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Motivations, Intentions, or Consequences
Posted: 03 November 2006 08:34 AM   [ Ignore ]
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LetĚs take an example: A mugger stabs a person in the gut during a robbery and runs away with his wallet.  Neighbors who see this capture the mugger and turn him over to the police.  While the victimĚs wound is being cared for at the hospital they find a potentially lethal cancer.  It is removed and the victim is given a clean bill of health. 

While we canĚt be certain, it appears that the mugger was motivated by taking the victimĚs money.  Since he stabbed him it appears that he intended to injure the victim.  However, the consequences of his action were quite positive and lifesaving.  Should the mugger go to jail or be given an award?  Do the person’s motivations, intentions, or the consequences determine the ethical nature of the action? 

I believe motivations demonstrate the ethics, but itĚs almost impossible to identify them.  Intentions are the next best bet, since we can usually guess at them.  Consequences are the least reliable, especially if they arenĚt what one would normally predict from the actions.

Which do you think are the basis for one’s ethical behavior?

Occam

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Posted: 03 November 2006 04:17 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Kant suspected the moral law was within us, and evolutionary psychology now seems to confirm it. Our ethical behavior is encoded in our genes.

There is a new book out called Moral Minds by M. Hauser. He thinks that the moral grammar functions in the same way as Chomsky’s universal grammar as the innate neural machinery for language.The universal grammar is a system of rules for generating syntax and vocabulary but does not specify any particular language. That is supplied by the culture in which a child grows up.

Looks interesting! It’s the next one on my list.

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Posted: 04 November 2006 11:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Often I imagine how great it would have been had I majored in philosophy, but this isn’t one of those times.  I can voice my opinion, as a philosophical layman, that Kant was an exceedingly brilliant idiot. 

And he’s parroting Socrates view that much knowledge is inborn.  Yes, one can lead a slave boy to come up with the area of a square being doubled if the side is the length of the diagonal.  However, that kind of reasoning should work just as well with language.  I don’t have the slightest recollection of being taught to speak English yet I do it effortlessly.  Strangely, no matter how hard I try, I just can’t seem to speak Mandarin.  Shouldn’t that be innate or genetically programed, too?

We have a great many examples, some of whom we call sociopaths, of people who don’t seem to have any genetic proclivity to ethics of any sort.

I believe ethics are taught when we are infants in a social [family] setting by others doing things for us, by us being praised when we do things that help others and being criticized when we do something to hurt others.

And you missed the point of the question.  Is our ethical (no matter to what degree) behavior mediated by motivation, intention or consequences?

Occam

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Posted: 04 November 2006 02:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Occam, I find this little confusing:

While we can’t be certain, it appears that the mugger was motivated by taking the victim’s money. Since he stabbed him it appears that he intended to injure the victim. However, the consequences of his action were quite positive and lifesaving. Should the mugger go to jail or be given an award? Do the person’s motivations, intentions, or the consequences determine the ethical nature of the action?

The mugger’s motivation was to take the (future) victim’s money. Fine. But I believe that that was also the mugger’s intention (not stabbing him!) In the action of stealing the victim’s money, the mugger (besides stabbing him) might have also kicked him, punched him, etc. But these were not his intentions. Equally, the consequences were that the mugger took the victim’s money. The mugger’s motivation, intention and consequences were identically wrong.

Yes, the victim got his cancer removed, but that has nothing to do with the fact that the mugger took his money. Perhaps, when the victim was leaving the hospital after the cancer operation, he got hit by a bus and died. The mugger’s behaviour was ethically wrong, no matter what happened to the victim as a result of the mugger’s action.

So what are the basis for one’s ethical behavior?

Well, the BASIS are genes! I won’t dispute Kan’t philosophy, because I don’t know it well enough. I am not an expert on evolutionary psychology either. But, as Stephen Colbert would say, I can ‘feel it in my guts’ that they (Kant and Hauser) are right. :wink:

I believe ethics are taught when we are infants in a social [family] setting by others doing things for us, by us being praised when we do things that help others and being criticized when we do something to hurt others.

From The New York Times by Nicholas Wade:

Suppose you are standing by a railroad track. Ahead, in a deep cutting from which no escape is possible, five people are walking on the track. You hear a train approaching. Beside you is a lever with which you can switch the train to a sidetrack. One person is walking on the sidetrack. Is it O.K. to pull the lever and save the five people, though one will die?

Most people say it is.

Assume now you are on a bridge overlooking the track. Ahead, five people on the track are at risk. You can save them by throwing down a heavy object into the path of the approaching train. One is available beside you, in the form of a fat man. Is it O.K. to push him to save the five?

