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Progressive Humanism is not about Free Will
Posted: 26 April 2006 06:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 31 ]
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I’m interested, Robert, in which sorts of notions of free will/responsibility justify revenge for its own sake, and how they claim to do so.

Are you talking about theories of the person that make certain persons out to be Good and others to be Evil?

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Posted: 26 April 2006 07:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 32 ]
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[quote author=“dougsmith”]I’m interested, Robert, in which sorts of notions of free will/responsibility justify revenge for its own sake, and how they claim to do so.

Are you talking about theories of the person that make certain persons out to be Good and others to be Evil?

Doug—

The dominant strain in our culture doesn’t seem to think much about defining their factual and ethical claims, but they appear to run something like this:

1.  Human beings have gotten, from somewhere, a unique ability to transcend all prior genetic and environmental influences in a manner that is not merely random.

2.  This non-causal and non-random process is somehow located in the conscious minds of adult non-disabled humans.  While it is separated from causal influences, it may be turned off by martinis.

3.  When this special ability is used to make bad choices, we no longer turn to utilitarianism, or the Golden Rule, to do our ethical analysis.  We simply believe, for some reason, that people who have made such choices deserve to suffer.  This is accepted, for some reason, as an allegedly self-evident exception to all other ethical guidelines.

Obviously, I would argue that all of the above is gibberish, invoked to rationalize cruelty and irrational feelings of superiority.

Thank you for your very thoughtful questions.

BOB

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Posted: 26 April 2006 07:52 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 33 ]
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[quote author=“Robert Gulack”]The dominant strain in our culture doesn’t seem to think much about defining their factual and ethical claims, but they appear to run something like this:

1.  Human beings have gotten, from somewhere, a unique ability to transcend all prior genetic and environmental influences in a manner that is not merely random.

2.  This non-causal and non-random process is somehow located in the conscious minds of adult non-disabled humans.  While it is separated from causal influences, it may be turned off by martinis.

3.  When this special ability is used to make bad choices, we no longer turn to utilitarianism, or the Golden Rule, to do our ethical analysis.  We simply believe, for some reason, that people who have made such choices deserve to suffer.  This is accepted, for some reason, as an allegedly self-evident exception to all other ethical guidelines.

Hi Bob,

It doesn’t sound from your description as though there is any essential link between noncausal free will and the sort of unjustified revenge that you discuss.

If there isn’t, then we really should separate the issue of what free will actually amounts to from the issue of how or whether to punish people for doing bad things.

One pre-modern conception of the person, originating I believe in the religions of the Book, has it that certain people are Good and others are Evil. (This is the sort of thinking that I believe is behind the desire to split the afterlife into heaven and hell). In this sort of view, there is an essential difference between the “soul” of a Good person from that of an Evil person ... they are almost like different species.

Then on this na憊e idea of soul or will, the Good person “deserves” eternal happiness while the Evil person “deserves” eternal punishment. And the only difference between them is some such thing like God’s grace; God’s grace shone upon the Good person and not upon the Evil person.

But this picture of the soul or will is strictly compatible with either a non-causal view of free will OR a determinist view of free will. Indeed, I believe some determinist Catholic church fathers subscribed to it, as did Calvin ...

Best,

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Posted: 26 April 2006 06:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 34 ]
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[quote author=“dougsmith”][quote author=“Robert Gulack”]The dominant strain in our culture doesn’t seem to think much about defining their factual and ethical claims, but they appear to run something like this:

1.  Human beings have gotten, from somewhere, a unique ability to transcend all prior genetic and environmental influences in a manner that is not merely random.

2.  This non-causal and non-random process is somehow located in the conscious minds of adult non-disabled humans.  While it is separated from causal influences, it may be turned off by martinis.

3.  When this special ability is used to make bad choices, we no longer turn to utilitarianism, or the Golden Rule, to do our ethical analysis.  We simply believe, for some reason, that people who have made such choices deserve to suffer.  This is accepted, for some reason, as an allegedly self-evident exception to all other ethical guidelines.

Hi Bob,

It doesn’t sound from your description as though there is any essential link between noncausal free will and the sort of unjustified revenge that you discuss.

If there isn’t, then we really should separate the issue of what free will actually amounts to from the issue of how or whether to punish people for doing bad things.

One pre-modern conception of the person, originating I believe in the religions of the Book, has it that certain people are Good and others are Evil. (This is the sort of thinking that I believe is behind the desire to split the afterlife into heaven and hell). In this sort of view, there is an essential difference between the “soul” of a Good person from that of an Evil person ... they are almost like different species.

Then on this na憊e idea of soul or will, the Good person “deserves” eternal happiness while the Evil person “deserves” eternal punishment. And the only difference between them is some such thing like God’s grace; God’s grace shone upon the Good person and not upon the Evil person.

But this picture of the soul or will is strictly compatible with either a non-causal view of free will OR a determinist view of free will. Indeed, I believe some determinist Catholic church fathers subscribed to it, as did Calvin ...

