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Free will

Enter here to explore ethical issues and discuss the meaning and source of morality.
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Lord Muck oGentry
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Re: Free will

#81 Post by Lord Muck oGentry » February 11th, 2011, 12:26 am

Latest post of the previous page:

Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
animist wrote:I don't agree with you and Lord Muck that there's only one definition of free will that makes any kind of sense, and I don't think that philosophical discussions about these issues, even when they refer to impossible abstractions, are necessarily nonsense. Though perhaps some of them are. :D

Emma
Well, Emma, it's for animist to respond as he chooses, of course, since you were addressing him. But I hope that I may be allowed a word, since my views were mentioned.

My point is not that there is only one definition of free will that makes sense but that the expression does not ( with the out-of-the-way exception I mentioned) figure at all in ordinary talk: it is a peculiarly philosophical term, cropping up only in discussions such as this.

The trouble is that these discussions are so common that we have come to assume that the expression just must have a meaning, although it might need a bit of teasing out. My view is that our ordinary talk of responsibility, capacity, culpability, choice, exculpation, excuses, mitigation and so on would carry on regardless if the phrase free will dropped out of the language.
What we can't say, we can't say and we can't whistle it either. — Frank Ramsey

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Emma Woolgatherer
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Re: Free will

#82 Post by Emma Woolgatherer » February 11th, 2011, 9:35 am

Lord Muck oGentry wrote:My point is not that there is only one definition of free will that makes sense but that the expression does not ( with the out-of-the-way exception I mentioned) figure at all in ordinary talk: it is a peculiarly philosophical term, cropping up only in discussions such as this.

The trouble is that these discussions are so common that we have come to assume that the expression just must have a meaning, although it might need a bit of teasing out. My view is that our ordinary talk of responsibility, capacity, culpability, choice, exculpation, excuses, mitigation and so on would carry on regardless if the phrase free will dropped out of the language.
Well, I agree with you there. Except that I'd add, as I think you did earlier, that "free will" is also a theological term, and it does crop up in fairly ordinary talk by religious people (I've heard 'em) about things like responsibility, culpability, etc., where it plays a central role, and not merely in the sense you mentioned. I think that's a big part of the problem with "free will": the philosophical talk has all those theological underpinnings.

However, I do think that the issue of determinism is relevant to ordinary talk of responsibility, culpability, etc., even if we don't use the word itself. I don't see how it can not be.

Emma

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robzed
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Re: Free will

#83 Post by robzed » February 11th, 2011, 10:10 am

What evidence so we have that the world is deterministic? It seems a reasonable amount, but it doesn't necessarily mean we have a correct view of the physical world.

If we don't really know if the world is deterministic does this mean we can't decide about responsibility?

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animist
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Re: Free will

#84 Post by animist » February 11th, 2011, 12:07 pm

Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
Lord Muck oGentry wrote:My point is not that there is only one definition of free will that makes sense but that the expression does not ( with the out-of-the-way exception I mentioned) figure at all in ordinary talk: it is a peculiarly philosophical term, cropping up only in discussions such as this.

The trouble is that these discussions are so common that we have come to assume that the expression just must have a meaning, although it might need a bit of teasing out. My view is that our ordinary talk of responsibility, capacity, culpability, choice, exculpation, excuses, mitigation and so on would carry on regardless if the phrase free will dropped out of the language.
Well, I agree with you there. Except that I'd add, as I think you did earlier, that "free will" is also a theological term, and it does crop up in fairly ordinary talk by religious people (I've heard 'em) about things like responsibility, culpability, etc., where it plays a central role, and not merely in the sense you mentioned. I think that's a big part of the problem with "free will": the philosophical talk has all those theological underpinnings.

However, I do think that the issue of determinism is relevant to ordinary talk of responsibility, culpability, etc., even if we don't use the word itself. I don't see how it can not be.

Emma
oh well, had to happen, I don't at all agree with this, ie that the phrase "free will" is not used in ordinary lingo much: what about "he came of his own free will"? - meaning not under duress

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Emma Woolgatherer
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Re: Free will

#85 Post by Emma Woolgatherer » February 11th, 2011, 12:11 pm

animist wrote:oh well, had to happen, I don't at all agree with this, ie that the phrase "free will" is not used in ordinary lingo much: what about "he came of his own free will"? - meaning not under duress
I thought that was precisely the exception that Lord Muck was talking about, when he said, "acting in the absence of coercion, duress, fiduciary abuse, deceit, undue influence or the like".

Emma

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animist
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Re: Free will

#86 Post by animist » February 11th, 2011, 12:21 pm

Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
animist wrote:oh well, had to happen, I don't at all agree with this, ie that the phrase "free will" is not used in ordinary lingo much: what about "he came of his own free will"? - meaning not under duress
I thought that was precisely the exception that Lord Muck was talking about, when he said, "acting in the absence of coercion, duress, fiduciary abuse, deceit, undue influence or the like".

Emma
oh sorry, Lord M, I didn't bother to look back - we still agree after all!

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Emma Woolgatherer
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Re: Free will

#87 Post by Emma Woolgatherer » February 12th, 2011, 10:55 am

robzed wrote:What evidence so we have that the world is deterministic? It seems a reasonable amount, but it doesn't necessarily mean we have a correct view of the physical world.

If we don't really know if the world is deterministic does this mean we can't decide about responsibility?
Very good question. In my (limited) understanding, there seems to be a lot of evidence that the world is at least mainly deterministic, and that the part of it that isn't deterministic (which may or may not be only at the subatomic level) is stochastic (random) or probabilistic. The starting point, I think, is causality, rather than determinism. In other words, everything has a cause, or rather, many causes. In most cases (in my view), a particular outcome is the only possible outcome of a particular collection of causes [---][/---] that is, it was determined by those causes. But it may be that, in some cases, an outcome was just one of several possible outcomes of a particular set of causes, and either occurred purely at random, or had a particular probability of occurring, with other outcomes being possible, and more or less or equally probable. I leave it up to others to argue about such things, partly because it's all a bit beyond me, and partly because I don't think it really matters whether the world is fully deterministic or mainly deterministic and partly probabilistic or stochastic. Randomness doesn't give human beings moral responsibility. If my actions are determined by my genes and by all the things that have ever happened to me, then I am not morally responsible (in a strong sense) for those actions. If there is an element of randomness or probability in the mix, meaning that some kind of internal throw of the dice meant that I did A instead of B or C, then that doesn't significantly change anything. There wasn't a part of me, call it free will or whatever you like, that originated the action, acting independently of my genes and all those antecedent events, taking control.

Now, it's true that we don't know whether we have a correct view of the physical world. But it seems to me that determinism, or something very close to it, is a reasonable working hypothesis. And if it is, then it seems reasonable to me that we should at least question traditional ideas about moral responsibility, even if it makes us rather uncomfortable. :)

Emma

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Emma Woolgatherer
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Re: Free will

#88 Post by Emma Woolgatherer » February 12th, 2011, 11:49 am

animist wrote:As you agree that dogs are not automata, and because they have a degree of intelligence in order to be trainable, I think they have a modest amount of free will, viz to be able to decide whether to accept the reward or to reject it and do their own thing; this is I suppose at the "cost" of a greater freedom of sorts that they might have in the wild. One could not say this of an insect, maybe. But I am not saying that dogs have free will because they are trainable; cats have about the same amount despite their not being trainable, since free will is a function of consciousness and hence of intelligence
Actually, cats are trainable. (Warning: cat lovers may find this video offensive.) In fact, as I understand it, all animals that are capable of learning are trainable, in the sense that they can all respond to some kind of deliberate conditioning, as long as the stimulus and response involved are within a particular range of biologically relevant stimuli and responses. But the same mechanisms seem to be involved whether it's operant conditioning by human beings or the kind of trial-and-error learning that animals naturally do in the wild.