Most people say no, although lives saved and lost are the same as in the first problem.

Why does the moral grammar generate such different judgments in apparently similar situations? It makes a distinction, Dr. Hauser writes, between a foreseen harm (the train killing the person on the track) and an intended harm (throwing the person in front of the train), despite the fact that the consequences are the same in either case. It also rates killing an animal as more acceptable than killing a person.

Many people cannot articulate the foreseen/intended distinction, Dr. Hauser says, a sign that it is being made at inaccessible levels of the mind. This inability challenges the general belief that moral behavior is learned. For if people cannot articulate the foreseen/intended distinction, how can they teach it?

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Posted: 04 November 2006 03:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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[quote author=“Occam”]And he’s parroting Socrates view that much knowledge is inborn.  Yes, one can lead a slave boy to come up with the area of a square being doubled if the side is the length of the diagonal.  However, that kind of reasoning should work just as well with language.  I don’t have the slightest recollection of being taught to speak English yet I do it effortlessly.  Strangely, no matter how hard I try, I just can’t seem to speak Mandarin.  Shouldn’t that be innate or genetically programed, too?

I’m not sure what you mean, Occam. We know that language (Chomsky’s ‘generative grammar’) is inborn, but the particular language you learn is cultural. The innate, genetically programmed stuff is the generative grammar.

[quote author=“Occam”]We have a great many examples, some of whom we call sociopaths, of people who don’t seem to have any genetic proclivity to ethics of any sort.

We also have people who are born aphasic. Probably both are due to genetics. There are cultural ethical universals, as people doing cross-cultural studies of ethical intuitions have discovered. For more on this I would definitely suggest Pinker’s books for starters. (Language Instinct for language, How the Mind Works and Blank Slate for the ‘bigger’ questions of innateness and human nature).

[quote author=“Occam”]I believe ethics are taught when we are infants in a social [family] setting by others doing things for us, by us being praised when we do things that help others and being criticized when we do something to hurt others.

This is akin to generative grammar with language. We have certain ethical universals (a common human nature) which is then played upon by cultural particularities. Infants are not born as ethical blank slates any more than they are born as linguistic, spatial, etc., blank slates.

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Posted: 20 November 2006 03:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Doug is so right. And we use our moral sense so much better than previous generations. See my thread o n humanist morality-ninverse. :wink:

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Fr. Griggs rests in his Socratic ignorance and humble naturalism.He might be wrong!His cognitive defects might impact his posting. Logic is the bane of theists.‘Religion is mythinformation.“Reason saves, not that fanatic Galilean!
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Posted: 17 March 2007 06:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Re: Motivations, Intentions, or Consequences

[quote author=“Occam”]

Which do you think are the basis for one’s ethical behavior?

Occam

Deontology and consequentialism?

I’m still undecided but I guess I lean more towards that it should be the intentions behind ones actions that they should be held accountable for.

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Posted: 17 March 2007 12:34 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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smile  I am for both deontology and teleology as I find intentions and consequensces both play a role in morality .I would stress also virtue ethics also. If I intend a good thing with good actions and it turns out wrong, one could call me good.One could do something with a wrong intention and a good result ; one would be immoral but the reuslt is still moral .One would use the virtues [Forbidden Fruit] to intend rightly.[ Not to self-promote but to show others attacking or agreewith me and to spur on the dialologue ,use your search engines for morgan-lynn lamberth .] :wink:

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Fr. Griggs rests in his Socratic ignorance and humble naturalism.He might be wrong!His cognitive defects might impact his posting. Logic is the bane of theists.‘Religion is mythinformation.“Reason saves, not that fanatic Galilean!
  ’ Life is its own validation and reward and ultimate purpose.”

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Posted: 17 March 2007 03:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Should the mugger go to jail or be given an award? Do the person’s motivations, intentions, or the consequences determine the ethical nature of the action?

You guys are making this harder than it has to be. 

1) The mugger did what he/she did not on his/her own free will.  He/she did it because of the determinants of his/her life up to the moment of the thought of the crime or actual crime itself.  So “punishment” or “retribution” - the real reason for jails and most of the current criminal “justice” system - are immoral right off. 

2) That the stabbed person found curable cancer because of the knife wound falls under the heading of ‘damned lucky.’  Lucky he did not die from the wound, and lucky he got to the hospital just when he did.  He can be “thankful” of these things - the way they turned out - but that’s about it.

3) What must be the response to the mugger problem - as well as with all bad behavior - is to change the environment so as to allow his/her needs to be met less radically and less dangerously.

