Originally Posted by miceelf
It's true that I used language suggesting a certain set of assumptions about causality. I think both free will and determinism require assumptions about information we can never know; thus, both you and Wonderment are making no stronger or weaker assumptions than (in this instance) myself or apple.
But having said that, as I tried to say in the broader thrust of my post, I don't much care. Whether mental illness is a necessary and sufficient condition, or only a necessary one for such horror, we are comfortable in general making moral judgments about behavior and applying penalties both criminal and social for it. Whether one is a cold-hearted financier or a corrupt police officer, or an unfaithful spouse, or a bigoted racist or a child molester, or a murderer, the competing models (free will vs. determinism) apply. I don't see the benefit of taking an especially horrific subset of the negative slice of human behavior and deeming it off limits for moral judgment and retribution.
Oh, I'm completely in favor of making moral judgements. Morality is about human behavior, right? You wouldn't say an earthquake that killed thousands was immoral. But you would say Hitler was immoral. Yet if Hitler was caused, caused as much as an earthquake - a natural phenomenon, then how do we define his behavior as immoral.
I think the answer is in the definition of morality itself. It is a judgement of human behavior. We see human behavior as complex enough that we can mold and shape it through cultural progress, which operates both in terms of centuries as well as hours and minutes; larger social movements direct the flow of our knowledge and development, while minute, psychodynamic interactions direct the flow of our personal thoughts.
The behavior is still caused, but it is dynamic in ways in which earthquakes are not. Relatively few dynamic processes are at work in natural disasters. Shifting plates, the force of gravity, friction, etc. all build towards action. In terms of explanation, a geologist could map out the rough causal factors pretty easily, with limited feedback mechanisms driving the process. Yet human interaction is infinitely more complex, involving countless feedback mechanisms throughout the development of a brain in its environment. One is sympathetic with the notion that there is little if any causality operating at all. Certainly, in our own mind, it is almost impossible to examine the causality of thought. We are simply not capable of the meta-cognition that would be required.
Yet interestingly, neither could an earthquake understand its own causality - and yet this is obviously not an argument that it is therefore not caused. In fact, we have enormous amounts of data on hundreds of thousands of ways in which the human brain appears to be caused in at least limited ways. Looking at the ways in which the brain is functionally organized tells us part of the story. Another part is told by psychological and sociological research that exposes (quite predictably) numerous ways in which we think, specifically in the context of developmental, environmental parameters.
I'll be the first to admit that there is plenty that we do not know about the brain, and that there is no clear evidence that we are fully caused. But given the seriousness of the consequences of accepting one view over another (determinism vs. free will), in terms of deciding upon what to base personal and social decisions about the behavior of our fellow man, in my opinion the odds are clearly stacked in favor of inferring the human mind to be more caused than not, if not fully caused.
So, I see no contradiction in making rational determinations about acceptable behavior, or "morality", and simultaneously seeing man as caused. As long as I can reasonably infer theoretical causality, my own cognitive imitations into mine or my fellow man's specific causality do not prohibit me from both seeking to limit behavior I disapprove of, as well as promote behavior of which I approve. These are "reigns" on personhood many I'm sure would not relish to release, but I realize I have little choice, even as at times it seems a counter-intuitive or contradictory position.
And no, apple, I don't think Hitler "just" did anything. Just as I don't think the Tsunami in Japan "just" did anything. It was a terrible tragedy. But natural (and likely, unavoidable) nonetheless.