You say that free will is a function of consciousness and hence of intelligence. Since it's very difficult for us to assess non-human animal consciousness, that suggests that we see outward expressions of intelligence as some kind of marker for consciousness, and hence for free will. But what about artificial intelligence? Robots can be intelligent. Robots can learn. Do robots have a degree of free will, or could they acquire it?
animist wrote:
Emma wrote:One might talk of a dog being "willful", but what we really mean is that it's doing what it wants to do, and it wants to do it because that behaviour is more rewarding (or more obviously rewarding) than the alternatives.
yes, that is just what I mean.
And that would apply to a pigeon, or a starling, or a rat, or an octopus, or any animal capable of learning. Any animal capable of learning will behave in a way that elicits a greater, or more immediate or obvious, reward, or that avoids a greater, or more immediate or obvious, punishment. And that's really what you mean by free will?
animist wrote:I am surprised that you even mention moral responsibility in connection with dogs or any other animal, as I have never heard anyone attributing this to them ...
I don't think I've ever heard anyone attributing free will to them before, either.
animist wrote:I agree that unpredictability in itself does not imply free will; however, actually turning this point back to human free will, it seems to me that unpredictability is the only form of human behaviour that fits the bill for the concept of free will that you seem to recognise.
I don't know what you mean by that. Could you explain?
animist wrote:
Emma wrote: If punishment really is effective in shaping human behaviour in a positive way (and I'm not convinced of that), it still does not follow that it is ethically right to punish people.
so what is the alternative?
The alternative is to forget about punishing people for punishment's sake, i.e. harming people because we believe that they deserve to be harmed, and focus on preventing harmful behaviour, using whatever are found to be effective means to do that, while causing the least possible harm in the process. Being tough on the causes of crime, but not tough on criminals, unless it is unavoidable in order to prevent people being harmed. Finding and employing the most effective ways of reducing the risk of people becoming criminals in the first place, as well as the most effective ways of rehabilitating those who have already committed crimes. Seeing the criminal justice system as just one part of a much broader strategy of crime prevention. The standard utilitarian approach, I think.

Emma

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animist
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Re: Free will

#89 Post by animist » February 12th, 2011, 8:38 pm

Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
animist wrote:As you agree that dogs are not automata, and because they have a degree of intelligence in order to be trainable, I think they have a modest amount of free will, viz to be able to decide whether to accept the reward or to reject it and do their own thing; this is I suppose at the "cost" of a greater freedom of sorts that they might have in the wild. One could not say this of an insect, maybe. But I am not saying that dogs have free will because they are trainable; cats have about the same amount despite their not being trainable, since free will is a function of consciousness and hence of intelligence
Actually, cats are trainable. (Warning: cat lovers may find this video offensive.) In fact, as I understand it, all animals that are capable of learning are trainable, in the sense that they can all respond to some kind of deliberate conditioning, as long as the stimulus and response involved are within a particular range of biologically relevant stimuli and responses. But the same mechanisms seem to be involved whether it's operant conditioning by human beings or the kind of trial-and-error learning that animals naturally do in the wild.
well I only mentioned cats because you talked at length about how manipulable dogs are (must watch the video - we have never managed to train our current cats to relieve themselves outside!).
Emma wrote:You say that free will is a function of consciousness and hence of intelligence. Since it's very difficult for us to assess non-human animal consciousness, that suggests that we see outward expressions of intelligence as some kind of marker for consciousness, and hence for free will. But what about artificial intelligence? Robots can be intelligent. Robots can learn. Do robots have a degree of free will, or could they acquire it?
I have no idea. I was challenged by Robzed on this - over choices and decisions - and have not replied. One obvious difference between "robots" (really AI devices whatever they do) and us animal types is that they are sort of evolving and we are not, so that it is very hard to make firm pronouncements about what they do or don't do. Another difference is that we animals have obvious needs and desires consequent on our biological nature, and so far robots don't (as far as I know) - I remember reading a book long ago called "Persons" (by Roland Puccetti) and I think this was what he concluded was the central difference between us and them
Emma wrote:One might talk of a dog being "willful", but what we really mean is that it's doing what it wants to do, and it wants to do it because that behaviour is more rewarding (or more obviously rewarding) than the alternatives.
animist wrote:yes, that is just what I mean.
And that would apply to a pigeon, or a starling, or a rat, or an octopus, or any animal capable of learning. Any animal capable of learning will behave in a way that elicits a greater, or more immediate or obvious, reward, or that avoids a greater, or more immediate or obvious, punishment. And that's really what you mean by free will?
yes in principle, because learning implies something beyond instinct
Emma wrote:
animist wrote:I am surprised that you even mention moral responsibility in connection with dogs or any other animal, as I have never heard anyone attributing this to them ...
I don't think I've ever heard anyone attributing free will to them before, either.
again I have no idea whether they have or not attributed this; I imagine that the issue does not come up much in philosophy just because animals are not held to be moral agents - so what would it matter whether they had some rudimentary free will? Maybe Lord Muck or someone else has a view on this?
Emma wrote:
animist wrote:I agree that unpredictability in itself does not imply free will; however, actually turning this point back to human free will, it seems to me that unpredictability is the only form of human behaviour that fits the bill for the concept of free will that you seem to recognise.
I don't know what you mean by that. Could you explain?
I wrote this before you replied on the other dialogue sequence in this thread, and I am clearer now that you don't actually believe the Free Will theory that you were sort-of defending against my saying it was meaningless. It has often occurred to me (and I remember a tutor agreeing) that the obsession with pure free will and indeterminacy would imply that only an almost insanely unpredictable personality could truly be "free"
Emma wrote:
animist wrote:
Emma wrote: If punishment really is effective in shaping human behaviour in a positive way (and I'm not convinced of that), it still does not follow that it is ethically right to punish people.
so what is the alternative?
The alternative is to forget about punishing people for punishment's sake, i.e. harming people because we believe that they deserve to be harmed, and focus on preventing harmful behaviour, using whatever are found to be effective means to do that, while causing the least possible harm in the process. Being tough on the causes of crime, but not tough on criminals, unless it is unavoidable in order to prevent people being harmed. Finding and employing the most effective ways of reducing the risk of people becoming criminals in the first place, as well as the most effective ways of rehabilitating those who have already committed crimes. Seeing the criminal justice system as just one part of a much broader strategy of crime prevention. The standard utilitarian approach, I think.
absolutely is utilitarian, and I think most humanists would agree with your general drift about rehabilitation rather punishment for its own sake, by which I assume you mean retribution. But I associate the phrase about being tough on crime with T. Blair, who also said he would be tough on crime (and therefore criminals) - so what would you do "to prevent people being harmed"? Also, "finding and employing the most effective ways of reducing the risk of people becoming criminals in the first place" is extremely utilitarian and could imply all sorts of social engineering and potentially freedom-theatening interventions - is that what you want? I don't see how any of this gets you, in practice, out of the need to establish moral responsibility, blame and therefore eligibility for intervention, whether you call it punishment or not.

