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A pragmatic discussion about free will
Posted: 11 April 2012 07:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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FreeInKy - 11 April 2012 07:40 AM

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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If you aren’t interested in it, why bring it up? I agree it’s not for everyone.

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Posted: 11 April 2012 08:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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FreeInKy - 11 April 2012 04:51 AM

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.

Yep. Technically there is no difference. When we see ourselves as determined, then we are also determined to make each other responsible for our actions. If we see ourselves as free agents, then it logically follows that we are responsible for our actions.

My problem is that there is some class of people, most notably neurologists (who behave as they have made the discovery that we are determined, where they only discover how the mechanism works according to which we are determined), that think that the technical question does matter, and we should not consider people free agents. But in fact their position is self defeating.

My philosophical fanaticism about this subject stems from my nightmare of new variants of Soviet-psychiatry, where criminals are treated, instead of punished, and that those who are in power define what is criminal. It also may lead to fatalism, in which we accept everything as determined, and loose our critical distance to injustice, and act according to it.

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Posted: 11 April 2012 08:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
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dougsmith - 11 April 2012 07:52 AM
FreeInKy - 11 April 2012 07:40 AM

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.

question

If you aren’t interested in it, why bring it up? I agree it’s not for everyone.

I was trying to do something that in retrospect is probably impossible—that is, to have a pragmatic discussion about a topic that is not really a pragmatic one to begin with. Sorry about that. I’m just going to keep living my life as though free will is real, because I think that is the only human response possible.

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Posted: 11 April 2012 09:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
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dougsmith - 11 April 2012 07:50 AM
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.

Ok. To a layman it often seems like everything but that. I can apply mathematics to build a craft in order to travel to the moon. Philosophy just makes me question why go?  smile

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Posted: 11 April 2012 09:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
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traveler - 11 April 2012 09:20 AM
dougsmith - 11 April 2012 07:50 AM
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.

Ok. To a layman it often seems like everything but that. I can apply mathematics to build a craft in order to travel to the moon. Philosophy just makes me question why go?  smile

Right, well, almost by definition philosophy is not practical. It’s theoretical. But it is grounded in questions about this world. How else could it be?

My basic issue with people who actively criticize philosophy is that one can’t criticize philosophy without tacitly doing philosophy. If one is going to criticize it for being dull or uninteresting or useless, well, then why get interested in the criticism? It’s like painting a painting to show how dull paintings are, or writing a novel to show that novels are useless. It’s not, at least to me, a sensible strategy.

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Posted: 11 April 2012 10:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
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dougsmith - 11 April 2012 09:24 AM

Right, well, almost by definition philosophy is not practical. It’s theoretical. But it is grounded in questions about this world. How else could it be?

My basic issue with people who actively criticize philosophy is that one can’t criticize philosophy without tacitly doing philosophy. If one is going to criticize it for being dull or uninteresting or useless, well, then why get interested in the criticism? It’s like painting a painting to show how dull paintings are, or writing a novel to show that novels are useless. It’s not, at least to me, a sensible strategy.

I agree with that and I certainly wasn’t trying to criticize philosophy. As you write, it’s not practical. I think that explains why a pragmatic discussion about free will ain’t gonna happen.

To show some appreciation for philosophy, I could add that much of what most people learn in mathematics courses is never actually applied in their lives but the learning taught them to think more accurately about many problems. Philosophy does that.

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Posted: 11 April 2012 10:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 22 ]
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traveler - 11 April 2012 10:09 AM

To show some appreciation for philosophy, I could add that much of what most people learn in mathematics courses is never actually applied in their lives but the learning taught them to think more accurately about many problems. Philosophy does that.

True. Philosophy well taught does help clear up fuzzy thinking. That’s one practical benefit.

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Posted: 11 April 2012 10:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 23 ]
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dougsmith - 11 April 2012 07:48 AM
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.