 

 

And PS, do yourselves a favor and ignore Pinker - there IS no human nature the way he describes it.  Read David Buller on this.

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Posted: 17 March 2007 06:42 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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[quote author=“Barry”]

Should the mugger go to jail or be given an award? Do the person’s motivations, intentions, or the consequences determine the ethical nature of the action?

You guys are making this harder than it has to be. 

3) What must be the response to the mugger problem - as well as with all bad behavior - is to change the environment so as to allow his/her needs to be met less radically and less dangerously.

And PS, do yourselves a favor and ignore Pinker - there IS no human nature the way he describes it.  Read David Buller on this.

No one said philosophy was easy.

The response is to change the environment? Yeah, but the “mugger problem” is that the act has already happened. There are many proposed solutions to “mugging” etc. And what if one said there is no human behavior the way Buller describes it?

Read Pinker.

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Posted: 17 March 2007 08:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Punisment is just another determinant in the causal chain .Anway , they have to kept under control for the sake of others. They can learn to get new causes ,for instance better friends. They have choices.It is just harder for them to exercise causal free will than others .

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  ’ Life is its own validation and reward and ultimate purpose.”

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Posted: 18 March 2007 08:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Occam said:

I believe motivations demonstrate the ethics, but it’s almost impossible to identify them. Intentions are the next best bet, since we can usually guess at them. Consequences are the least reliable, especially if they aren’t what one would normally predict from the actions.

Which do you think are the basis for one’s ethical behavior?

I’ve said before (and I’ve given up arguing the point with some), I think the only problem with the notion of “free will” is basing it on some mystical non-physical cause. I think the fact that everything we do is deep down related to quantum mechanins and the flapping of a butterfly’s wings somewhere doesn’t change the fundamental perception that most normal humans have the perception of motivations and intentions and control over their actions. I think this is sufficient for people to be held responsible for choosing to do or not do something. Therefore, the issue in determining responsibility for one’s actions, and their consequences, centers on what the actor intended, how much control they could reasonably be expected to have over their actions, how effectively they could or should have forseen the consequences, and a host of mitigating factors.

In the mugger example, taking other peoples money by force is established as wrong in our culture, so acting in any way with that intent is wrong. If the harm done to the victime is accidental, the responsibility for the harm is less than if it is intentional, but creating the circumstances in which harm occured as a result of intending to commit a crime still leaves the mugger responsible to some extent for the resultant harm. Clearly, one cannot make a rational argument that the well-being of people is best served by allowing violent attackers to claim mitigation of culpability because of unintended positive consequences such as finding a tumor. Even stabbing someone with the intent of looking for a tumor (and hence doing them a service) is so unlikely to be of benefit that it doesn’t make sense to sanction it despite the benign intention.

So assigning responsibility is a complex business, but it takes account of intentions to a great degree, and mitigating factors to a lesser degree. To me that seems rational and a lot more practical than arguing that none of us have any real responsibility or control over our actions because we’re mere expressions of physical processes that in themselves have no agency or intentionality.

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Posted: 18 March 2007 09:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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skepticdave

No one said philosophy was easy.

I never said it was.  Philosophical Determinism is certainly not easy, yet is what I am advocating for as a way to understand this.  I was saying that you all were looking all over the place for philosophical responses instead of the most direct, relevant place.

skepticdave:

The response is to change the environment? Yeah, but the “mugger problem” is that the act has already happened. There are many proposed solutions to “mugging” etc. And what if one said there is no human behavior the way Buller describes it?

1) Yes, this mugging already took place.  Our environment is still screwed up.  So, what to do?  Neither reward or punishment ... and certainly not jail as it is constituted right now.  But we can’t focus on what to do with the symptoms of a bad environment without seeking a cure of the disease(s) themselves.  We don’t even have a proper rehabilitation system, and I am not sure that we could find one that would have a lasting affect on many people because, well, how can rehab work well if the reasons for the actions of the mugger have not changed? 

If the action is serious enough, yes, we need to protect others from this mugger and the mugger from others - and from the current ‘criminal retribution system,’ so will have to find creative ways to make this person’s life better so mugging is not even an option in his mind anymore.  He did not mug for the heck of it, after all.

2) Buller does not say there is no human behavior, nor does he say there is a certain kind of human behaviour.  He says we have multiple natures, that we are plastic creatures, and that the universal human nature Pinker, Cosmidas, etc., suggest exists… does not.  I think Buller’s arguments are better than Pinker’s.
Skeptic griggsey:

They have choices.It is just harder for them to exercise causal free will than others .