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animist
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Re: Free will

#90 Post by animist » February 13th, 2011, 9:46 pm

Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
animist wrote:... well, "coercive persuasion" is a self-contradiction for a start
The term is not mine; it's Edgar Schein's.
well I did wonder about this, and thanks for the link - but I still think it is a self-contradiction (according to my own lingo), since persuasion would mean what I am trying to do now! BTW, is the Wiki article factually wrong or anyway misleading? I thought brainwashing was of US POWs in China, not Chinese POWs
Emma wrote:
animist wrote:you demand some impossible abstraction of freedom
No, I don't. I am sceptical about the existence of the kind of "free will" (perhaps I can call it Free Will) that implies moral responsibility, the kind of moral responsibility that means that a person deserves to be blamed and punished for their bad actions or credited and praised for their good actions.
what other kind is there?
Emma wrote:I don't think that free will as you are defining it [---][/---] the subjective experience of being free to do what one wants, the absence of constraint, coercion or manipulation [---][/---] does imply that kind of moral responsibility. I am not demanding an "impossible abstraction of freedom", but, as I understand it, moral responsibility, in that strong sense, does demand it. (See, for example, George Arthur Campbell's essay, "Has the Self 'Free Will'?"
thanks for this - read it but was not inspired. What is good is that this made me dig out an old book (P. H. Nowell-Smith's "Ethics") and lo and behold! N-S devotes several pages to Campbell's "Libertarianism" (from a purely personal viewpoint, it was weird to see my execrable scribbles after over 40 years!) Anyway, N-S rejects C's ideas on various grounds, including the focus on introspection (which is roughly what you were saying, I think - that the mere feel of freedom did not entail its reality). I remember reading about C's views back then and even at that time found them quaint in their crude opposition of "sense of duty" against everything else - which seemed to be regarded by him as "desire" in a rather narrowly selfish way
Emma wrote:
animist wrote:What you have not taken from my previous post is the idea of DEGREES of freedom - it is not all-or-nothing.
I did note that. But I wanted to clarify what you meant by free will first. If you're talking about freedom to do what one wants, without deliberate constraint, coercion or manipulation, then yes, there are degrees of freedom. If one is talking about the kind of free will that would enable someone to choose to do something differently, given exactly the same circumstances, and exactly the same past events, then I don't think it's particularly meaningful to talk about degrees of it until one has decided whether we have it. I don't think we do. And there can't be degrees of something that isn't there.
true - I am clearer about what you mean now that you saying "Free Will" for the metaphysical FW and "free will" for my "common sense" version
Emma wrote:
animist wrote:I know you did not say it was a delusion, but that is the implication: that one is somehow not really free even if one is in a rational and non-constrained frame of mind and doing what one wants or thinks is best, so that one is indeed the causal agent of one's action. This is the implied delusion - which IMO is nonsensical.
I fall into the trap of using expressions like "really free", but it's misleading. Frankly, I would prefer to avoid the term "free will" altogether, and stick to the questions of determinism and moral responsibility. But for the purposes of this message, I'll use Free Will to refer to that kind of free will that I don't believe in!
animist wrote:And what do you mean by "acting otherwise"? Otherwise than what?
Otherwise than how one has acted. If one has Free Will, apparently, one could have behaved differently, one could have stopped oneself from throwing the punch, or lighting the cigarette, or writing the message, purely by exercising that will. By not exercising that will, one has effectively chosen to act in the way one did, and therefore one has responsibility for that action.... Yes, there has in principle to be some definite human or other outside factor which has influenced or constrained us in order for our choices not to be free. And I'd say that there always is some outside factor which has influenced or constrained us. Or rather, loads of outside factors that have been influencing and constraining us, and shaping our desires, from conception onwards. The obvious case of manipulation is just that: an obvious case.
agreed
Emma wrote:
animist wrote:... but what do you mean by "rising above" these factors? I never said that the self did this, but why should this prevent us from having "control, agency and responsibility"? I thought that you and I more or less agreed about determinism; anyway, I don't see determinism as negating either the self or free will
I'm sorry that I'm not explaining this very well. But I do, at the moment at least, see determinism as negating responsibility. It seems to me that if we are wholly determined (or nearly wholly determined, allowing for some element of true randomness), by our genetic make-up and by all the things that happen to us, not just influenced, not just constrained, not just coerced, not just manipulated, but determined, then there is no room for anything else, whatever you want to call it, that would give rise to moral responsibility, in a strong sense, implying that we deserve blame or credit for our actions. I am open to being persuaded otherwise. But I just don't see it.... if dogs are probably not self-conscious, but they do have a self, then what exactly is the self?
animist wrote:you tell me!
:D Why? You were the one claiming that dogs have a self; I wasn't. Surely it was reasonable to ask what you meant by it, if you didn't mean "a sense of self".
true - I could not remember whether you first mentioned the word, but seems you did not!
Emma wrote:What I'm sceptical about is Free Will, as I've attempted to define it above. My understanding is that no evidence for that has, yet, been found by the people who might have found it, such as neuroscientists and cognitive psychologists, and my not being able to imagine what exactly that evidence might be doesn't make the concept meaningless. What I am pretty sure of is that our subjective experience of being free to choose according to our own desires is not evidence of Free Will.
I certainly agree on that, and I am clearer now on what you mean about evidence, but I still don't see how there even could be such evidence - if it was not found from interviewing people who claimed to have it, and so still dependent on their subjective experiences, it would be something in the brain which seemed to correspond somehow to this Free Will experience. But that would make it a sort of cause, wouldn't it, and therefore itself a conditioning factor on this "freedom"? Or am I begging the question by assuming brain-mind causation? Another point, which N-S makes, is that this supposed Free Will faculty only operates in a very specific area, viz this choice between so-called duty and desire, so again it seems unlikely that there could be a physical correlate. My hunch is Campbell was quite happy with his introspection argument and would not expect any "objective" evidence for it.
Emma wrote:
animist wrote:I agree, however, that the need to establish responsibility for actions is only a good reason to believe in free will in a pragmatic way, not a theoretical one - that is actually what I meant.
Right. OK. That's what I'm uncomfortable with. I don't see how one can actually believe something for pragmatic reasons.
I don't either, but what I mean is that there are IMO good consequences from the fact that people do in fact believe in personal responsibility - it sort of works
Emma wrote:
animist wrote:I don't know why you, one minute, seem to be linking free will and responsibility ("if we do not have free will in the sense that implies responsibility") and then next minute dissociating them ("not as a consequence of not believing in free will, but as a consequence of believing in determinism").
I am not trying to dissociate free will (and certainly not Free Will) from moral responsibility. My point was simply that it isn't necessary to get into the issue of free will in order to question the existence of moral responsibility. One can leap there straight from determinism, in my view.
I suppose I don't see this, since to me free will is essential for responsibility, but not worth arguing this maybe
Emma wrote:
animist wrote:Anyway, I don't think it (ie the moral responsibility "fictionalism" that I think you refer to) is quite like fictionalism about belief in God, as the latter is in principle an objective matter - either God exists or not, so so-called fictionalism about God is simply lying about one's beliefs, to others or to oneself (back to the absurdity of Pascal's wager). Maybe this "moral responsibility" fictionalism is more like "moral fictionalism" in general.
I wasn't suggesting that one was like the other, merely that one was as unsatisfactory as the other. But I'd have thought a moral responsibility fictionalism would still involve lying about one's beliefs, to others or to oneself, since I don't see how one can actually believe something for pragmatic reasons.
well I think we agree on that, and that is what bothers me about moral fictionalism
Emma wrote: I've just read Richard Joyce's article, "Moral Fictionalism". Very, very interesting in light of some of our other discussions. Is that the one you meant?
animist wrote:Any talk like this makes me want to scream, TBH, because of its stupid and self-defeating dishonesty in relation to actual behaviour.
Hang on. Before I get all defensive, what exactly are you calling stupid and self-defeating and dishonest?
that's my feelings running away with me, sorry! But I don't really understand how you can think what you do, and later on I have posed a problem for you!
Emma wrote:
animist wrote:We do have moral responsibility (by which of course I mean we can have it in principle and sometimes actually do in some degree) because we do (in the same way) have free will.
Could you elaborate a little here? Do you mean that we have a subjective experience of moral responsibility, in the same way that we have a subjective experience of free will? If so, what if we don't have that subjective experience?
I am not sure what you mean here. Having the feeling of free will on the whole means we are acting freely, IMO; but whether we feel we have moral responsibility need not be linked to whether we actually do - a criminal who (honestly!) did not feel he was doing wrong could still be held morally responsible, IMO
Emma wrote:
animist wrote:When you say you think we don't "really" have moral responsibility, what do you really mean?
Again, I'm sorry for the "really". It's lazy, I know, but it's meant as emphasis, to indicate that I'm talking about moral responsibility in a strong sense. When someone acts in a particular way, I don't think he or she could have acted otherwise, given all the external things that have influenced her, and the genes he or she was born with. So, for that reason, I don't think he or she is "really" to blame. I don't think he or she can "really" help him- or herself. That's what I meant by not "really" having moral responsibility.
animist wrote:Do you not behave to other people as though they sometimes do have moral responsibilities (eg to pay you for your work) and do you not really believe that they do have this responsibility?
I do behave to other people as though they sometimes do have moral responsibilities (and in the case of paying me for my work, legal responsibilities). We all do. That's the norm. That's how our culture is. Whether I believe that they do is more complicated to answer. I suppose, at the moment, I believe they have responsibility in one sense, in a weak sense, given that their actions were not coerced, and they had the mental capacity to understand their consequences, but not in a stronger sense, the sense that requires that they could have chosen to act otherwise. But I'm not sure. I don't really know.
I don't think you should talk about strong and weak responsibility. Either people can in principle be held accountable for their actions or not, and you seem in fact not to think that they ever can, which I find hard to get my head around, especially when you admit that you act as though you do believe in moral responsibility.
Emma wrote:
animist wrote:Do you only feign anger if someone intentionally wrongs you?
Of course not. I feel angry. But then, sometimes, I feel angry when someone wrongs me unintentionally. Sometimes I feel angry (briefly) with my dog. None of this indicates that I am attributing moral responsibility to those beings or things with whom I am feeling angry. And even if I did attribute moral responsibility to someone, it doesn't follow that that someone has it, in the sense that he or she deserves that blame or anger.
well, obviously many of these "things" - like your dog or inanimate objects - are not morally responsible, but it does not follow that none are. If you do attribute moral responsibility to them, as you at least suppose you might, then I don't see how you at the same can say that it does not follow that they are responsible - though of course I might think you were wrong to do so in a particular case. I can't help imagining how you would apply your view in a hypothetical situation in which you were really badly let down by someone - you were very upset and angry, and everyone else agreed that the person had wronged you; imagine that much later on he sincerely apologised and asked for your forgiveness - would you say (against his own protestations) that he had not done anything wrong for which he should apologise (because he could not help doing what he did), and, moreover, that therefore you could and did not forgive him because him had not committed any wrong? I am not sure that this would actually being doing him any favour by this, and I imagine he would find your attitude bizarre (as I do, if that is actually how you feel)
Emma wrote:
animist wrote: If not, why is moral obligation, and the responsibility and free will on which it depends, not real?
Why should that imply that it is real? Most people's view of the way the world works is not deterministic. Our culture, our language, our legal system [---][/---] everything is geared up to the idea that we are in control of our own lives (if we have the mental capacity), that we do have moral responsibility for our actions, that we do deserve to be blamed and punished if we deliberately do bad things, and credited and praised and rewarded if we do good things. That is, I think, the norm. It is very difficult to extricate oneself from it. It is particularly difficult to use language that doesn't imply it.
I don't think that it true as a generalisation that our view of the world is not deterministic, I think it is (who seriously denies that "everything has a cause"?); it is just that an area remains where personal responsibility, whether legal or moral, is a valid and legally useful concept.
Emma wrote: Having said that, I do often feel, and have done for a long time, since long before I started to get interested in the determinism question, that when people do things that have bad consequences, even if they appear to be doing them deliberately, they aren't really to blame, even if my immediate inclination is to blame them. I'm talking about my own feelings now, my subjective experience. I'm not saying that because I feel that way it must be true. But neither is the opposite the case. I don't think the answer to these questions is just a simple matter of down-to-earth common sense. I don't agree with you and Lord Muck that there's only one definition of free will that makes any kind of sense, and I don't think that philosophical discussions about these issues, even when they refer to impossible abstractions, are necessarily nonsense.
well, if something is impossible it must be nonsense, even though it is possible to talk of it (like a square circle).

