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Responsibility without free will
Posted: 24 February 2007 04:07 AM   [ Ignore ]
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I think it might be worthwhile to have a thread that explores this and see what benefits there are if any, of using the tool of compatibalist free will when determining who to hold responsible.

I think one aim of the justice system is to cause people to behave morally in circumstances where they otherwise would choose not to or put another way to provide a deterrent.

The law is designed to deter behaviour in certain types of circumstances only.

Take the example on the free will thread, where the bank robber gets me to hand over a note to the bank teller by threatening me with being shot if I don’t.

In this case we automatically think that the bank robber is the one we want to hold responsible but does it have anything to do with could do otherwise?

I don’t think so but it is to do with what each persons other potential options were.

In my case my other option was to dramatically increase the risk of my getting shot by not agreeing to the demands made of me.

Do we want a justice system that is designed to alter human behaviour so that people are more likely to make that choice in these kind of circumstances?

If the answer is no, then it would serve no purpose to hold me responsible.

What were the bank robbers other options, well, go for a walk, sit and watch telly, look for a job and so on.

Now he couldn’t do these things given that he desired to rob the bank but one aim of the justice system is to deter people in similar circumstances. when people are choosing between going for a walk, watching telly, looking for a job or robbing a bank we do want to deter them from robbing the bank.

If people were not held responsible in these circumstances then it needs to be the case that we think many more people would be robbing banks rather than watching telly, going for a walk or looking for a job.

So although this actual bank robber was not stopped by the practice many other potential bank robbers in similar circumstances are. 

If we think this is true then we hold the bank robber responsible in accordance with the aim of the justice system.

In this case we don’t seem to have any need to use the tool of compatibilist free will to decide who to and whether we should hold somebody responsible.

Stephen

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Posted: 05 March 2007 07:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Pretty much. Since there is no such thing as free will, the traditional idea of moral responsibility is incoherent. But society needs to shape behaviour in desirable ways, and the threat of punishment is one way to do it.

Incidentally, reinforcement of desired behaviours (rather than punishment of negative behaviours) is also a way to do it, and it is also more efficient (in the sense that, in animals and humans, behaviours are quicker to shape through rewards).

It’s all very well to be tough on crime, but when right-wingers accuse liberals of being bleeding hearts, they are either ignorant of, or deliberately reject, the psychological evidence.

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Posted: 06 March 2007 12:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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[quote author=“Metaphor”]Since there is no such thing as free will, the traditional idea of moral responsibility is incoherent.

The arguments that claim to demonstrate the nonexistence of free will depend upon an incoherent notion of free will: the so-called “libertarian” or contra-causal free will. Free actions are necessarily causal, that is deterministic in character. We do have free will. If you want to see some arguments as to why this is so, look through these threads or read Dan Dennett’s books Elbow Room and Freedom Evolves for starters.

So moral responsibility is in no danger. But moral responsibility is one thing, and punishing or rewarding actions is entirely another. One may well accept moral responsibility without accepting certain claims about retribution or punishment.

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Posted: 06 March 2007 03:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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[quote author=“dougsmith”][quote author=“Metaphor”]Since there is no such thing as free will, the traditional idea of moral responsibility is incoherent.

The arguments that claim to demonstrate the nonexistence of free will depend upon an incoherent notion of free will: the so-called “libertarian” or contra-causal free will. Free actions are necessarily causal, that is deterministic in character. We do have free will. If you want to see some arguments as to why this is so, look through these threads or read Dan Dennett’s books Elbow Room and Freedom Evolves for starters.

So moral responsibility is in no danger. But moral responsibility is one thing, and punishing or rewarding actions is entirely another. One may well accept moral responsibility without accepting certain claims about retribution or punishment.

I have Freedom Evolves but have not yet read it. However, (and I promise to look through previous threads) I can’t imagine what free will actually is. This may just be my own limited imagination, but the only thing I can imagine as a ‘free’ action is something that is random (but that isn’t what people mean when they talk about free will).

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Posted: 06 March 2007 03:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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[quote author=“Metaphor”] I can’t imagine what free will actually is. This may just be my own limited imagination, but the only thing I can imagine as a ‘free’ action is something that is random (but that isn’t what people mean when they talk about free will).

You’re absolutely right that random (like quantum mechanical) effects can’t be free.

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Posted: 06 March 2007 05:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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[quote author=“dougsmith”][quote author=“Metaphor”] I can’t imagine what free will actually is. This may just be my own limited imagination, but the only thing I can imagine as a ‘free’ action is something that is random (but that isn’t what people mean when they talk about free will).

You’re absolutely right that random (like quantum mechanical) effects can’t be free.

I have made what I hope is a thoughtful and reasoned post in the main free will debate. As you’ll see, I haven’t changed my mind.

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Posted: 06 March 2007 06:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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I cannot help feeling there is an irony in statements such as that made by metaphor: “Since there is no such thing as free will, the traditional idea of moral responsibility is incoherent.” The implication seems to be that a person’s actions stem from pre-existing conditions, therefore one cannot be the agent for one’s actions, or, by extension, be held responsible for them; however, society can be convinced of this absence of agency and take a more enlightened approach to a person’s actions. It seems to me that the attempt to convince others of the rightness of a policy or course of action presumes that the capacity to make choices is not strictly determined. Further, to argue that, while the individual’s actions are not of his choosing, society ought to make accomodation the lack of freedom of the individual, implies that society is freer than the individual.

