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View Full Version : Free Will: Morality, Psychopathy, and Thomas Jefferson


Bloggingheads
05-31-2008, 04:13 PM

ed fielding
05-31-2008, 06:18 PM
Good stuff and thanks.
As with many things these days, it relates to my figuring out to what degree my ex-fiancιe is responsible for her apparent irrationality (and where exactly the reasoning lies); and figuring in what ways I must accept being the source of hurt.
Surely that is a central issue in the matter of responsibility: the determination of fair distribution of consequences, of satisfying a need to see justice done.

In that context I was a bit surprised no reference was made to experiments in which mice show empathetic behavior and those in which monkeys unfed for days refuse food until their fellow monkey is fed, showing a pre-human disposition to equity and fairness.
Nor was work, cited by Daniel Levitin in my reading, determining that motor signals in the brain precede the conscious decision to execute the movement, as addressing what is meant by choice and thus free will.

Anyway, thanks again.

bjkeefe
05-31-2008, 06:24 PM
Nor was work, cited by Daniel Levitin in my reading, determining that motor signals in the brain precede the conscious decision to execute the movement, as addressing what is meant by choice and thus free will.

That same work occurred to me while listening. However, it did sound to me like Will and Shaun were sort of taking those results into account (or, for granted) when they were talking about "whatever free will might turn out to be" towards the end. Could have been that I was reading into it, having already thought of it, though.

bjkeefe
05-31-2008, 06:31 PM
I found Shaun's story about his daughter declaring that she could say a bad word if she wanted utterly charming. It reminded me of a time when I visited my sister. I was sort of a favorite uncle to her kids, so they felt comfortable around me, even when she or their father wasn't around. I was alone in the room designated as "mine" for my stay, unpacking, and the three of them came in. They must have been about 6, 4, and 3. They walked in almost in lockstep and stopped in place, almost like a pint-sized Von Trapp group, ready to burst into song. They looked at each other and at me, all nervous smiles and shortness of breath and burst out, "POOPY KAKA!"

Then they just stood there, waiting to see what I'd do.

Of course, I burst out laughing, and you could see the relief wash across them.

To this day, I have no idea what possessed them to run this little test of boundaries.

ed fielding
05-31-2008, 06:46 PM
Cool. I laughed; still smiling.

You handle your responsibilities well.

Wonderment
05-31-2008, 06:47 PM
Will,

Give the prize to the venerable Bloggin'Noggin. He's spent hundreds of hours here politely debating and educating many of us on the nuances of contemporary philosophy.

bjkeefe
05-31-2008, 07:46 PM
Will,

Give the prize to the venerable Bloggin'Noggin. He's spent hundreds of hours here politely debating and educating many of us on the nuances of contemporary philosophy.

I second that at the top of my lungs.

fedorovingtonboop
05-31-2008, 09:08 PM
a lot if the initial discussion seemed like typical philosophy to me - neither here nor there...psychos see the world differently(etc.)?? this is not news.... and there's not much info from shaun to provide any true insight. much of philosophy seems afraid to look any deeper than it's own professors encourage them to as if this brain is still inaccessible. it's not. but they still rely heavily on vague explanations that are really just super elaborate (pretentious) explanations of stuff we already instinctively know.
however, i loved how neither guest is a free will apologist! i believe this as been discussed on this forum before and i seem to remember some trying to nuance their way out of the inevitable fact that humans are a part of the universe, too and so it's extremely unlikely we'd be exempt from its laws. gazzaniga covered the free will question with perfection a few months ago: "Free from what?" he said. So true. the free will question is totally irrelevant unless you believe in magic or something. we don't need to be disappointed about not having some magical "free will." Our brains are reacting to our environment....that's it.
if your brain calculates wrong because there's a deficiency or it hasn't learned or been taught well then we simply put you in a big metal box for an extended period of time.

graz
05-31-2008, 09:26 PM
I second that at the top of my lungs.

I triplicate it.