Just to reiterate so I am clear on what you are saying. I think it is this: it is at least meaningful to talk of Free Will in the sense of a self or will which rises above "desire" in order to chooose "duty", and in principle such a thing (or evidence for it) could be "found" by neuroscientists. However, you do not think that anything like has been found and you do not in fact think it exists. You do not feel that my "weaker" commonsense version of free will (or voluntariness) can be a basis for attributing moral responsibility (and therefore blame) because this so-called freedom is in fact subject to deterministic causation. As far as the metaphysical Free Will is concerned, we only seem to disagree in that I think it is impossible whereas you seem to think it just has not been discovered and so probably does not exist. So the main disagreement is about whether the free will which is compatible with determinism allows moral responsibility and hence justifies blaming people for what they have done; you don't think it does and I do. As I said, I don't think that what you say you believe would match how you behave in practice, possibly even in reflection; I apologise in advance if I am completely wrong and don't mean to sound offensive, but it is how I feel. I feel the same way about the authors of the ethical relativism articles (I realise that ethical relativism is not what you have been talking about, but it came in the thread about moral facts): I imagine that they act in what they believe are moral ways and judge others in the same way. Thus there seems to be a disconnect in people who advocate (if that's the right word!) some form of moral scepticism/fictionalism/relativism/abolitionism between expressed belief and practice, and since moral philosophy in fact is about practice (being simply a way to clarify various aspects of morally relevant behaviour and judgment) I find this quite strange. I think that this fashion for scepticism and relativism about the value of any moral judgement may also reflect the absence of such discussion in much of earlier ethics: for instance Nowell-Smith's book, good as it is, does not much concern itself with the question of relativism (I think - must double-check, and I notice he mentions the incest taboo as an example somewhere). The first book I remember reading on this topic was Morris Ginsberg's "On the Diversity of Morals" - and he was a sociologist!

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Re: Free will

#91 Post by Emma Woolgatherer » February 14th, 2011, 7:46 pm

animist wrote:well I only mentioned cats because you talked at length about how manipulable dogs are (must watch the video - we have never managed to train our current cats to relieve themselves outside!).
If you can stomach it, you can watch videos of cats that have been trained to relieve themselves inside, using a WC, and sometimes even flushing. Just search YouTube for "Cat using toilet". There are loads of them. Not so many dogs, though.
animist wrote:One obvious difference between "robots" (really AI devices whatever they do) and us animal types is that they are sort of evolving and we are not, so that it is very hard to make firm pronouncements about what they do or don't do. Another difference is that we animals have obvious needs and desires consequent on our biological nature, and so far robots don't (as far as I know) - I remember reading a book long ago called "Persons" (by Roland Puccetti) and I think this was what he concluded was the central difference between us and them.
Yes. On reflection, I think this is far more significant than unpredictability in making me reject the term "automaton" to describe any animal. And it is our experiences of pleasure and pain, in particular, that shape our desires. Apparently, back in 1950, Alan Turing argued that artificial intelligence ought to include some kind of pain-pleasure mechanism. But as far as I can tell, it hasn't been done yet, and I wonder whether it ever will be. (There's a blog post and discussion on the topic in the Intrepid Mind blog.) I'm not sure, though, whether that's relevant to the free will issue.
animist wrote:
Emma wrote:Any animal capable of learning will behave in a way that elicits a greater, or more immediate or obvious, reward, or that avoids a greater, or more immediate or obvious, punishment. And that's really what you mean by free will?
yes in principle, because learning implies something beyond instinct
It implies something different from instinct, yes. But I don't see the connection with free will. Especially when I'm looking at pigeons in Skinner boxes pecking at illuminated disks to get grain.
animist wrote:It has often occurred to me (and I remember a tutor agreeing) that the obsession with pure free will and indeterminacy would imply that only an almost insanely unpredictable personality could truly be "free"
Ah. Right. No, I don't see that indeterminacy, in the sense of events arising purely randomly, has any implications for free will.
animist wrote:I associate the phrase about being tough on crime with T. Blair, who also said he would be tough on crime (and therefore criminals) - so what would you do "to prevent people being harmed"? ... Also, "finding and employing the most effective ways of reducing the risk of people becoming criminals in the first place" is extremely utilitarian and could imply all sorts of social engineering and potentially freedom-theatening interventions - is that what you want?
For me, being tough on the causes of crime (the Blair echo was deliberate) meant finding ways to reduce poverty, deprivation, inequality, social exclusion, domestic violence, the marginalisation of certain ethnic/cultural groups, and to improve education standards for children from a very early age, improve parenting education, housing, diet, healthcare, youth services, blah-di-blah-di-blah. Most of them are things that we were supposed to be doing already [---][/---] though we weren't doing much of them to any great extent, and cuts in public services mean we'll be doing even less of them. Yes, there are areas where what I might want to do would be seen as social engineering, but I think there's a lot that could be done before that becomes an issue. And no, I don't want freedom-threatening interventions. I don't want to treat people as criminals because they are seen as being at risk of becoming criminals, when they haven't yet done anything wrong.
animist wrote:I don't see how any of this gets you, in practice, out of the need to establish moral responsibility, blame and therefore eligibility for intervention, whether you call it punishment or not.
All this is what I meant when I said that I was "struggling" with the issue of moral responsibility. It's all very, very difficult. And it's why I've been talking about responsibility in strong and weak senses. Not ideal, I know, but I think some kind of distinction is necessary. There's the idea that someone was responsible for an action. They did it. They weren't forced to do it. They chose to do it. They did it of their own free will, in the legal sense, in Lord Muck's sense. And in the context of the criminal justice system, that would apply to anyone over the age of ten, who is of sound mind. That kind of responsibility is often, but not always, accompanied by a sense of responsibility, and perhaps feelings of guilt or remorse or regret. And those feelings are important [---][/---] essential, I think, if we want to live reasonably harmoniously. But it seems to me that it might be possible to distinguish between that sense of responsibility [---][/---] I did it. I hurt someone by doing it. It's wrong to hurt people. I shouldn't have done it. I mustn't do it again. I must try to make amends [---][/---] and the assigning of moral responsibility by others in a way that allows for no excuses, no explanation, no understanding, because that person is wholly to blame, that person is wicked, or evil, or vicious, or despicable, that person deserves to be hated. It's a difference we can see in the way a 10-year-old who commits murder is treated in a country where the age of criminal responsibility is 12 or 14, as compared to how such a 10-year-old is treated in this country.