No.  It’s just as impossible for them as for us because there IS no such free will.  And what do you mean by “causal” free will?  If someone’s actions have causes, there is no free will.  ‘Casual free will’ is an oxymoron, it seems to me.

Brennen:

I think the fact that everything we do is deep down related to quantum mechanins and the flapping of a butterfly’s wings somewhere doesn’t change the fundamental perception that most normal humans have the perception of motivations and intentions and control over their actions. I think this is sufficient for people to be held responsible for choosing to do or not do something. Therefore, the issue in determining responsibility for one’s actions, and their consequences, centers on what the actor intended, how much control they could reasonably be expected to have over their actions, how effectively they could or should have forseen the consequences, and a host of mitigating factors.

1) Brennen, quantum mechanics only affects the micro universe and not the macro. The uncertainty of QM does not apply to human actions.  Also, even if it did, it does not suggest there is free will.  QM states that some things are really random, but you can’t have free will if you have randomness.  In fact, randomness - if on the macro level (which it is not) -would lead to chaos - not free will or determinism.  And the butterfly idea is sci fi (Heinlein) or new age philosophy as portrayed recently in the film “What the Bleep do we Know?”, which - thankfully - CSI has debunked in the pages of Skeptical Inquirer.

2) People can be accountable to their actions (fess up, admit, do something to ‘make up’ for them, and make whatever attempts possible to rehab themselves), but they cannot be held responsible (opening them up for punishment, retrubution, etc) for actions they could not have NOT taken.

Brennen:

Clearly, one cannot make a rational argument that the well-being of people is best served by allowing violent attackers to claim mitigation of culpability because of unintended positive consequences such as finding a tumor.

Um, sure it can.  Not in the sense of NOT holding the person accountable, but accountability does not naturally lead to retribution, jails, punishment, etc.  If the MUGGER has a tumor which can be shown to have caused his mugging behavior, that’s even more proof than just philosophical determinism that he was not in control of his actions ... this person, more than others perhaps, needs to be understood even more in the fashion I am suggesting.  If you are talking about the victim’s tumor discovery… then no.  That has nothing to do with the muggers actions because it was an unknown at the time of the stabbing.
Brennen:

To me that seems rational and a lot more practical than arguing that none of us have any real responsibility or control over our actions because we’re mere expressions of physical processes that in themselves have no agency or intentionality.


But that is just the case, Brennen…. and not just due to physical processes like genetics, but environment processes like the “muggers’ entire life up to the mugging.  People can be held accountable (as I defined above), but not responsible (as I defined above).  That does not mean we don’t DO anything about the mugger in regard to his safety, his rehabilitation, society’s rehabilitation, and the safety of others this mugger might come into contact with (for the overall sake of society BECAUSE his actions are determined.) 

Best to help change his determinants than put him in jail which either won’t have any affect on his rehab or (most likely), make him far worse by the time he gets out.

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Posted: 18 March 2007 10:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Barry,

We do have some disagreements here based on notions of free will and human nature, but I think you may have misunderstood some of what I was saying.

Brennen, quantum mechanics only affects the micro universe and not the macro. The uncertainty of QM does not apply to human actions. Also, even if it did, it does not suggest there is free will. QM states that some things are really random, but you can’t have free will if you have randomness. In fact, randomness - if on the macro level (which it is not) -would lead to chaos - not free will or determinism. And the butterfly idea is sci fi (Heinlein) or new age philosophy as portrayed recently in the film “What the Bleep do we Know?”, which - thankfully - CSI has debunked in the pages of Skeptical Inquirer.


I agree with you here, and I don’t think these things are really, on the macro level, detrminants of our behavior. The only reason I mentioned QM or the butterfly was to begin by arguing that whatever examples of complex determinism you give, I don’t think they invalidate the concept of personal choice or responsibility. I know we disagree on this, but I didn’t want to create the impression that I thought QM or buttterfly wings were specifically responsible for people’s choices.

People can be accountable to their actions (fess up, admit, do something to ‘make up’ for them, and make whatever attempts possible to rehab themselves), but they cannot be held responsible (opening them up for punishment, retrubution, etc) for actions they could not have NOT taken.

I think I’m using “held responsible” to mean the same thing you mean by “held accountable.” I don’t believe in retributive justice either. Punishment as “justice” is a holdover from the Old Testament and completely useless. I bilieve in responding to innapropriate behavior in ways that can be emirically demonstrated to reduce the incidence and consequences of such behavior. I don’t think you and I would completley agree on what those responses would be, since I think changing the circumstances that lead people to crime is important but not sufficient or as effective in the end as you suppose, but I do agree that the idea of “punishment” accomplishes nothing good.