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Posted: 06 March 2007 09:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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[quote author=“Acher”]I cannot help feeling there is an irony in statements such as that made by metaphor: “Since there is no such thing as free will, the traditional idea of moral responsibility is incoherent.” The implication seems to be that a person’s actions stem from pre-existing conditions, therefore one cannot be the agent for one’s actions, or, by extension, be held responsible for them; however, society can be convinced of this absence of agency and take a more enlightened approach to a person’s actions. It seems to me that the attempt to convince others of the rightness of a policy or course of action presumes that the capacity to make choices is not strictly determined. Further, to argue that, while the individual’s actions are not of his choosing, society ought to make accomodation the lack of freedom of the individual, implies that society is freer than the individual.

“The attempt to convince others of the rightness of a policy” in no way conflicts with the fact that choices are determined?!? Am I missing something here? Where is the irony? How does you not having any choice in the matter preclude you from being influenced to think a certain way?

I don’t understand how anything in your last sentence follows from anything I’ve claimed.

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Posted: 06 March 2007 08:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Hi Archer

[quote author=“Acher”]I cannot help feeling there is an irony in statements such as that made by metaphor: “Since there is no such thing as free will, the traditional idea of moral responsibility is incoherent.”

I think philosophers who believe in compatibilist free will would agree that the traditional idea of moral responsibility is incoherent because it is based on libertarian free will or theological free choice.

The implication seems to be that a person’s actions stem from pre-existing conditions, therefore one cannot be the agent for one’s actions, or, by extension, be held responsible for them;

Nobody is arguing we cannot hold people responsible.

however, society can be convinced of this absence of agency and take a more enlightened approach to a person’s actions.

Yes

It seems to me that the attempt to convince others of the rightness of a policy or course of action presumes that the capacity to make choices is not strictly determined. Further, to argue that, while the individual’s actions are not of his choosing, society ought to make accomodation the lack of freedom of the individual, implies that society is freer than the individual.

Here I think the definition of ought you have in mind rests on the assumpion of free will being true, which I think is your point.

I would say I don’t think society ought to behave differenly but there are potential benefits if it did and it would behave differently if people didn’t believe in free will.

It wouldn’t be free not to.

Stephen

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Posted: 07 March 2007 01:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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[quote author=“StephenLawrence”]I think philosophers who believe in compatibilist free will would agree that the traditional idea of moral responsibility is incoherent because it is based on libertarian free will or theological free choice.

Not true.

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Posted: 07 March 2007 02:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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[quote author=“dougsmith”][quote author=“StephenLawrence”]I think philosophers who believe in compatibilist free will would agree that the traditional idea of moral responsibility is incoherent because it is based on libertarian free will or theological free choice.

Not true.

As you know I don’t believe there is anything that would make us ultimately morally responsible for our actions, or have deep moral responsibility/ DMR as it is sometimes called.

I’ve been thinking about what I mean by this as a result of our debating the subject and have come up with a definition, which I hope is useful.

DMR= Being responsible for the fact that we are who we are and act as we do.

I think this is the traditional view of moral responsibility.

Is this the same as the compatibilist’s view of moral responsibility or do you deny this is the common or traditional view?

Stephen

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Posted: 07 March 2007 03:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Insofar as there is a “traditional” notion of responsibility, it is responsibility for our own actions.

If you ask people “Who or what is responsible for who you are?” they are likely to say, “My family, friends, environment, upbringing, and genes.” Sounds about right to me.

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Posted: 07 March 2007 05:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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[quote author=“dougsmith”]Insofar as there is a “traditional” notion of responsibility, it is responsibility for our own actions.

Yes but what do people mean by this?

What I think they mean, is that if somebody does something praisworthy or blameworthy, that they are responsible for the fact, that they acted that way.

This is what I mean by responsible in the deep or ultimate sense.


Is this common way people think and feel about each other compatible with determinism?


Stephen

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Posted: 17 August 2007 08:12 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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To replay my argument from another thread: I have mental problems and depression. They caused me then to seek therapy, which with medecine causes me to do better. That is, I used my causes to change me for better causes!  .  Society through the law tries to give new causes to errant people. So, causal free will works as Doug notes. I think so Stephen!

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Posted: 21 August 2007 02:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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skeptic griggsy - 17 August 2007 08:12 PM

To replay my argument from another thread: I have mental problems and depression. They caused me then to seek therapy, which with medecine causes me to do better. That is, I used my causes to change me for better causes!  .  Society through the law tries to give new causes to errant people. So, causal free will works as Doug notes. I think so Stephen!

If we harm somebody in order to deter others, people in general believe that is fair on the person we do it to (as long as it is in proportion to the crime). It is the thing they believe in, which makes this appear to be true to them, which I argue against.

Unfortunately, this thing is also called Free Will also.

Stephen

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Posted: 21 August 2007 08:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Didn’t we have a similar thread to this discussion before?  I know that was about free will, but it was pretty well hashed out, I thought, with all the posts.  I’m not complaining, but I’m thinking this is a carry over from that thread.

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