Some people make such calculations. Many, however, seem to lack the capibilty of calculating that committing a murder will most likely result in a “punishment.” I can calculate it but a toaster or Charles Manson can’t. And Data could calculate it, too. If he, however, failed to behave morally, we wouldn’t need to send him to jail. Geordi would open up his “brain” and fix him. We send people to jail because we don’t know how to fix them. Maybe one day a neurologist will be able to fix people like Charles Manson too, and we can all stop worrying about ethics and philosophy. Until then, though, we’ll have to keep making up stories.

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Posted: 11 April 2012 10:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 24 ]
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George - 11 April 2012 10:21 AM

Some people make such calculations. Many, however, seem to lack the capibilty of calculating that committing a murder will most likely result in a “punishment.” I can calculate it but a toaster or Charles Manson can’t. And Data could calculate it, too. If he, however, failed to behave morally, we wouldn’t need to send him to jail. Geordi would open up his “brain” and fix him. We send people to jail because we don’t know how to fix them.

We don’t typically punish people who are mentally ill, precisely because they are unable to tell right from wrong. Instead they are sent to mental institutions where it is hoped that they can be treated to get better, or at least confined for public safety.

George - 11 April 2012 10:21 AM

Maybe one day a neurologist will be able to fix people like Charles Manson too, and we can all stop worrying about ethics and philosophy. Until then, though, we’ll have to keep making up stories.

Perhaps you should read GdB’s apposite post above. When we become able to “fix” people’s personalities, ethics will be, if anything, even more of a requirement than it is now. The more power we have, the more danger we present when using it unethically.

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Posted: 11 April 2012 10:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 25 ]
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GdB doesn’t know what he’s talking about. In Czech criminals are also “treated” (actually it’s referred to as “corrected” not “treated”) instead of being “punished,” and it seems to be working just fine; I mean it works as well as anywhere else where people are being “punished.” Why wouldn’t it? It just the same thing, different story. It’s just that the Russian and Czech story will one day actually work. It’s a step in the right direction, IMO.

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Posted: 11 April 2012 10:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 26 ]
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George - 11 April 2012 10:43 AM

It’s a step in the right direction, IMO.

It would be if used ethically, otherwise not. That’s what I took GdB to be saying.

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Posted: 11 April 2012 11:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 27 ]
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dougsmith - 11 April 2012 10:51 AM

It would be if used ethically, otherwise not. That’s what I took GdB to be saying.

Right. If I would be in power I would start to treat all the people that think that all ethics is nonsense because we are determined…

Seriously: Soviet psychiatry shows what can happen when we decide to treat people for criminal actions. I wonder if you, George, know what you are talking about? I am not ranting against psychiatry in general, not even against use of some people who broke the law. But people who know what is morally accepted by society, but still break the laws that are supposed to support these moral rules, should be punished, not treated. It means that one sees them as responsible for their actions.

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Posted: 11 April 2012 11:42 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 28 ]
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GdB - 11 April 2012 11:37 AM

But people who know what is morally accepted by society, but still break the laws that are supposed to support these moral rules, should be punished, not treated. It means that one sees them as responsible for their actions.

It’s not even clear what it would mean to treat someone who, say, casually pockets a shirt at the local shop, or drives while texting and kills someone, etc. You could change their brains globally, but that would give them different personalities without making them obviously any less likely to break laws.

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Posted: 11 April 2012 01:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 29 ]
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FreeInKY: ... Whether my actions are predetermined or not, I operate from the perspective that my actions are my own responsibility…

With my understanding of free will, I think you are doing the right thing, i.e., “operat(ing) from the perspective that (your) actions are (your) own responsibility.” When you consciously do that, I think you are contributing to the antecedents that determine your behavior. 

Of course when you are consciously doing that, you are engaging in behavior that is itself determined by complexities of historical contingencies, but the parameters are so vast that I would call it free… to the extent that any thing can be free.  Any kind of freedom has parameters.

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As a fabrication of our own consciousness, our assignations of meaning are no less “real”, but since humans and the fabrications of our consciousness are routinely fraught with error, it makes sense, to me, to, sometimes, question such fabrications.

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Posted: 11 April 2012 05:26 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 30 ]
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Even though the focus is supposed to be “pragmatic” rather than “philosophical”. I knew from the first sentence in this thead that it would be another 100+ page discussion, and it’s well started. LOL

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