I can’t believe there is still a debate about “the crisis of responsibility” if there is no free will
Posted: 20 May 2011 02:28 PM   [ Ignore ]
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This post was prompted by Sixfootbrit’s “I can’t believe there is still a debate about free will.” http://www.centerforinquiry.net/forums/viewthread/10577/

I’ll not defend a position here whether people have ‘free will’ or not, but wish to propose a simple argument that even IF people do not have free will, there is no “crisis of responsibility”.

The supposed “crisis of responsibility” originates in ideas such as, for example, “If there is no free will, then people ought not be held responsible for their actions” being considered factual statements. The “crisis of responsibility” is that if people are not held responsible for their actions, then societies will likely fall apart into chaos.

I see this as making the logical error of not distinguishing between a factual statement (what fuzzy thinking might consider the above example) and a values statement (which the above example is). 

For example, if our dominant purpose is to maintain the overriding value of not holding people responsible for their actions if there is no free will, then the example statement is true and we have upheld an overriding value and must accept the consequences of society’s likely destruction (if there is in fact no free will).
 
On the other hand, if our dominant purpose is to maintain the overriding value of “maximizing the well-being of people”, then the example is a false statement about our values. As an alternative, we could make the true statement about our values that “Even if there is no free will, people OUGHT to be held responsible for their actions to the degree expected to most likely increase human well-being”. Of course, this is approximately what most cultures do now.

I have read more sophisticated explanations of why there is no “crisis of responsibility” even if we have no free will, but found them overly complex and hard to follow. Perhaps the above might be useful answer to the “crisis of responsibility” problem for, in particular, people not well versed in philosophy.

[ Edited: 20 May 2011 02:49 PM by Mark Sloan ]
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Posted: 20 May 2011 06:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I’m all for what you mean, and for your attempt to put it into a form “useful… [for] people not well versed in philosophy”.  I’d even say you may have succeeded, a bit.  But you still might want to edit, a bit (especially the first bit, and the whole “factual statement” vs. “values statement” thing, which kind of just opens up an unnecessary field of potential debate) before being, say, facebook-ready.

I especially liked

we could make the true statement about our values that “Even if there is no free will, people OUGHT to be held responsible for their actions to the degree expected to most likely increase human well-being”. Of course, this is approximately what most cultures do now.

still seems like a bad idea to let the LFWers define “free will”, though.  I don’t even think they should have free reign over “libertarian free will”.  Contra-causal free will is a better phrase; “uncaused free will” may be better…

but, then, there still seems to be a contingent out there who equate causality with predictability… (sigh, words…)

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Posted: 20 May 2011 07:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I think that we are experiencing memetic natural selection, and that the memes that have survival value prevail. This is why altruism successfully coexists with theft, murder etc.

There is no free will in this, we do not ‘decide’ which meme to follow/integrate/propagate etc, it is a function of the survival ‘machinery’ that we embody. Let us not forget that our morality is rooted in basic biological/genetic drives (and from there down the causal chain).

We can walk about saying “there is no responsibility”, and this will be a potentially destructive meme, but it will still have to compete with our ‘ethics’ memes and a vast array of well matured memetic survival structures (as well as the ‘hard’ bio-wall of DNA/RNA). As a result, I think the net result of wider dissemination would be negligible.

I think that accepting you have no free will, that you are a passenger with a great view, is profoundly liberating. I don’t think it automatically turns you into a sociopath. We will be what we will be regardless, and the presence of a ‘hope I don’t become evil’ meme in your consciousness is a good sign that your memetic ‘immune system’ is doing it’s job.

To your point, I would submit that ‘ought’ is a fuzzy term, and is irrelevant. We will do what promotes our survival, or we won’t. Natural selection will do the rest.


(Edited to add the last sentence lest I derail the thread.)

[ Edited: 20 May 2011 07:50 PM by sixfootbrit ]
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Posted: 20 May 2011 07:37 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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isaac - 20 May 2011 06:55 PM

I’m all for what you mean, and for your attempt to put it into a form “useful… [for] people not well versed in philosophy”.  I’d even say you may have succeeded, a bit.  But you still might want to edit, a bit (especially the first bit, and the whole “factual statement” vs. “values statement” thing, which kind of just opens up an unnecessary field of potential debate) before being, say, facebook-ready.