Cain
06-01-2008, 12:00 AM
Religious dietary restrictions also prevent the faithful from breaking bread with non-believers, which reduces chances for individuals from different backgrounds to bond and exchange ideas.

lml45
06-01-2008, 01:10 AM
Am I a sociopath for laughing at this? (http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/11517?in=00:58:17&out=00:58:34)

I especially enjoyed the discussion about sociopathy and the difference between emotional and rule-based "bad behaviour" in children. In general I feel that the emotional morality we have is in some sense evolutionarily based i.e. that enforcing cultural norms against murder and incest make societies more fit to survive... but what's interesting to me is how some of the emotional rules are starting to change especially with regard to sex, once the conditions that made it profitable to society are removed. An example would be taboos against women losing their virginity before marriage start to lose their importance when women are more independent.

Great diavlog!

a Duoist
06-01-2008, 07:57 AM
Wonderful diavlog; good questions; thoughtful replies.

Some thoughts about determinism:

1. Is an unintended consequence from the urbanization of mass man since the industrial revolutions resulting in concentration of determinism in urban settings, compared to rural settings?

2. The explosion of clinical depression in modern consumer societies: What percentage of depressives are determinists?

3. Obviously both Optimists and Pessimists can be determinist: But why are determinists overwhelmingly pessimists...or are they? Why does the personal psychology of an Optimist lend itself to freewill, whereas Pessimism generally is a feature of determinism?

4. Why does mass murder in modern societies occcur in populations with a determinist world-view (Nazism, Fascism, Marxism, jihadism)?

5. Determinism is just as ubiquitous as duality, so why is it still an unresolvable 'philosophical conundrum' after so many thousands of years?

6. Said it before, so pardon saying it again: All moral codes, all social systems, all political and economic theories are psychobiological. And since all of biology, we now know, obeys the laws of chemistry, the final resolution of the conundrum between freewill and determinism will eventually be found in the chemistry of the brain.

Nice job, Will.

fedorovingtonboop
06-01-2008, 01:53 PM
"5. Determinism is just as ubiquitous as duality, so why is it still an unresolvable 'philosophical conundrum' after so many thousands of years?
6. Said it before, so pardon saying it again: All moral codes, all social systems, all political and economic theories are psychobiological. And since all of biology, we now know, obeys the laws of chemistry, the final resolution of the conundrum between freewill and determinism will eventually be found in the chemistry of the brain."

this is kinda what i'm talking about. it's "unresolvable" because of philosophy's vague attitude. as for questin #6.....this is not really news and i kinda don't like how philosophy pretends to be attempting to solve this. we've known this for, like, more than half a century. i guess, kudos, though for being "philosophically minded" and admitting this anyway, so thanks.

Abu Noor Al-Irlandee
06-01-2008, 03:30 PM
Interesting point, Cain. Certainly such restrictions can sometimes have that effect. Along those lines, although there are rules for animal slaughtering which are spelled out in order for meat to be permissible for Muslims to eat, the Qur'an explicitly mentions that the "food of the people of the book" is permissible for Muslims to eat and the food of the Muslims "is permissible for them. Although scholars have differed over the precise legalistic implications of this verse when considered along with all the other verses and statements of the Prophet (saw) and other evidences, the idea that Muslims are being encouraged to eat together with people of other faiths has been mentioned by at least some commentators. (The same verse also indicates the permissibility of Muslim men marrying Christian and Jewish women.)

This results in the interesting phenomenon of modern day America that, if one goes to different kosher meat establishments in areas where there are Muslims but not Muslim butcher shops, one will often find Muslims shopping there for their meat despite the tensions between Jews and Muslims around the Palestine/Israel issue which undoubtedly affects such relationships worldwide.

Religious dietary restrictions also prevent the faithful from breaking bread with non-believers, which reduces chances for individuals from different backgrounds to bond and exchange ideas.

Abu Noor Al-Irlandee
06-01-2008, 03:32 PM
I also support the motion.

I triplicate it.

Wonderment
06-01-2008, 03:55 PM
Kosher food and observing the Sabbath (equally bizarre in its details) are also very public expressions of group cohesion. Religious "observance" is a secondary but visible display of moral rectitude.

We know that Moshe observes the BIG 10 commandments because he expresses his faith in them by displaying some 613 total commandments -- eg. he only eats meat on special meat plates and he holds a big party to celebrate cutting off his son's foreskin.