Emma

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Re: Free will

#92 Post by Emma Woolgatherer » February 17th, 2011, 2:38 pm

animist wrote:I still think [coercive persuasion] is a self-contradiction (according to my own lingo), since persuasion would mean what I am trying to do now!
As I said, it's an oxymoron: the self-contradiction was probably deliberate. But I think the distinction between persuasion and coercion is not a clear-cut one anyway. Putting psychological pressure on people [---][/---] overawing them or intimidating them with authority or expertise, making them feel anxious, stressed, foolish, embarrassed, frightening them not with the threat of direct violence but with the threat of supposedly natural consequences [---][/---] might be seen as something in between coercion and persuasion, or might be seen as having elements of both.
animist wrote:BTW, is the Wiki article factually wrong or anyway misleading? I thought brainwashing was of US POWs in China, not Chinese POWs
Yes, the reference makes that clear. I think the author was aiming for brevity, and wrote "Chinese POWs' indoctrination" when he or she should have written "Chinese indoctrination of POWs".
animist wrote:
Emma wrote:(See, for example, George Arthur Campbell's essay, "Has the Self 'Free Will'?"
thanks for this - read it but was not inspired.
Me neither. I didn't even finish reading it!
animist wrote:... what I mean is that there are IMO good consequences from the fact that people do in fact believe in personal responsibility - it sort of works
Yes, I think so too. But I think there might also be bad consequences. And I wonder whether something slightly different might also work. And perhaps even work better, in the long term.
animist wrote:Having the feeling of free will on the whole means we are acting freely, IMO; but whether we feel we have moral responsibility need not be linked to whether we actually do - a criminal who (honestly!) did not feel he was doing wrong could still be held morally responsible, IMO
Right. That's what I was getting at. So when you said that we had moral responsibility in the same way that we had free will, you weren't talking about the subjective experience of it. Presumably, then, you meant that we are responsible when we're not coerced, constrained or manipulated. Responsibility is a consequence of voluntariness. So why is that? If our actions are determined by things that are not within our control, like our genes and our upbringing and every little thing that happens to us, why are we morally responsible for them?
animist wrote:I don't think you should talk about strong and weak responsibility. Either people can in principle be held accountable for their actions or not, and you seem in fact not to think that they ever can, which I find hard to get my head around, especially when you admit that you act as though you do believe in moral responsibility.
I hope I've made things a little clearer in my previous post. I'll come back to this later, but to pick up on your phrasing, "held accountable for their actions", I'd say that that might be the sort of thing I had in mind when I talked of responsibility in a weak sense. If you're held accountable for your actions, you're expected to account for them, explain them, as far as you understand the explanation.
animist wrote:well, obviously many of these "things" - like your dog or inanimate objects - are not morally responsible, but it does not follow that none are.
I was not suggesting that it did. I was merely pointing out that getting angry with someone or something does not imply either that you think they are morally responsible or that they really are morally responsible.
animist wrote:I can't help imagining how you would apply your view in a hypothetical situation in which you were really badly let down by someone - you were very upset and angry, and everyone else agreed that the person had wronged you; imagine that much later on he sincerely apologised and asked for your forgiveness - would you say (against his own protestations) that he had not done anything wrong for which he should apologise (because he could not help doing what he did), and, moreover, that therefore you could and did not forgive him because him had not committed any wrong? I am not sure that this would actually being doing him any favour by this, and I imagine he would find your attitude bizarre (as I do, if that is actually how you feel)
I've been very open about the fact that I find this whole issue of responsibility a struggle. So if there are contradictions in what I've been saying, or in what I think and do, that's not surprising. I'm still working on it all. When I talked about responsibility in strong and weak senses I was trying to clarify things, but I'll stop if you think it's unhelpful. There are, nevertheless, different shades of meaning for words like "responsibility", and sometimes it's necessary to make that clear, and not assume that we all know what we mean when we use them.

OK, to tackle your example, if someone deliberately did something that hurt me, and then much later sincerely apologised (and explained why he did it, from his point of view), I would be glad of his apology (and explanation), and would say so, though I might have wished it to be expressed earlier. An apology is an expression of one's regret or remorse for having done something wrong, something that has hurt someone (or could have hurt someone). It indicates a certain degree of compassion for the person one has hurt (or could have hurt). These are subjective emotions, and it is perfectly reasonable for someone to express them, whether they are morally responsible for their actions or not. People apologise when something they do causes harm, even if the actions were clearly not deliberate. It would be natural for a person to apologise for accidentally running over someone's cat, for example. And it would be natural for someone to accept such an apology, graciously, even if he or she didn't consider the person to be to blame. In the case of your example, I would not say that he didn't have anything to apologise for, not if I had been hurt by his actions, but I might recognise some kind of excuse in the explanation that he gave, and express some kind of understanding.