I especially liked

we could make the true statement about our values that “Even if there is no free will, people OUGHT to be held responsible for their actions to the degree expected to most likely increase human well-being”. Of course, this is approximately what most cultures do now.

still seems like a bad idea to let the LFWers define “free will”, though.  I don’t even think they should have free reign over “libertarian free will”.  Contra-causal free will is a better phrase; “uncaused free will” may be better…

but, then, there still seems to be a contingent out there who equate causality with predictability… (sigh, words…)

Issac, Any suggestions for better descriptive words than not factual for “If there is no free will, then people ought not be held responsible for their actions” ?  Further comments on why those suggestions would be better than “factual” would be much appreciated.

I am comfortable talking about provisional ‘truth’ from inductive arguments typical in science, and have some familiarity with sound deductive arguments from premises if either of those are relevant.

I think know where you are coming from by preferring “contra-causal free will”. But I left free will undefined because the above argument is independent, so far as I know, of how free will is defined.  Some definitions of free will probably open up other arguments as to why there is no “crisis of responsibility” if there is no free will, but I am happy with what I think is the above more general argument.

I also intentionally did not distinguish between causal, which can be argued to be consistent with quantum mechanics, and deterministic (same as predictable?), which is not consistent with quantum mechanics, because, again, my argument for there being no “crisis of responsibility” is the same in either case.

[ Edited: 20 May 2011 07:45 PM by Mark Sloan ]
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Posted: 20 May 2011 08:15 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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sixfootbrit - 20 May 2011 07:32 PM

I think that we are experiencing memetic natural selection, and that the memes that have survival value prevail. This is why altruism successfully coexists with theft, murder etc.

There is no free will in this, we do not ‘decide’ which meme to follow/integrate/propagate etc, it is a function of the survival ‘machinery’ that we embody. Let us not forget that our morality is rooted in basic biological/genetic drives (and from there down the causal chain).

We can walk about saying “there is no responsibility”, and this will be a potentially destructive meme, but it will still have to compete with our ‘ethics’ memes and a vast array of well matured memetic survival structures (as well as the ‘hard’ bio-wall of DNA/RNA). As a result, I think the net result of wider dissemination would be negligible.

I think that accepting you have no free will, that you are a passenger with a great view, is profoundly liberating. I don’t think it automatically turns you into a sociopath. We will be what we will be regardless, and the presence of a ‘hope I don’t become evil’ meme in your consciousness is a good sign that your memetic ‘immune system’ is doing it’s job.

To your point, I would submit that ‘ought’ is a fuzzy term, and is irrelevant. We will do what promotes our survival, or we won’t. Natural selection will do the rest.


(Edited to add the last sentence lest I derail the thread.)

 

Sixfootbrit, yours seems to me to be too a weak argument to be convincing for people who strongly desire to not be held responsible for their actions. Do we really want to let such people find out through trial and error that “If there is no free will, then people ought not be held responsible for their actions” is a destructive meme? 

It seems to me much more useful and straightforward to tell them 1) that if they believe the above statement is true, then they have made a logical error by mistaking a values statement for a factual statement and 2) society is going to hold them responsible for what they do regardless of their ill informed opinions on the matter (responsible to the extent expected to maximize human well being).

Further just because a meme is popular and prevalent is no guarantee that it is beneficial to those who carry and spread it.  Memes can spread for lots of reasons that have nothing to do with the well being of the carriers.

No, ought is not a fuzzy term at all, at least as I use it.  As I use it here, ought depends on, and is justified by, a defined value or purpose, such as the well being of people.  Perhaps you are referring to moral oughts as fuzzy? Moral oughts, such as “You ought to obey the Golden Rule in order to be most likely to maximize durable happiness over your lifetime”, are the same to me as regular oughts such as: “You ought to water and fertilize your beans according to the best bean science if you want to maximize your bean harvest”. 

The source of all such purposes and values are people, who are natural born purpose generators. Animals who are not natural born purpose generators tend to not live long.

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Posted: 22 May 2011 04:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Mark Sloan - 20 May 2011 07:37 PM

I am comfortable talking about provisional ‘truth’ from inductive arguments typical in science, and have some familiarity with sound deductive arguments from premises if either of those are relevant.

I wasn’t questioning your competence, reasoning, or even rightness; I was just suggesting that if your goal is (and i don’t know that it is) to appeal to a very wide audience, it might be possible to make your point without introducing those concepts.

Of course, CCFW isn’t exactly the most familiar phrase, either.  Maybe: “Even if what we think of as ‘free will’ DOES operate according to the rules of a fully-caused universe, people still OUGHT to be held responsible for their actions to the degree expected to most likely increase human well-being”.

The advantage, i think, is that people whose worldview depends on the existence of SOMETHING called “free will” may not care to rationally consider the possibility that there is “no free will”.  Also, it’s nice not to leave compatibilism out in the cold, or imply that no such view is possible.  (Not that i think you think that, just that most people would probably take the phrase “no free will” to suggest that.)