Abu Noor Al-Irlandee
06-01-2008, 04:22 PM
Wonderment,

To your points about public expression of solidarity entailed in religious observance, it is also interesting to think about the different dynamics involved in such behavior depending on whether one's groups is the mainstream majority, is a small minority, whether even if one is a minority one is in a geographic area or other social "space" where one's group predominates or not.....

Traditionally religious people have always recognized the difference between religious laws which have a rational basis behind them and religious laws which are simply followed as a matter of obedience. Although I don't think his purpose was to be offensive, Mr. Wilkinson's use of the word 'arbitrary' was a bit jarring. (Of course such rules are arbitrary to the outsider and likely he was just using arbitrary to mean "non-rational").

Of course to the religious believer, not only is the fact that God commanded something a perfectly good and sufficient reason to do something, it is in fact the best of reasons.

http://abunooralirlandee.wordpress.com

themightypuck
06-01-2008, 04:57 PM
I love how "Free" Will doesn't believe in "free will". Awesome.

themightypuck
06-01-2008, 05:02 PM
Also the book should be mine. I like Dungeons & Dragons and Techno. I think Banstyle/Sappy's Curry by Underworld is a work of genius. Also, I'll send the book on to someone else after I read it. On the other hand I'm tied up pretty tight for the next couple of months.

AemJeff
06-01-2008, 08:06 PM
I also support the motion.

Yup. I think that's right.

pod2
06-01-2008, 11:12 PM
This idea that psychopaths are "less sensitive to other people's suffering" is immediately persuasive.

The problem with this diagnosis is that it shines a rather unfavorable light on the punditocracy's discussion of the Iraq invasion. How many times have you heard Eli Lake refer to the tragedy of 700,000 Iraqi dead since the initial shock and awe campaign? How many times have we heard the insistence that we nail down an accurate account of Iraqi civilian dead, because of its obvious moral weight? Is it more than none from those supporting the continued occupation?

This is a space where cognitive dissonance within the bloggingheads viewer reaches untenable levels. Either you consider the mind of psychopath and conclude that any continued occupation is sick beyond measure, or you block this discussion from your consciousness and carry on talking about our virtuous mission to democratize the middle east.

uncle ebeneezer
06-02-2008, 12:48 PM
I quadruplicate through a bull-horn. BN would probably have some great insights about it when he finally submits his book report. Although there have been some "attendance" issues recently...

Big Wayne
06-02-2008, 01:01 PM
This idea that psychopaths are "less sensitive to other people's suffering" is immediately persuasive.

The problem with this diagnosis is that it shines a rather unfavorable light on the punditocracy's discussion of the Iraq invasion.

Yeah, and how about George W. Bush? Here's a psychopathy checklist from Wikipedia:

Factor1: "Aggressive narcissism"
— Glibness/superficial charm
— Grandiose sense of self-worth
— Pathological lying
— Cunning/manipulative
— Lack of remorse or guilt
— Shallow affect
— Callous/lack of empathy
— Failure to accept responsibility for own actions
— Promiscuous sexual behavior


Except for the last item, every single one of those clearly describes Bush.

If the God he believes in really exists, Bush should fear for his soul. Something tells me God doesn't look too kindly on those who slaughter hundreds of thousands of innocents and cause such massive, widespread suffering.

Especially when they go around bragging how "pro-life" they are.

I wonder how many pregnant Iraqi women were slaughtered in Iraq these past six years, thanks to our pro-life president.

Abu Noor Al-Irlandee
06-02-2008, 02:41 PM
pod2 and Big Wayne,

Thank you for your comments. I know the mature and politically serious thing to do is to ignore the immorality of the war and the evil it unleashed and engage in silly discussions about how best to manage the occupation rather than discussing the basic morality of the invasion and occupation in the first place. This is supposed to reflect some concern for our responsibilities to the innocent Iraqis, responsibilities which do not run of course, as you both point out to actually even caring enough to count how many of them we have killed through the sanctions and the invasion.

On a nonpartisan note, I would add that "Aggressive Narcissism" is probably pretty much a prerequisite for high political office and certainly for President. This, in itself, should be reason enough to be opposed to the foolish notion that any type of empire can be benign or benevolent. But this president has certainly been worse than some others.

http://abunooralirlandee.wordpress.com

popcorn_karate
06-02-2008, 03:37 PM
a question

1) how can laws have a deterrence effect if we don't have free will?

