't believe it's crucially important whether or not someone has worked on it before.

What I am saying is that I think it is the burden of compatbilism to explain how my nature and deliberations got to be how they are now in a deterministic world and in a way that would convince people that this was obviously free. I think this needs to be explained, rather than just starting from a hypothetical present, where my nature and deliberations are part of the facts of the world, and presumed to be a part of what determines what happens in the future. See when the past is put off in this way, I can agree that my nature and deliberations seem to be a part of what determines what happens in the future. The problem is, can any sense be made of how my nature and deliberations got to be what they are now? If the answer is that some other set of conditions of the world determined what my nature and deliberations would be, then I must object that this is not obviously free. And I must object that the person who is said to lack agent-responsibility is a person who is simply under the influence of a different set of conditions (that the person had no hand in constructing) than the person who is said to possess agent-responsibility.

Bloggin' Noggin
04-10-2008, 01:26 PM
Hi Jay,
Much of what I've been trying to do is to distinguish two quite different arguments against "free will" and answer them separately. One of these arguments is based on issues regarding the relationship between mind and matter (or mental states and physical states). The second concerns determination of the future by the past. As I've tried to point out, the conclusion of the former argument is not at all the same as the conclusion of the latter. The conclusion of the first argument seems to be that the will (if there is one) cannot be effective at all in the physical world. My deliberations, as mental entities can't affect whether or not I move my arm (a physical outcome). Suppose that this issue were completely resolved. Would the will be free? Not necessarily -- my will may be effective in the physical world, yet hard determinism could be true. So this effectiveness of the will is not sufficient for freedom of the will.
Is it necessary? On the dualist assumptions that generate the problem, apparently not -- at least if we restrict ourselves to decisions that remain entirely on the mental side of the line (say the decision about what to think about today or whether to TRY to lift one's arm). The will might be either determined or undetermined by past events or free or unfree, whichever way we resolve the philosophy of mind issue. And at the same time, there is nothing about the philosophy of mind issue that is restricted to the will -- or even only to one direction of mind-matter causation. If there's a problem understanding mind-to-matter causation, there seems to be a similar problem understanding matter-to-mind causation (e.g., perception). The puzzle is just as much a puzzle about how our minds can know the material world or how being startled can cause involuntary movements as about how the will can be effective in the physical world. If you feel that the compatibilist has no right to accept compatibilism until this question is resolved, then those who think we can perceive and know about the physical world also have no right to confidence in their belief.

Compatibilism as usually understood, of course, really doesn't depend on any resolution of this problem -- it simply says that determinism is not a threat to free will. Perhaps there are other threats to free will (dualism, materialism or evil spirits or whatever), but the compatibilist as normally understood isn't talking about these other potential threats.
Early on in our discussion, I did suggest that the notion of compatibilism could be broadened in some way, both to accomodate your interest in these philosophy of mind issues and to deal with the problem that problems for free will seem to arise even if we live in an indeterministic universe. Accordingly, I suggested we could understand compatibilism as the view that free will was compatible with naturalism. But given our succeeding discussion, I'm thinking maybe that was too broad, and we might be better off sticking a bit closer to the standard definition of compatibilism.
And as a matter of fact, your current post turns more to that issue -- the question of whether (to put it broadly), free will is possible given what we know about the influence of the past on us or (more narrowly) the compatibility of free will and determinism. THIS worry is not one I intended to "put off" or regard as tangential. It was the philosophy of mind issue that I regard as tangential or "orthogonal" to the compatibilism or free will (for the reasons given above.
So, in a new post, I'll turn to this new topic (which I regard as central).

Bloggin' Noggin
04-10-2008, 06:55 PM
Hi again, Jay,
As I said above, I don't regard the issue you are discussing here as tangential -- I've been trying to put aside a separate issue to get to this one. I also certainly didn't regard my sketch of a compatibilist position in my previous post as a total answer to the incompatibilist's concerns, but only as a sketch of how things look to a compatibilist, like myself.

I start with Nagel's description of the problem of free will (in View from Nowhere), that I want to be the source, not just the scene of my actions. Think of a car moving down the highway. If you didn't know any better, you might think the car was itself the source of its movements -- whether it turns right or left or stops might seem to be up to the car. But actually, we know that, though the motive power belongs to the engine, we need to look inside the car to understand why it goes left or right. The driver is really the source of the car's route (though, if the car were not working, the driver might not be able to control the motion of the car). The free will problem, it seems to me, tells us not to stop there, but to look inside the driver -- perhaps there are drivers within the driver himself and the driver is being pushed about by these internal drivers (desires/inclinations). If we are like the car, we feel ourselves to be unfree.

