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A pragmatic discussion about free will
Posted: 11 April 2012 04:51 AM   [ Ignore ]
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I intentionally posted this in the Humanism forum rather than the Philosophy forum because I want this discussion to be pragmatic rather than philosophical. My question is this:

Does it really matter to my everyday life if human free will technically exists or not? And if so, how?

My feeling at this point is that it does not matter. Whether my actions are predetermined or not, I operate from the perspective that my actions are my own responsibility.

Thoughts?

[EDIT: given the progress of this thread, I’ve moved it to Philosophy. Sorry! dougsmith—Admin]

[ Edited: 16 April 2012 04:34 AM by dougsmith ]
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Posted: 11 April 2012 04:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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It only matters to the extent that a person wastes time thinking about it.  smile

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Posted: 11 April 2012 04:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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It matters to the law whether or not an action was your responsibility. Notions of personal responsibility just are notions of free action.

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Posted: 11 April 2012 05:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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dougsmith - 11 April 2012 04:56 AM

It matters to the law whether or not an action was your responsibility. Notions of personal responsibility just are notions of free action.

Are you saying that, if in fact there is no free will, then no one is responsible for their actions and therefore cannot be held accountable?

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Posted: 11 April 2012 06:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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If I kill somebody while sleepwalking or because of a tumor in my brain making me behave like a psychopath, there is a chance of correcting that through a medical treatment. If successful, such a person doesn’t need to be locked away. If, however, the underlying cause cannot be treated, then that person cannot remain free. It then comes down to the same result of locking him up with the difference of “protecting the rest of society from his violent behaviour” to “punishing him for his violent behaviour.”

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Posted: 11 April 2012 06:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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FreeInKy - 11 April 2012 05:37 AM
dougsmith - 11 April 2012 04:56 AM

It matters to the law whether or not an action was your responsibility. Notions of personal responsibility just are notions of free action.

Are you saying that, if in fact there is no free will, then no one is responsible for their actions and therefore cannot be held accountable?

If there were no free will, then there would be no sense to be made of responsibility. But there is in fact a notion of responsibility that we know quite well: causal responsibility. This is the way to a reasoned notion of free will. (Obviously, in the case of freely willed actions, the causal picture will be more complex than it would be with billiard balls).

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Posted: 11 April 2012 06:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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dougsmith - 11 April 2012 06:29 AM

If there were no free will, then there would be no sense to be made of responsibility.

Yet we might have no choice but to assign a sense to it - given that we have no free will.

Hey! I thought this was to avoid philosophy. (Although I don’t know how you possibly can since it is a philosophical concept to begin with.)

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Posted: 11 April 2012 06:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Well, a toaster that keeps burning my toasts will end up in a garbage even though it may not have a free will. We lock up people because they are dangerous and throw our toasters away because they are useless. We make up our stories for why we punish people (i.e. “they are responsible for their actions”) just like we make up the existence of free will. Illusions can be practical even though they are mere illusions.

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Posted: 11 April 2012 06:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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I guess that’s the heart of the issue, Traveler. Maybe the whole notion is just too fraught with philosophical overtones. Me, I’m a pragmatist.

I still tend to think that the question has little relevance to every day life. Much like the other “big questions” of philosophy.

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Posted: 11 April 2012 06:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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George - 11 April 2012 06:53 AM

We make up our stories for why we punish people (i.e. “they are responsible for their actions”) just like we make up the existence of free will.

Um, causal responsibility is not a made up notion. It’s a basic part of physics, chemistry and biology.

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Posted: 11 April 2012 06:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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FreeInKy - 11 April 2012 06:55 AM

I guess that’s the heart of the issue, Traveler. Maybe the whole notion is just too fraught with philosophical overtones. Me, I’m a pragmatist.

I still tend to think that the question has little relevance to every day life. Much like the other “big questions” of philosophy.

OK, so you seem to be asking kind of a meta-philosophical question: of what use is philosophy?

Sure, you can live your life very well without investigating any of these things with any depth or seriousness. But that doesn’t mean that you aren’t in so doing simply accepting one or another account. It’s like math: you don’t need to understand complex mathematics to live a complete life. But much of what you do depends upon it in one way or another.

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Posted: 11 April 2012 07:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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dougsmith - 11 April 2012 06:55 AM
George - 11 April 2012 06:53 AM

We make up our stories for why we punish people (i.e. “they are responsible for their actions”) just like we make up the existence of free will.

Um, causal responsibility is not a made up notion. It’s a basic part of physics, chemistry and biology.

Of course it’s not made up. That’s why malfunctioning toasters burn toasts and violent people commit violent acts. It’s just that we don’t say that we are punishing our toaster when throwing it away due to its “behaviour.” We do, however, make up these sorts of stories when it comes to people.

[ Edited: 11 April 2012 07:14 AM by George ]
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Posted: 11 April 2012 07:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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dougsmith - 11 April 2012 06:58 AM

Sure, you can live your life very well without investigating any of these things with any depth or seriousness. But that doesn’t mean that you aren’t in so doing simply accepting one or another account. It’s like math: you don’t need to understand complex mathematics to live a complete life. But much of what you do depends upon it in one way or another.


I like that, I think. The only thing that seems incongruent (to use a math term) between the two is that mathematics can clearly be shown to be attached to the physical world. Philosophy is not even “sure” what that means.

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Posted: 11 April 2012 07:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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traveler - 11 April 2012 07:14 AM
dougsmith - 11 April 2012 06:58 AM

Sure, you can live your life very well without investigating any of these things with any depth or seriousness. But that doesn’t mean that you aren’t in so doing simply accepting one or another account. It’s like math: you don’t need to understand complex mathematics to live a complete life. But much of what you do depends upon it in one way or another.


I like that, I think. The only thing that seems incongruent (to use a math term) between the two is that mathematics can clearly be shown to be attached to the physical world. Philosophy is not even “sure” what that means.

Exactly. I don’t mean to rag on philosophy. I know many here—especially you Doug—are very devoted to it. When I say that it is not something I see a lot of practical value in, I don’t mean to dismiss it’s pursuit altogether. It’s just not something I have much interest in. And while I also don’t understand complex math, I very much see the benefits of it. I don’t, in the same way, see the practical benefits of knowing whether or not free will exists.

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Posted: 11 April 2012 07:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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George - 11 April 2012 07:12 AM
dougsmith - 11 April 2012 06:55 AM
George - 11 April 2012 06:53 AM

We make up our stories for why we punish people (i.e. “they are responsible for their actions”) just like we make up the existence of free will.

Um, causal responsibility is not a made up notion. It’s a basic part of physics, chemistry and biology.

Of course it’s not made up. That’s why malfunctioning toasters burn toasts and violent people commit violent acts. It’s just that we don’t say that we are punishing our toaster when throwing it away due to its “behaviour.” We do, however, make up these sorts of stories when it comes to people.

Well, since the toaster lacks a rational faculty, it can’t comprehend that if it burns your toast it might have to endure punishment, and so a credible threat of punishment is no incentive to the toaster not to burn your toast.

People, OTOH, do make such calculations. So to that extent, a credible threat of punishment can be effective in modifying behavior.

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Posted: 11 April 2012 07:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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traveler - 11 April 2012 07:14 AM

The only thing that seems incongruent (to use a math term) between the two is that mathematics can clearly be shown to be attached to the physical world. Philosophy is not even “sure” what that means.

I don’t understand what you’re after here. If philosophy is about anything it’s about the world we live in.

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