Bloggin' Noggin
06-02-2008, 06:23 PM
Thank you for the nomination, people! I was wondering what kind of case I would make for the free book (beyond the fact that it would interest me). Now all I have to do is point Will to this thread -- though I may well be too late.
I've been playing host and tour guide, and then traveling myself, so I hadn't had the chance to see this episode until last night. (Is that enough of an excuse to cover the attendance issues Uncle Ebeneezer mentions?)

I enjoyed the diavlog, but I have to take exception to Shaun's characterization of compatibilists as "disingenuous" or arguing in "bad faith" (or whatever it was he said).
I have to wonder if he's ever read any compatibilists. He seems to assume that if most ordinary people have (some) incompatibilist intuitions, then they must be right about that and compatibilists must be wrong. I doubt there are actually many compatibilists who believe that everything ordinary people believe about free will is compatible with determinism.
These experimental philosophers all seem to feel they have to give up any philosophical sophistication when they become scientifically literate.
I think Will is right. Ordinary people have intuitions about the nature of free will and about the nature of determinism, but there's no particular reason to think that ordinary people understand either one so thoroughly that they really know whether to conclude that free will is incompatible with determinism or not.
Imagine that ordinary people believed overwhelmingly at one point that solid objects could not have any empty space within them or they would not truly be solid. The discovery that even the "solidest" ordinary matter consists largely of empty space leaves such people with a choice: either conclude that solid objects don't exist or conclude that solidity didn't really involve everything we used to think it did. In this case, people overwhelmingly choose the latter option, because there is still an important distinction to be marked between steam, liquid water and ice or between marshallows and diamonds. On the other hand, we conclude that there are no witches when we decide that there is no magic -- even though there may have been devil-worshipping women. Hard determinists think that the concept of free will is like the concept of a witch, while compatibilists think there remains an important distinction to be marked between someone who rationally deliberates and does what he concludes is his best option and someone who is incapable of rational thought or who can't help but turn over information under torture.
Of course it's unlikely that everything everyone believes about free will is true, but it doesn't follow that the entire concept is a total mistake. Newtonian physics made assumptions about mass that turn out not to be true -- assumptions that might have struck past physicists as essential to the very concept. Yet when faced with Einstein, physicists didn't say "there's no such thing as mass", they simply revised the concept. Compatibilists can accept that ordinary conceptions of free will may require revision, but they don't follow the hard determinist in throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Will Wilkinson
06-03-2008, 12:34 PM
Since I have two extra copies, instead of selling one on Amazon and buying a pizza, I award one to Bloggin' Noggin, due to popular acclaim. Noggin, send your mailing address to willwilkinson -at- gmail -dot- com to claim your just desserts.

I've not yet read all of the surprisingly many entreaties and appeals. (The guy who wrote, more or less, "I need the book so I can find out what this guy thinks, because you talked way too much for me to find out while listening to the diavlog" is NOT getting it.) I'll get to that in the next couple days and make my judgment about who is most deserving. I will contact that person directly. If you never hear from me about it, you lost.

pod2
06-05-2008, 02:38 AM
pod2 and Big Wayne,

Thank you for your comments. I know the mature and politically serious thing to do is to ignore the immorality of the war and the evil it unleashed and engage in silly discussions about how best to manage the occupation rather than discussing the basic morality of the invasion and occupation in the first place. This is supposed to reflect some concern for our responsibilities to the innocent Iraqis, responsibilities which do not run of course, as you both point out to actually even caring enough to count how many of them we have killed through the sanctions and the invasion.


I have to say that these insights are obvious when applied to any state but our own. Russian generals, considering the predicament of their occupation of Afghanistan, managing troop levels, making astute tactical decisions about troop deployments, redeployments, withdrawals, or 'surges' are not generally recognized as being particularly moral or even human.

Critics, such as Solzhenitsyn (sp?), or MLK, Bartolome De las Casas, or Jesus of Nazareth, who protest that, no matter how tactically successful or unsuccessful, occupation, empire, invasion, and hegemony are immoral are obviously more germane than pundits within the political class considering tactics.

The Iraq invasion is fundamentally immoral, and, until we recognize the obvious nature of this perception within the rest of the globe, we delude ourselves and harm our security.