But notice something: the car isn't "unfree" -- it isn't "free" either. The car can't guide itself, but neither does it try to or want to. If being like the car would be unfreedom for us, then I suggest that must be because there is some part of us that (a) we identify with more than we identify with more than we do with these other "drivers" (desires or inclinations) -- call this the "true self" and (b) this "true self" must not itself be inert -- there must be some path that this "true self" would take us in if only these other influences weren't able to push us around. If condition (a) isn't met -- if I identify equally with all my desires and inclinations (or with the ones that win out in the power struggle in my mind), then I appear to be acting freely. I just am my desires and my desires and nothing is constraining them, so nothing is constraining me. If condition (b) isn't met, then I'm like the car, neither free nor unfree -- being "pushed around" by my desires won't be a problem unless I want to stay put or move in a different direction.

So, I suggest that the problem of free will arises only if there is a "true self" or "essential self" and this true self has a goal --otherwise there seems to be no sense to the notion that we are unfree or constrained. So, let's suppose this is the case, then someone is free if this true self is the source of his actions and if the goal(s) of the true self are expressed in action.

You can point out that if determinism is true, then the existence of this true self (and the fact that it will be expressed in action) are necessitated by past causes thousands of years ago. My response is 'so what?' If that true self really is me and really is the source of my actions, then I am the source (not the scene) of my actions.
You might say that I am not the source because other causes brought me (and my true self) into being. But that assumes that in a chain of causes only the very first cause is really the cause (or source) of anything. This assumption seems entirely unwarranted. If I make a bat and the bat strikes a ball, does it follow that I struck the ball, not the bat? If my parents hadn't made me, I wouldn't be here, but their having made me doesn't deprive me of causal influence in the world once they did make me.

It might be useful to distinguish my form of compatibilism from Hume's. If we were to fit Hume into my approach, he would have regarded the goal of the true self as just the same as just identical with my desires (or perhaps with whatever desire actually won out in any conflict of desires). He adopts the strategy I'm pursuing, but he doesn't consider the possibility that some desires might be constraints because they might in some way be external to the true self. However, it seems clear that some can be seen as constraints -- the addiction to smoking, for instance. Or consider the denizens of Brave New World whose desires and beliefs have all been carefully molded by the World Controllers. So Hume's conception of the true self is too simple. It seems some desires can make it harder for us to do what we have most reason to do and thereby constrain us. In the case of addiction, the desire keeps us from acting on what we know to be our best reason. In the case of Brave New World, extensive "conditioning" is assumed to keep people from being able to perceive their best reasons IF they should happen to diverge from what the World Controllers conditioned into them.
The incompatibilist will look at BNW and say, "these people are really just like us if determinism is true. They are conditioned by World Controllers and we are conditioned by random processes." The incompatibilist sees that the people of BNW are unfree and thinks the best explanation of this is determinism. That's a possible explanation, but I see no reason to jump to that. In my view, what makes the people of BNW unfree is that (at least initially), they have been engineered not to be able to think for themselves, not to be able to ask "Is my conditioning correct? I know as an Alpha I was told it was best to be an Alpha, but is it really best? I know I was taught to admire Ford, but is Ford really all that admirable?" (Of course, the little rebellion -- discovered and humanely put down by Mustapha Mond -- toward the end of the book suggests that even in BNW the mind control may not be so very complete.) If the people of BNW are unfree, then, I think it is because, and to the degree that, they are unable to step outside their desires and their training to reconsider whether their desires really represent their best reasons and whether their training is true or not. I see no reason to think that most of us are in this position -- we can look critically at our desires and at our upbringing and decide that some parts of our upbringing were right and some parts were mistaken, and we can make an effort to break old patterns that we decide were a mistake.

Well, I was working my way up to responding to the way you pose the problem in your third paragraph and later, but I need to leave that for later. I'll post this and take that project up tomorrow.

Jay J
04-12-2008, 02:29 AM
Hi Bloggin,

I don't think your analogy about the baseball bat is applicable. It is perfectly intelligible that a bat would strike a ball, but it is not perfectly intelligible that a "true self" would be the result of a deterministic process. You wanted to suppose that it is the case that a true or essential self exists, but see this is the very thing I don't want to grant.