Perhaps my interpretation of the term forgiveness is different from yours, but I don't think it is necessary for someone to be morally responsible for his or her harmful actions in order to be forgiven for them. Forgiveness means renouncing blame, anger and resentment, or excusing someone for his or her harmful actions. If I had never actually felt anger or resentment, had never blamed the person concerned, then I could reasonably say that I had already forgiven him. It is unlikely, though, that I would not have felt any anger at all.
animist wrote:I don't think that it true as a generalisation that our view of the world is not deterministic, I think it is (who seriously denies that "everything has a cause"?)
First, strictly speaking, "everything has a cause" is not determinism; it's ... um ... causalism, I think. Or perhaps causationism. Whatever the correct term, it holds that everything [---][/---] every state of affairs, including every human event, act and decision [---][/---] is the consequence of antecedent states of affairs. But determinism goes one step further, and holds that everything [---][/---] every state of affairs, including every human event, act and decision [---][/---] is the inevitable consequence of antecedent states of affairs. I do think that's an important distinction. I'm not wedded to pure determinism (that's why I keep adding qualifiers like "allowing for a certain degree of true randomness"), but I am happy with causalism or causationism or whatever. Second, when I say that I think that most people's view of the world is not deterministic, I'm not saying that most people would seriously deny that "everything has a cause", or even that "everything has a cause, and is the inevitable outcome of that cause". Most people wouldn't even think in those terms. I certainly didn't, until relatively recently. But my impression is that most people do believe in the kind of free will that implies a negation of determinism, even if they wouldn't express it in such terms. The self that rises above all the influences of biology and environment to act entirely independently of them may be an impossible abstraction, but it's something that people feel, in my view. Again, I used to, and perhaps I still do, in spite of myself.
animist wrote:it is just that an area remains where personal responsibility, whether legal or moral, is a valid and legally useful concept.
I think it goes further than that. I think that most people have a deep-seated faith in personal responsibility. They believe passionately in it, and get angry at the suggestion that someone might not have it.
animist wrote:well, if something is impossible it must be nonsense, even though it is possible to talk of it (like a square circle).
I said that discussions that refer to impossible abstractions aren't necessarily nonsense. Just as discussions that refer to the square roots of negative numbers aren't necessarily nonsense. (And the square roots of negative numbers, while being impossible, seem to have been quite useful.)
animist wrote:Just to reiterate so I am clear on what you are saying. I think it is this: it is at least meaningful to talk of Free Will in the sense of a self or will which rises above "desire" in order to chooose "duty", and in principle such a thing (or evidence for it) could be "found" by neuroscientists.
I don't know whether in principle it could be found or not. Perhaps it couldn't. But it does seem that at least some have been looking for it.
animist wrote:However, you do not think that anything like has been found and you do not in fact think it exists. You do not feel that my "weaker" commonsense version of free will (or voluntariness) can be a basis for attributing moral responsibility (and therefore blame) because this so-called freedom is in fact subject to deterministic causation. As far as the metaphysical Free Will is concerned, we only seem to disagree in that I think it is impossible whereas you seem to think it just has not been discovered and so probably does not exist.
I'd strengthen that a little: I suspect that it is impossible (and could no doubt be persuaded that it is impossible), and I believe that it does not exist, and I think that the onus is on those who think that it does exist to provide evidence for it.
animist wrote:So the main disagreement is about whether the free will which is compatible with determinism allows moral responsibility and hence justifies blaming people for what they have done; you don't think it does and I do.
Yes, that seems to be the crux of it. But as I've said, I am open to persuasion on this point. So I'm looking forward to hearing your supporting arguments.
animist wrote:As I said, I don't think that what you say you believe would match how you behave in practice, possibly even in reflection; I apologise in advance if I am completely wrong and don't mean to sound offensive, but it is how I feel. I feel the same way about the authors of the ethical relativism articles (I realise that ethical relativism is not what you have been talking about, but it came in the thread about moral facts): I imagine that they act in what they believe are moral ways and judge others in the same way. Thus there seems to be a disconnect in people who advocate (if that's the right word!) some form of moral scepticism/fictionalism/relativism/abolitionism between expressed belief and practice, and since moral philosophy in fact is about practice (being simply a way to clarify various aspects of morally relevant behaviour and judgment) I find this quite strange ...
I find it quite strange that you find it quite strange. :) Again, I've said that I struggle with the issue of moral responsibility. I'm acknowledging that there are tensions in what I believe right now (or, if you prefer, what I say I believe) and how I feel, at least some of the time. But that's not true all of the time. And if I believed in the kind of free will that implied moral responsibility (or said I did), there would also be "a disconnect". My expressed beliefs and my feelings and actions would still not fit together neatly. And the same would be true if I believed (or said I believed) in moral facts. Our views of the world don't necessarily fit our emotions and our behaviour perfectly. We're none of us, I'm sure, entirely consistent. But I am trying to be honest about both what I believe and what I feel, and perhaps that's the best I can do right now. I'll work on the consistency later,

In any case, I don't think there's as much of a mismatch, in my case, as you think there is. I've arrived at my current views as a result not only of reading books and articles and other people's arguments but also as a result of my own experiences and reactions. Part of the attraction of the conclusions that I've reached about moral responsibility is that they do make sense in the light of things I've felt or suspected for many years.

Emma

P.S. Have you seen this earlier thread touching on this topic?

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Re: Free will

#93 Post by Wilson » February 19th, 2011, 1:41 am

For me, true morality is based on empathy. There are people who for whatever reason don't develop a normal capacity for empathy toward others. That may be partly genetic, but my suspicion is that people mostly develop empathy by seeing it in action and being disparaged for cruelty and praised for kindness. Unfortunately, after a certain age, the capacity for empathy, sympathy, and unselfish kindness cannot be developed, except to a very limited degree. Some folks turn into nasty sons of bitches, and there's no cure for that. Those who lack empathy can nevertheless behave themselves properly and follow the rules of civilized society. Those who lack empathy and make the choice to become career criminals, brutalizers, con men, serial killers, and the like - I feel that they need to be locked up away from the rest of us. While in one sense it may be true that their development of this character flaw was beyond their control, we have to deal with them as they turned out, not as we would like for them to be. I think that getting angry at other people and wanting to punish them is a very human quality, and in my opinion there's nothing wrong with it as long as the anger is directed at those who hurt others without cause. It may be more emotional than logical, but the decision by some to absolve everyone of blame is also more emotional than logical. In my opinion limiting one's empathy so that it isn't universal is also a very human quality. It came to us through evolution.

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Re: Free will

#94 Post by animist » February 19th, 2011, 8:43 am

Wilson wrote:For me, true morality is based on empathy. There are people who for whatever reason don't develop a normal capacity for empathy toward others. That may be partly genetic, but my suspicion is that people mostly develop empathy by seeing it in action and being disparaged for cruelty and praised for kindness. Unfortunately, after a certain age, the capacity for empathy, sympathy, and unselfish kindness cannot be developed, except to a very limited degree. Some folks turn into nasty sons of bitches, and there's no cure for that. Those who lack empathy can nevertheless behave themselves properly and follow the rules of civilized society. Those who lack empathy and make the choice to become career criminals, brutalizers, con men, serial killers, and the like - I feel that they need to be locked up away from the rest of us. While in one sense it may be true that their development of this character flaw was beyond their control, we have to deal with them as they turned out, not as we would like for them to be. I think that getting angry at other people and wanting to punish them is a very human quality, and in my opinion there's nothing wrong with it as long as the anger is directed at those who hurt others without cause. It may be more emotional than logical, but the decision by some to absolve everyone of blame is also more emotional than logical. In my opinion limiting one's empathy so that it isn't universal is also a very human quality. It came to us through evolution.
I think maybe you are too interested in how our attitudes have come to be as they are rather than what we can make of them now; I do believe in moral progress, or the possibility of it anyway, as I've said, so I suppose I am some sort of moral objectivist, though not in the traditional way. I assume that some of your remarks, about not absolving everyone of everything, were aimed at Emma, and I agree with that - there's no way that Hitler should be absolved for what he did.

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Re: Free will

#95 Post by Wilson » February 19th, 2011, 6:23 pm

I believe that behavior can be modified, but also that empathy can't be taught past a certain young age. So someone who has had the bad luck (from my point of view) to have become an adult lacking in sympathy for others is stuck with that deficiency. Such a person may be bright enough to decide to behave according to the rules of society, but that would be because of self-interest, not because of any sense of right or wrong. Those without a normal capacity for empathy who decide to go with their natural anti-social tendencies should, in my opinion, be punished and isolated - mostly because they are dangerous to the rest of us.

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Re: Free will

#96 Post by thundril » March 7th, 2011, 7:37 pm

Wilson wrote:I believe that behavior can be modified, but also that empathy can't be taught past a certain young age.
Any evidence?
Wilson wrote: Such a person may be bright enough to decide to behave according to the rules of society, but that would be because of self-interest, not because of any sense of right or wrong.