I think know where you are coming from by preferring “contra-causal free will”. But I left free will undefined because the above argument is independent, so far as I know, of how free will is defined.  Some definitions of free will probably open up other arguments as to why there is no “crisis of responsibility” if there is no free will…

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Posted: 23 May 2011 12:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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isaac - 22 May 2011 04:24 PM

Of course, CCFW isn’t exactly the most familiar phrase, either.  Maybe: “Even if what we think of as ‘free will’ DOES operate according to the rules of a fully-caused universe, people still OUGHT to be held responsible for their actions to the degree expected to most likely increase human well-being”.

The advantage, i think, is that people whose worldview depends on the existence of SOMETHING called “free will” may not care to rationally consider the possibility that there is “no free will”.  Also, it’s nice not to leave compatibilism out in the cold, or imply that no such view is possible.  (Not that i think you think that, just that most people would probably take the phrase “no free will” to suggest that.)


Issac, I agree that my conclusion is equivalent to saying: “Even if what we think of as ‘free will’ DOES operate according to the rules of a fully-caused universe, people still OUGHT to be held responsible for their actions to the degree expected to most likely increase human well-being”.

But this is just an assertion.

My interest is in an easily understood rational argument as to why such an assertion is true (assuming the OUGHT is justified by the purpose of increasing human well-being). 

I could explain the assertion is true as a values statement (based on the given purpose) but the following statement would then be false: “If what we think of as ‘free will’ does operate according to the rules of a fully-caused universe, then people ought NOT be held responsible for their actions even if not holding them responsible decreases human well-being”. Then the supposed “crisis of responsibility” is just an error in logic.

The 20,000 word Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on compatibilism describes ten(?) or so generally recognize variations and the arguments for and AGAINST each. Why engage with this kind of mess when the question is readily resolved by recognizing it arises out of mistaking a values statement for a factual statement?

I have had otherwise serious people quote to me the closely related “Ought implies can” as if it were a an authoritative, unalterably true fact. It is not. It is a values statement which is either true or false depending on what overriding purpose justifies the “ought”.

Perhaps my argument would be clearer if I started from the point of describing why “Ought implies can” is not a factual statement.

Don’t be concerned about questioning my knowledge, reasoning, or rightness. Being questioned about them is why I post.

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Posted: 23 May 2011 01:53 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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People act according to what they believe.
If they believe in being rewarded for good behavior and having to deal with/suffer the consequences of bad behavior they will act accordingly in a causal fashion.

Like a cog or gear in the human process. If missing it alters the output/action.

If you consider yourself an independent process. One that has a successful/beneficial cog in place. You can take it on yourself to place this cog in other human process so an entire group of human process will succeed, gain the use of this beneficial cog.

The problem is I think that people think of some point in history as a single event. The past is an infinite number of process acting independently from each other that on occasion intersect. When these processes interact the result is new and unique.

These process again separate, follow different path and operate independent of each other. They alter because of interaction with other independent process and may come to interact again at some future point. That interaction will again be unique. Or they may never interact again. However they will certainly go on to affect really maybe infect other processes.

So you are just infecting some other “human” process with your special, successful cog.

What’s the problem?  grin

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Posted: 24 May 2011 12:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Mark Sloan - 23 May 2011 12:32 PM

Issac, I agree that my conclusion is equivalent to saying: “Even if what we think of as ‘free will’ DOES operate according to the rules of a fully-caused universe, people still OUGHT to be held responsible for their actions to the degree expected to most likely increase human well-being”.

maybe one could just say “...it would still increase human well-being to hold people responsible; so, if that’s what we value, then we can still do that.” 

It is possible, of course, that the supernaturalists do have a point—that outside authority does more to keep people in line than ownership of a decision/value, and taking responsibility for it oneself, for some people much of the time.  It must relate to “free will” in some complicated psychological way… something to do with difficulty conceptualizing the conscience as part of the self, or ease in dismissing it if it’s thought of as part of the self…?

The 20,000 word Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on compatibilism describes ten(?) or so generally recognize variations and the arguments for and AGAINST each.

I’ll have to look that up.  I’ve been thinking about how the differing views seem to vary, and just started a thread here about some different types of free will (all of which are ‘compatible’ in different ways—although i don’t go into it—with, um, causality).

I have had otherwise serious people quote to me the closely related “Ought implies can” as if it were a an authoritative, unalterably true fact. It is not… Perhaps my argument would be clearer if I started from the point of describing why “Ought implies can” is not a factual statement.

whereas i would more likely start by asking people what they mean by “can”... but i guess different tacks would work with different people at different times.

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