There's an interesting article on the webpage of the philosopher Neil Levy, it's the one near the top of the list and it's titled, "The Luck Problem for Compatibilists." I want to stress that he doesn't go nearly as far as I want him to, but he builds off of Nagel's notion of moral luck. Levy has in mind moral responsibility, and we've already shelved that issue, but I thought that perhaps he says some of what concerns me only perhaps more eloquently. But I don't blame you if you don't read it:

http://au.geocities.com/neil_levy/neillevy.html

When you talk about how I'm privileging the first cause in a chain, I think this would apply if it were obvious that this true self that you speak of is like a bat, but it's not, or least it's not obviously like a bat. The key difference is that we're not attributing freedom or guidance control to the bat.

And we're not arguing over whether or not the guy we call George W. Bush actually is one who brought us to war, we're arguing over what sense can be made of George W. Bush's freedom, given a deterministic universe. I have no problem with believing that if I could be convinced of the intelligibility and warrant of the idea that George W. Bush's "true self" existed in a deterministic universe, then I would believe that his decisions would have causal power. And even now I have no problem attributed causal responsibility to the organism we call George W. Bush, we just might argue over whether he or anyone else has a true self if determinism is true.

BUT, (and this gets back to our fundamental disagreement on whether it's appropriate to bracket problems about interaction and emergence for the sake of this argument), following Levy, I see this "true self" as a product of luck, not only environmental luck, but 3rd person luck, since all the other family/social-environmental factors have their own causes, or conditions which brought about their own decisions in the first place.

I'm not saying that, like, in general, causes which can be traced further back are more important. What I am saying is that it is not warranted to say that we, in a deterministic universe, do any looking critically at our circumstances and upbringing in any free way.

I think it is your burden to explain how it comes to be that we "look critically," I mean, like, which causes, or which conditions, are necessary and/or sufficient for this to come about? If we are looking critically at our upbringing, it must be because some cause or condition was right for this critical look to take place.

So to summarize, I don't think that your causal influence is negated because your parents made you, that's not my argument. My argument is that I don't think it's warranted/intelligible to say that "you" have causal power to begin with, if determinism is the way the world works, and this goes for your parents too.

If determinism is the idea that every real phenomena is necessitated by a cause, or at least that the state of the world at a given time was necessitated by a state of the world in the past, then I don't think we can talk about taking critical looks, as if some free decision we made is the cause or condition that necessitated the critical look since the "free decision" was necessitated by something which came before it. I don't agree that it makes sense to talk about that decision arising in a causal process like the one where you decide to make a bat and then you hit a ball with it. And I don't think I need to trace this back to a first cause either, I only need to trace it back to the point where there wasn't a conscious organism, and then at that point we still have to wonder, at each step along the way, what is causing, or what conditions are making possible, this thing we call a "free decision."

I know you're going to respond to another part tomorrow, so I'll get to that later. I'll actually probably be occupied for the next 6 or 7 days, but I do intend to take a look then and consider what you have to say.

Jay

Bloggin' Noggin
04-14-2008, 07:08 PM
Hi Jay,

I don't think your analogy about the baseball bat is applicable. It is perfectly intelligible that a bat would strike a ball, but it is not perfectly intelligible that a "true self" would be the result of a deterministic process. You wanted to suppose that it is the case that a true or essential self exists, but see this is the very thing I don't want to grant.

Starting from your last sentence above, I wonder how you react to my argument last time. I tried to show that the notion that we were unfree (constrained by our desires) depended upon there being such a true self. If there isn't one, then it seems to make no sense to say that we are constrained at all, since there is nothing that can be constrained -- nothing that is trying to do one thing and being held back or steered in the opposite direction. If there is no essential self or if this essential self has no goal of its own beyond its desires, then I don't see how we make sense of the notion that we are unfree. If there is no essential self, or if it has no inherent goal, then we are neither free nor unfree -- or if our desire themselves are all the goals we have, then perhaps we are free when we act on them in the absence of coercion (as Hume thought).

But going back to your previous sentence, maybe you aren't denying that we have an essential self, but are just denying that such a self is compatible with determinism. If so, I don't see why this should be so.