So do you think it might be possible to train amoral or unempathic people to behave well?
Wilson wrote:Those without a normal capacity for empathy who decide to go with their natural anti-social tendencies should, in my opinion, be punished and isolated - mostly because they are dangerous to the rest of us.
And if training them to behave well worked better without punishment, would you find that more acceptable to you, (more satisfying) or less?

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Re: Free will

#97 Post by Wilson » March 8th, 2011, 7:05 pm

thundril wrote:
Wilson wrote:I believe that behavior can be modified, but also that empathy can't be taught past a certain young age.
Any evidence?
No clinical evidence I know of. And I may have been a little too dogmatic.
Wilson wrote: Such a person may be bright enough to decide to behave according to the rules of society, but that would be because of self-interest, not because of any sense of right or wrong.

So do you think it might be possible to train amoral or unempathic people to behave well?
Possible in some situations. Behavior modification and convincing someone that behaving well is in his own self-interest can change the actions of some, I suspect, but not most.
Wilson wrote:Those without a normal capacity for empathy who decide to go with their natural anti-social tendencies should, in my opinion, be punished and isolated - mostly because they are dangerous to the rest of us.
And if training them to behave well worked better without punishment, would you find that more acceptable to you, (more satisfying) or less?
I'd be all in favor of doing whatever works, but honesty compels me to admit that I get satisfaction in seeing nasty people get their comeuppance. Don't you, a little? And I'm skeptical that such an effective, no-punishment program would work.

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Re: Free will

#98 Post by thundril » March 8th, 2011, 7:42 pm

Wilson wrote:I believe that behavior can be modified, but also that empathy can't be taught past a certain young age.
thundril wrote: Any evidence?
No clinical evidence I know of. And I may have been a little too dogmatic.
Fair enough. Aren't we all, sometimes? :)
Wilson wrote: Such a person may be bright enough to decide to behave according to the rules of society, but that would be because of self-interest, not because of any sense of right or wrong.
Thundril wrote:So do you think it might be possible to train amoral or unempathic people to behave well?
Possible in some situations. Behavior modification and convincing someone that behaving well is in his own self-interest can change the actions of some, I suspect, but not most.
Behaviour-modification, as a technique, is practised very successfully with severely mentally-damaged children, with considerable success. I don't know the general percentages, but my ex-partner used to look after such children professionally, and although she had some political reservations about professor Skinner (one of the pioneers of the science) she found it very effective, generally. I'll try to find some figures purporting to be 'success rates', although it would still depend on how one defines 'success', wouldn't it? :wink:
Wilson wrote:Those without a normal capacity for empathy who decide to go with their natural anti-social tendencies should, in my opinion, be punished and isolated - mostly because they are dangerous to the rest of us.
Thundril wrote:And if training them to behave well worked better without punishment, would you find that more acceptable to you, (more satisfying) or less?
I'd be all in favor of doing whatever works, but honesty compels me to admit that I get satisfaction in seeing nasty people get their comeuppance.
I like honesty. It makes other things easier.
Wilson wrote: Don't you, a little?
Yes, as a first, unthinking response. I am a creature of my cultural history.

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Re: Free will

#99 Post by Emma Woolgatherer » March 10th, 2011, 4:31 pm

Did anyone listen to Melvyn Bragg's In Our Time at 9 o'clock this morning on Radio 4, with Simon Blackburn, Helen Beebee and Galen Strawson? It was about free will. Interesting, but obviously it was hard to do the subject justice in 45 minutes. It got me searching for more about Galen Strawson, though (because his views were closest to mine), and I found this, from the Believer, March 2003. Entertaining, I thought. And it covers much of what we have discussed in this thread so far.

Emma

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Re: Free will

#100 Post by animist » March 10th, 2011, 4:43 pm

Emma Woolgatherer wrote:Did anyone listen to Melvyn Bragg's In Our Time at 9 o'clock this morning on Radio 4, with Simon Blackburn, Helen Beebee and Galen Strawson? It was about free will. Interesting, but obviously it was hard to do the subject justice in 45 minutes. It got me searching for more about Galen Strawson, though (because his views were closest to mine), and I found this, from the Believer, March 2003. Entertaining, I thought. And it covers much of what we have discussed in this thread so far.

Emma
yuk, another challenge to FW and MR. I had better get off my reply to you before I get discouraged by GS! Was Simon Blackburn arguing the opposite?