I think it is a mistake, though, to say that any statement that we have free will (by which I mean only that we have the ability to actively consider our circumstances and choose or reject specific actions) is tantamount to saying we believe in retributive justice. As you know by now, I don’t give the environmental factors as high a proportion of the responsibility for people’s actions as you do. They undeniably matter, but I believe in behavioral tendancies and predispositions that are genetic and then subsequently modified by environement. If environment (or genetics) were complete and direct determinantes of all behavior without the intermediary of cognition and choice, then there would be no meaningful concept of responsibility. Some people here believe this is actually the case, but I do not.

Um, sure it can. Not in the sense of NOT holding the person accountable, but accountability does not naturally lead to retribution, jails, punishment, etc. If the MUGGER has a tumor which can be shown to have caused his mugging behavior, that’s even more proof than just philosophical determinism that he was not in control of his actions ... this person, more than others perhaps, needs to be understood even more in the fashion I am suggesting. If you are talking about the victim’s tumor discovery… then no. That has nothing to do with the muggers actions because it was an unknown at the time of the stabbing.

Yes, I did mean the victim’s tumor. Occam was asking whether an unintended positive consequence of a behavior (the victim found a cancer earlier than would otherwise have occured and so could be treated more ffectively than if he had not been stabbed) otherwise judged to be wrong could remove the culpability from the actor, and I was responding “no.”


I think you’re convinced that using the term “responsible” and believing people make active choices and can exert some control over their behavior is equivalent to arguing for retributive justice. Free will
has been used as an argument for punishing people, but that’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is that I do not think determinism invalidates the idea that people can choose to act or not to act under certain circumstances. I stress every time this subject comes up that I recognize a host of mitigating/complicating factors, including the circumstances (socioeconomic, psychological, physiological, and even genetic) that lead one to behave in certain ways. I accept the idea that we are, as I said “expressions of physical processes that in themselves do not have agency or intentionality.” What I do not accept is that this invalidates the fact that part of our physical makeup is a nervous system which mediates behavior, and that this nervous system generates behavior by a complex, poorly understood process that includes the perception that we deliberate and make moral choices. I think this perception is accurate on the proximate level regardless of how far back one wishes to go in terms of ultimate explanatons (environment for you, genetics for others, underlying quantum mechanical laws for still others). We do consider and decide, and this means we have reponsibility (or accountability, if you prefer) for what we decide and what we do, subject the the list of mitigations I mentioned, and others I did not.  I realize we probably will not agree on what causes people to behave as they do, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that because I have a different set of ideas for what generates behavior that I automatically have a certain idea of how best to affect that behave so that harm is minimized and good maximized.

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Posted: 18 March 2007 11:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Brennen:

I think we agree for the most part.  I did misunderstand some of what you were saying. I DO also think genetics are vital to understanding human behavior, I just happen to think we are plastic enough that despite what even Dave Buller thinks, environment is key to how we actually behave.. and by environment, I mean natural and human-made.

As for free will/determinism and responsibilty (not retribution and/or punishment), I am not sure we dissagree much either.  I just think we have to be very careful not to blame or praise people for things they did (choices they made), because they could not have done otherwise all else being equal.  But you are correct, the important thing here is HOW we address in the real world the muggers, rapists, murderers, etc.  Thus far, our society has gotten that very wrong.  I think either one of us would suggest better methods!

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Posted: 22 March 2007 09:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Brennan

[quote author=“mckenzievmd”]

I’ve said before (and I’ve given up arguing the point with some), I think the only problem with the notion of “free will” is basing it on some mystical non-physical cause. I think the fact that everything we do is deep down related to quantum mechanins and the flapping of a butterfly’s wings somewhere doesn’t change the fundamental perception that most normal humans have the perception of motivations and intentions and control over their actions. I think this is sufficient for people to be held responsible for choosing to do or not do something. Therefore, the issue in determining responsibility for one’s actions, and their consequences, centers on what the actor intended, how much control they could reasonably be expected to have over their actions, how effectively they could or should have forseen the consequences, and a host of mitigating factors.

What is control over our actions?

Do you think we have this control even if what we do is the only thing we can do?

If so I agree we have it.

What does it mean to say could or should have?

I’m not arguing that what happens is the only thing that could happen but I am arguing that as far as we are concerned it might as well be.

The control and choice making ability we have is compatible with what happens being the one thing that can happen.

A belief in any kind of control or choice making beyond that I believe is erroneous and harmful.

We may well agree I’m not sure?

Stephen

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