Suppose that you offer me a million dollars to touch my toes. Being rational (and convinced that you aren't just joking), I touch my toes and collect my million dollars. You can imagine cases where I have some very good reason not to touch my toes (if I do, my sister will die or something), but let's put all such reasons out of the current case. The only cost in this case is that I have to exert myself to bend over and reach out. My action is certainly very predictable in these circumstances, but to me it seems like a paradigm case of free action. Again, you can add things to the case to make it seem unfree -- perhaps the incentive you offered me wasn't really the cause of my action. Perhaps I undergo a tic or a seizure that would have made me touch my toes even if you had offered me a million NOT to touch my toes. But let's not add any such assumption to our case. Let's suppose that I would not have touched my toes if you had offered me money not to touch my toes, but that I would (and do) touch them when you offer me a million to do so. If my action is sensitive to my reasons in this way, this seems like a clearly free action.
Notice that we have so far not specified whether or not we live in a deterministic world. Suppose that we do. How exactly does determinism rob me of my freedom in this case? In a deterministic world, it seems Leplace's demon could know ahead of time that you WILL make your amazingly generous offer, and he could know ahead of time that I will accept. But your decision to make the offer isn't the decision we're considering -- we were considering whether I was free in accepting it. And you don't need to be Leplace's demon to know that I will accept the offer once it's made. How does the introduction of determinism interfere with my freedom?
If determinism somehow made it the case that I would touch my toes whether you offered me the money or not, then I would be unfree. But this is not a consequence of determinism. Determinism is completely compatible with my actions being brought about by my reasons.
So I wonder if you can tell me how this paradigmatically free action of mine can be made unfree by determinism.


I think it is your burden to explain how it comes to be that we "look critically," I mean, like, which causes, or which conditions, are necessary and/or sufficient for this to come about? If we are looking critically at our upbringing, it must be because some cause or condition was right for this critical look to take place.

So to summarize, I don't think that your causal influence is negated because your parents made you, that's not my argument. My argument is that I don't think it's warranted/intelligible to say that "you" have causal power to begin with, if determinism is the way the world works, and this goes for your parents too.
That was the point of my bat example. The bat does have causal power, even if its existence and properties were deterministically brought about. Determinism does not entail that items in the causal chain have no causal power. It only says that if you take the causal powers of all events in the universe at a time, they together will produce only one outcome -- it doesn't eliminate the causal powers of any of the elements, nor does it say that the oucome would be the same if one of those elements and its causal powers hadn't been there. I don't see why determinism should then rob only persons or "true selves" of their causal power, when it doesn't rob anything else of its causal power.

There's an interesting article on the webpage of the philosopher Neil Levy, it's the one near the top of the list and it's titled, "The Luck Problem for Compatibilists." I want to stress that he doesn't go nearly as far as I want him to, but he builds off of Nagel's notion of moral luck. Levy has in mind moral responsibility, and we've already shelved that issue, but I thought that perhaps he says some of what concerns me only perhaps more eloquently. But I don't blame you if you don't read it:

I've read the article once over quickly. My quick reaction is that I don't claim that my notion of free will or moral responsibility will satisfy those with strong libertarian intuitions, but I don't think our actual desire for freedom or our actual moral and legal practices require libertarian free will. Compatibilism does not seek to eliminate certain forms of luck. A crazy person, for instance is unfree because of luck. The sane person is also lucky to be sane and therefore more free than the crazy person. I am not sane because of some virtue that insane people were too lazy to acquire. And if I was raised by loving, kindly parents, that will likely make it easier for me to be a good person -- that's good luck as well. How free you are is a matter of luck at least in part: a good man imprisoned by an unjust regime is unfree through bad luck. Someone who formed very bad habits (say drug addiction) at an early age is also less free than someone raised without such bad habits because of bad luck.
If we are talking about the kind of free will that would justify God in condemning bad souls to eternal torment, then free will of my sort won't do it -- there's probably no kind of free will that would, but compatibilist free will is unlikely to do the trick. If we are talking about a kind of free will that we might reasonably desire in the actual world or about moral responsibility compatible with our actual practices of praise and blame etc., then I think compatibilist free will can do the trick.
That's just my general reaction. I'll try to come back and respond more specifically, tying in what I've said here.

I know I promised an additional response on Friday. I wrote a good part of it, but wasn't finished by the end of the day and wasn't all that happy with it. I've worked some of that into the first part of this response, and I expect to address more of your previous post when i consider Levy's article.