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Re: Free will

#101 Post by animist » March 10th, 2011, 9:00 pm

Emma Woolgatherer wrote: But I think the distinction between persuasion and coercion is not a clear-cut one anyway. Putting psychological pressure on people [---][/---] overawing them or intimidating them with authority or expertise, making them feel anxious, stressed, foolish, embarrassed, frightening them not with the threat of direct violence but with the threat of supposedly natural consequences [---][/---] might be seen as something in between coercion and persuasion, or might be seen as having elements of both.
yes I think that is true and probably a better example for the phrase's application than is brainwashing (I've got the reassuring voice of Pat Boone in my head now, singing "Friendly Persuasion" - as opposed to coercive persuasion?) But what I meant to stress was that coercion and persuasion are in principle inconsistent when applied to a potentially free human intelligence; I suppose that coercive persuasion could be seen as a type of manipulation, to stick with my little trinity of freedom-limiting activities
Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
animist wrote:... what I mean is that there are IMO good consequences from the fact that people do in fact believe in personal responsibility - it sort of works
Yes, I think so too. But I think there might also be bad consequences. And I wonder whether something slightly different might also work. And perhaps even work better, in the long term.
what do you mean by that?
Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
animist wrote:Having the feeling of free will on the whole means we are acting freely, IMO; but whether we feel we have moral responsibility need not be linked to whether we actually do - a criminal who (honestly!) did not feel he was doing wrong could still be held morally responsible, IMO
Right. That's what I was getting at. So when you said that we had moral responsibility in the same way that we had free will, you weren't talking about the subjective experience of it. Presumably, then, you meant that we are responsible when we're not coerced, constrained or manipulated. Responsibility is a consequence of voluntariness. So why is that? If our actions are determined by things that are not within our control, like our genes and our upbringing and every little thing that happens to us, why are we morally responsible for them?
I've tried to answer that lower down though I doubt that it will convince you. I suppose that it is basically the human capacity to ponder different alternatives on their merits and make a choice which is central to what I think is free will (however imperfect it is). In the case of the criminal, if he is intelligent he may be capable of such thinking, although he will almost certainly choose the "wrong" course of action; in that case, he deserves "punishment", although this should aim at enlightening and reforming him as well as deterring and restraining him
Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
animist wrote:I don't think you should talk about strong and weak responsibility. Either people can in principle be held accountable for their actions or not, and you seem in fact not to think that they ever can, which I find hard to get my head around, especially when you admit that you act as though you do believe in moral responsibility.
I hope I've made things a little clearer in my previous post. I'll come back to this later, but to pick up on your phrasing, "held accountable for their actions", I'd say that that might be the sort of thing I had in mind when I talked of responsibility in a weak sense. If you're held accountable for your actions, you're expected to account for them, explain them, as far as you understand the explanation.
no, that's not relevant to being accountable in a moral sense - why should I give an account of my actions if there is nothing of which I could be accused? What would this accounting consist of? The word surely implies that I am indeed responsible for whatever I have done
Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
animist wrote:I can't help imagining how you would apply your view in a hypothetical situation in which you were really badly let down by someone - you were very upset and angry, and everyone else agreed that the person had wronged you; imagine that much later on he sincerely apologised and asked for your forgiveness - would you say (against his own protestations) that he had not done anything wrong for which he should apologise (because he could not help doing what he did), and, moreover, that therefore you could and did not forgive him because him had not committed any wrong? I am not sure that this would actually being doing him any favour by this, and I imagine he would find your attitude bizarre (as I do, if that is actually how you feel)
OK, to tackle your example, if someone deliberately did something that hurt me, and then much later sincerely apologised (and explained why he did it, from his point of view), I would be glad of his apology (and explanation), and would say so, though I might have wished it to be expressed earlier. An apology is an expression of one's regret or remorse for having done something wrong, something that has hurt someone (or could have hurt someone). It indicates a certain degree of compassion for the person one has hurt (or could have hurt). These are subjective emotions, and it is perfectly reasonable for someone to express them, whether they are morally responsible for their actions or not. People apologise when something they do causes harm, even if the actions were clearly not deliberate. It would be natural for a person to apologise for accidentally running over someone's cat, for example. And it would be natural for someone to accept such an apology, graciously, even if he or she didn't consider the person to be to blame. In the case of your example, I would not say that he didn't have anything to apologise for, not if I had been hurt by his actions, but I might recognise some kind of excuse in the explanation that he gave, and express some kind of understanding.
well, I was not really concerned with apologies, which, as you say, are frequently made just to keep each other happy
Emma Woolgatherer wrote: Perhaps my interpretation of the term forgiveness is different from yours, but I don't think it is necessary for someone to be morally responsible for his or her harmful actions in order to be forgiven for them. Forgiveness means renouncing blame, anger and resentment, or excusing someone for his or her harmful actions. If I had never actually felt anger or resentment, had never blamed the person concerned, then I could reasonably say that I had already forgiven him. It is unlikely, though, that I would not have felt any anger at all.
yes, I think we do differ. You mention excusing, but surely that means a recognition that the person was not responsible for whatever he "did"; I would say that excusing was incompatible with forgiving (so that Jesus's plea "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do" should really have said "excuse" instead). You call forgiveness renouncing, but the latter implies a deliberate and conscious rethinking of one's judgment; I think forgiveness is not this but a sort of generosity which does in fact retain the idea of the other's guilt (of course, the "cause" of many instances of forgiveness, as opposed to the conscious reasoning involved in the decision to forgive, may be simply the dulling passage of time); so I don't see still that you could forgive someone in this sense (even if they wanted this forgiveness, rather to be excused by you)
Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
animist wrote:I don't think that it true as a generalisation that our view of the world is not deterministic, I think it is (who seriously denies that "everything has a cause"?)
First, strictly speaking, "everything has a cause" is not determinism; it's ... um ... causalism, I think. Or perhaps causationism. Whatever the correct term, it holds that everything [---][/---] every state of affairs, including every human event, act and decision [---][/---] is the consequence of antecedent states of affairs. But determinism goes one step further, and holds that everything [---][/---] every state of affairs, including every human event, act and decision [---][/---] is the inevitable consequence of antecedent states of affairs. I do think that's an important distinction.
I don't think it is a useful distinction, and I think this goes back to page 1 of this thread when I queried your distinction between determined and predetermined - I don't think you showed a clear distinction then in response to what I said, and are you now making another one?
Emma wrote:I'm not wedded to pure determinism (that's why I keep adding qualifiers like "allowing for a certain degree of true randomness"), but I am happy with causalism or causationism or whatever.
I am not sure that the randomness you mention is relevant here - it relates to areas of science rather than behaviour and as such attacks the very idea of universal causality (do you remember the long wrangle over this in the Arguments for the Existence of God thread between Mickey D and the rest of us?); anyway, the phrase "sufficient cause" denotes an inevitability, surely, so I don't see your distinction between causation and determinism at all; I think the confusion may arise because a cause may not in fact be a sufficient cause, so that its effect was not in fact inevitable
Emma wrote:Second, when I say that I think that most people's view of the world is not deterministic, I'm not saying that most people would seriously deny that "everything has a cause", or even that "everything has a cause, and is the inevitable outcome of that cause". Most people wouldn't even think in those terms. I certainly didn't, until relatively recently. But my impression is that most people do believe in the kind of free will that implies a negation of determinism, even if they wouldn't express it in such terms. The self that rises above all the influences of biology and environment to act entirely independently of them may be an impossible abstraction, but it's something that people feel, in my view
no, that is to beg the question: they do believe in free will, but this does not conflict with determinism. It's not a question of the self rising above something else, just that a rational and free (in my sense) human being is normally held to be capable of acting responsibly, whether this has moral implications or not. You say that people don't think in terms of causes, but I think they do - for instance, the expression "no smoke without fire" is pointing to the assumed universality of the belief that everything has a cause, and this coexists with ascribing personal responsibility for actions in certain cases
Emma wrote: I think that most people have a deep-seated faith in personal responsibility. They believe passionately in it, and get angry at the suggestion that someone might not have it.
if they believe so passionately in this, maybe that is because they can feel themselves exercising it
Emma wrote:
animist wrote:well, if something is impossible it must be nonsense, even though it is possible to talk of it (like a square circle).
I said that discussions that refer to impossible abstractions aren't necessarily nonsense. Just as discussions that refer to the square roots of negative numbers aren't necessarily nonsense. (And the square roots of negative numbers, while being impossible, seem to have been quite useful.)
that's a good point - I suppose I would call negative numbers and their roots imaginary rather than impossible in the sense of contradictory or meaningless, though certainly you can't actually have minus two pounds
Emma wrote:
animist wrote:So the main disagreement is about whether the free will which is compatible with determinism allows moral responsibility and hence justifies blaming people for what they have done; you don't think it does and I do.
Yes, that seems to be the crux of it. But as I've said, I am open to persuasion on this point. So I'm looking forward to hearing your supporting arguments.
the main justification is that in fact it makes sense to say that someone could have acted differently; this is not going back to the metaphysical free will idea, but simply to that of rationality plus freedom in my sense: if I am rational and free (in my sense) then I am the master of my decisions. Yes, in some sense my eventual choice is determined ultimately and inevitably by factors outside my control like my own genes and background (odd that you are not actually a determinist!) but it is more relevantly and immediately self-determined to the extent that I am rational and not coerced, constrained or manipulated; the fact that my personality itself is inevitably not self-determined does not matter. Also, by refusing to accept any degree of personal responsibility (which is more than accountability, whatever you mean by that), you ignore the relevant differences of degree that we apply to the concept (by allowing for limits on it), and as I say, I feel that you in effect do accept it in practice - as I don't know how you behave, I of course cannot prove this. I get the impression that some of your strength of feeling over this may relate to the topics you mentioned in a previous post, eg the tabloids' condemnation of offenders as irredeemably "evil" or "sick", and the implication that if someone deserves to be punished, this is essentially a matter of retribution for its own sake; but why not think instead that the offender has by his action lost his right not to have society intervene in his life in a corrective way? Going back to the idea of freedom to act differently, I have been reading Nowell-Smith on this, and his argument is that to say that someone could have acted differently is compatible with describing him as a certain sort of personality (thus to say that I am lazy does not mean that I am incapable on a particular occasion of being energetic, simply that this effort is less rather than more probable, so my disposition to be lazy does not actually cause me to be so on a particular occasion). Saying that someone could have acted differently simply means that they would have acted differently under different circumstances; the question of freedom barely arises, in fact. N-S does not make this last point, but what he does say is "freedom is the ability to fulfil one's aims, not the state of being aimless", and I think this is important: your argument requires an impossible sense of the word "freedom" in which we would be blank slates, not human at all basically. N-S also points out that using one's personality as an excuse for morally bad behaviour is fallacious ("hereditary tendencies are not causes and do not compel"), and uses the analogy of Mozart's musical genius: the fact that this was due to his heredity etc does not detract from the fact that the music was his own.

My last thought at present is that maybe the dispute is partly wrongly named: the question is not so much of free will as free choice, but even if we replace "will" by "choice" the issue is not quite clarified in relation to your argument. Imagine me as a conscious, rational and relatively unconstrained agent who is nevertheless, like everyone else, the product in some complex way of his genes and environment. For any decision, my choices are limited not only by the nature of options themselves but by my "bias" (for want of a better word) - I mean this "conditioning" as Thundril called it. But this type of limitation is just that: a limitation, not a negation. The fact that certain choices are in practice not open to me (because it would be absurdly out of character for me to choose them even if objectively they are available) does not mean that no choices are open to me, or that it is foregone conclusion which of these I will take on a particular occasion.
So I think that is, or can be, a "degree of freedom" in certain choices.

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