Bloggin' Noggin
04-15-2008, 05:54 PM
OK, I'm back to address the Levy article -- or rather the kind of concern raised in the Levy article. We'll see how far we need to get into quoting passages and critiquing his argument in particular.
In my view, freedom is freedom for the "true self" -- and the true self is our rational faculty, in my view.
One way that reason can fail to be free is when I realize that I have most reason not to smoke, but addiction and weakness of will prevent me from acting on that reason. Deliberation produces a clear answer to what I ought rationally to do, but that deliberative realization is ineffective.
But what about cases where "brain washing" or other sorts of manipulation prevents me from even seeing that I have reason to do something. If someone can keep me from recognizing my best reason, then he can manipulate me, and I am also less free. For example, if I'm really bad at critical thinking, then others can manipulate me with invalid arguments, emotional appeals, anecdotal evidence and twisted statistics. If I deliberated correctly, I might act on that deliberation (no weakness of will), but I am being kept from seeing my best reason in the first place. This too makes me less free.
So, I would say that my will is more free, the less I suffer from addiction-like desires (desires that are relatively unresponsive to reason) and the better I am at practical reasoning. These factors are certainly affected by luck. Perhaps intelligence will affect how good a person is at practical reasoning (though intelligent people might be led into intellectual arrogance, which might be worse for practical reasoning than less intelligence and more humility) -- and intelligence is a matter of "constitutive luck." If I was hooked on heroin from early youth, I'm less free than someone who was not -- even though this is a matter of luck (what neighborhood I grew up in, how much my parents watched out for me etc.). Freedom of the will, in my view, is freedom to act on one's best reason, not freedom from luck.


When we turn to moral responsibility, this might seem to cause problems for my view:
1. If I had good reason to act morally on occasion O, and I was free, I would have acted morally.
2. You can't be blamed for not acting morally if you were unfree to act morally or if you had insufficient reason to act morally.
3. Therefore if I acted immorally (or unlawfully) I was either not free enough to act morally and I can't be blamed, or I had insufficient reason to act morally (in which case it seems I also shouldn't be blamed).

The problem I see in the above argument is that it treats freedom as a yes-or-no, on-or-off matter, when it is actually a matter of degree. I guess if I were MAXIMALLY free I would always act on my best reason, but maximal freedom is not the standard for praise and blame or legal responsibility. The standard we actually hold people to legally and morally is the "person of ordinary prudence."

Suppose I kill someone. There are a number of excuses that can diminish my responsibility for the death. I can say I had no idea that he had a bizarre allergy to cayenne pepper. If I really didn't know this and if it's not something a reasonable person could be expected to worry about, then I'm not responsible for his death because I didn't intend to kill him and I wasn't negligent. If I fired my gun out into the street without looking, I'm not guilty of murder, but I probably am guilty of negligent homicide. A person of ordinary prudence would have recognized the danger of killing someone by accident in those circumstances. Of course, I may actually be mentally impaired, in which case a different standard applies to me. But suppose I offer as my excuse the fact that I simply don't care much about whether I kill other people or not -- "it's just the way I am," I say. This doesn't seem like an excuse at all. What tends to excuse me is the fact that the event I caused doesn't reflect my intentions. My will was good (or could well have been good), but unforeseeable circumstances translated my good will into a bad effect. In this case, though, my will, my intention and motives were bad and they resulted in consequences I either intended or could have foreseen (and would have foreseen had I cared). It seems that blame is appropriate when bad effects reflect a bad will. It may be true that a maximally rational and free person would have seen that he had moral reason to care about other people, but I don't need to be maximally free to be responsible for my actions -- it's generally sufficient if my actions and their outcome reflect what I intended.
We do recognize cases where a person's will is bad, but mercy is justified because a) his upbringing was so horrendous that he was almost guaranteed to turn out badly, and b) he now regrets what he did -- his will is no longer bad. But the hard determinist argument against blaming or punishing anyone is a massive overgeneralization of this point (one which completely forgets the necessity or remorse). If I've had a privileged upbringing with good, loving parents who tried to teach me the difference between right and wrong and I not only show no remorse, but in effect justify my callousness on the grounds that "I'm just a callous person" and "there must be some reason why I'm like that", then my will was not only bad at the time of the crime, it continues to be bad and clemency seems unjustified. Sure I'm a callous person and there must be some reason why I'm like that if determinism is true, but that doesn't excuse my behavior -- callous people who commit callous acts are precisely the ones we want to punish.

On what grounds could the premeditated murderer object to being punished on grounds of determinism? I don't see how. He knew the rules and the penalty ahead of time -- or he should have. Could he have not murdered if he'd preferred not to murder (if his will had been better)? Of course! He planned and executed the murder. Not murdering would just have involved not planning or executing the murder. Given that he doesn't care about other people, it's true that he won't exercise that option, but he had that option. He isn't like the man who betrays state secrets under torture -- the incentive of, say, stealing the victim's money would not make an ordinary person of good will plan the same murder, while torture would make all but the most heroic people of good will give information.
Torture determines the outcome in a way that determinism does not. Even good people give in to torture. Good people generally do not murder people for their money. Determinism is not DURESS. The question "could he have done otherwise" needs to be understood as "if he were a normally decent person, could he have done otherwise, or would he have had to do the same thing?" If he would, then the action is not a sign of a bad will (criminal or morally reprehensible intent), and so he shouldn't be punished. If an average person of good will would not have done this, then the action is a sign of a bad will, and punishment is appropriate. It may be my "bad luck" to be a selfish person who commits murder for gain, but I see nothing unfair about punishing me for this kind of bad luck -- certainly nothing that the murderer is in any position to object to.

As I implied yesterday, there is a philosophical context in which indeterministic and "luck-free" free will are essential -- namely the attempt to get God off the hook for moral evil and the need to justify heaven and hell.

Clearly no compatibilist notion of free will will get God off the hook for moral evil, since God could then share responsibility for the evil with the evil person, since he would know what the person would do once he was created. And if you're going to justify heaven and hell -- where remorse and reform in the face of punishment are ruled out and where the punishment is eternal (and where you don't have to worry about recidivism) -- it would be hard to accept any degree of moral luck. In the real world of human moral judgment and human law, I don't see why we need to go for this kind of "Deep Moral Responsibility." However, in my view, these theological problems have deeply affected people's intuitions about what kind of free will we need.
Maybe you can tell me why Deep Moral Responsibility and indeterminist free will are necessary for human moral judgment and human law after all -- if this is the source of our disagreement.

Jay J
05-04-2008, 12:00 AM
Hi Bloggin,

Well it's taken me lot longer to reply than I predicted. Sorry about that. I got caught up in some other stuff and have gradually been thinking about what to say.

First, on the essay you've responded to:

I feel I should have been more specific about what I was using the argument for. I feel badly that you wrote as much as you did in response, since I was operating under the assumption that "DMR" was still on the shelf and I had hoped that my declaration that I would have gone a lot further than the writer would communicate what I was hoping to. I can see that I either should have been allot more specific or I should not have posted about the essay.

So maybe what I say in the remainder of this post will make it more clear what I saw as relevant in the essay I referred to, or maybe it won't. I hope at least it will be relevant to your other post, and I feel more confident that it will pertain to our overall discussion.

I've been thinking about how you said that determinism is not the same thing as fatalism, and I think that might be the crux, or nugget, I've been looking for. I heard through the grapevine that one of my Professors said recently that the type of causation posited in determinism may not be the kind we (or at least I) typically think of. When the word causation is used, it is commonly imagined that some preceding event happens in such a way to *coerce* something into happening. "Influence" here would be too soft a word. When I hear that determinism says that only one outcome is possible, I imagine "coercive" causation.

That got me to thinking about how you've stated that determinism is not necessarily fatalism, and I wondered if something similar was at play. Perhaps it would be best to just ask a couple of questions before we move any further. Sorry to dodge much of what you've recently wrote, but I think we *must* have some fundamentally different ideas about what we're arguing about if we haven't at least identified the source of the disagreement after discussing it for so long.

1) You mentioned that a good account of causation would include something like, 'everything in the universe at time A causes everything in the universe at time B.' I think this means that the state of the world at a particular time causes the state of the world at a future time.

I think I agree, but I also think we can talk about more local causes, like the wind from a tornado causing the destruction of a house.

Do you think it makes sense to talk about these more local causes, so long as we keep the total picture in mind?

2) My understanding of causation is basically that when cause "C" happens, effect "E" MUST take place. This is more or less a coercive account. Is this your understanding?