Best,

 

Dear Doug:

Whether people have free will is a matter of factual analysis.

Whether evildoers personally deserve to suffer is a matter of ethical analysis.

As Hume pointed out, you can’t reason from “is” claims to “ought” claims, so, in one sense, you are absolutely right: there is no direct link between the two issues.

But, in another sense, there IS a link.  When pressed, many advocates of revenge will admit that they only feel revenge is justified when it is sought against people who have chosen evil in a manner that is neither causal nor random.  For this reason, it is very important to point out to such people that this is a null set: there are no people who have chosen evil in such a manner.  Everything we know of is causal or random, and therefore all choices for evil are causal or random.

It is very similar to pointing out, to people who want to burn witches, that there are no witches.

You mention people like St. Paul and Calvin, who believe that many people are destined for evil and hell.  While this is a view taken by many Christians, I don’t think it represents the predominant notion of free will and personally deserved retributive punishment.  On the contrary, I think that the great majority of Americans who favor retributive punishment believe that non-causal/non-random choices are a very common event.  I, as you know, would argue that this factual claim is based on superstition, and not on science.

All the best,

Bob Gulack

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Posted: 27 April 2006 01:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 35 ]
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[quote author=“Robert Gulack”]But, in another sense, there IS a link.  When pressed, many advocates of revenge will admit that they only feel revenge is justified when it is sought against people who have chosen evil in a manner that is neither causal nor random.  For this reason, it is very important to point out to such people that this is a null set: there are no people who have chosen evil in such a manner.  Everything we know of is causal or random, and therefore all choices for evil are causal or random.

Hello Bob,

I wouldn’t say that one was “choosing” anything if one’s apparent act was created by some sort of random event. Let’s take two examples of apparent evil: (1) a guy with a gun in his hand pulls the trigger because he wants to cause pain in an innocent bystander. (2) a guy with a gun in his hand has a random quantum fluctuation in a nerve fiber leading to his trigger finger which causes him to shoot an innocent bystander.

To an outside observer, these would appear identical. But in the second case, no evil was committed because no true act was done. It was basically an extremely unfortunate twitch.

(Of course, there is a separate issue of reckless endangerment—holding a loaded pistol in public and pointing it at people—which we can leave aside for now).

But the issue of choosing evil non-causally is important; we both agree that it does not in fact happen. I would go farther to say that it is an incoherent notion: it does not make sense to “choose non-causally”. But be that as it may, my understanding is that people who believe that there are Good people and Evil people have a view of the will where the act was caused by an uncaused Good will in the case of Good people and an uncaused Evil will in the case of Evil people. So it’s the will that causes the action, and the will that is itself uncaused. And it’s the will that is either graced by God or not, hence Good or Evil.

And it’s the fact that one is constituted by this Good or Evil will that makes one as a person either (wholly) Good or (wholly) Evil on this picture, hence deserving of everlasting blessing or torment.

(I’m capitalizing “Good” and “Evil” here because they are essentially theological notions involving some relation to God; I want to distinguish them from the more everyday notions of lowercase good and evil, right and wrong).

[quote author=“Robert Gulack”]You mention people like St. Paul and Calvin, who believe that many people are destined for evil and hell.  While this is a view taken by many Christians, I don’t think it represents the predominant notion of free will and personally deserved retributive punishment.  On the contrary, I think that the great majority of Americans who favor retributive punishment believe that non-causal/non-random choices are a very common event.  I, as you know, would argue that this factual claim is based on superstition, and not on science.

I think you are right about that—most Christians don’t accept Predestination, although I do believe Aquinas did. The problem with Predestination is that it makes the problem of evil so pressing.

All I wanted to say, though, was that one need not hold to an incoherent notion of free will to believe in retributive justice.

Best,

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Posted: 27 April 2006 07:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 36 ]
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[quote author=“dougsmith”][quote author=“Robert Gulack”]But, in another sense, there IS a link.  When pressed, many advocates of revenge will admit that they only feel revenge is justified when it is sought against people who have chosen evil in a manner that is neither causal nor random.  For this reason, it is very important to point out to such people that this is a null set: there are no people who have chosen evil in such a manner.  Everything we know of is causal or random, and therefore all choices for evil are causal or random.

Hello Bob,

I wouldn’t say that one was “choosing” anything if one’s apparent act was created by some sort of random event. Let’s take two examples of apparent evil: (1) a guy with a gun in his hand pulls the trigger because he wants to cause pain in an innocent bystander. (2) a guy with a gun in his hand has a random quantum fluctuation in a nerve fiber leading to his trigger finger which causes him to shoot an innocent bystander.

To an outside observer, these would appear identical. But in the second case, no evil was committed because no true act was done. It was basically an extremely unfortunate twitch.

(Of course, there is a separate issue of reckless endangerment—holding a loaded pistol in public and pointing it at people—which we can leave aside for now).

But the issue of choosing evil non-causally is important; we both agree that it does not in fact happen. I would go farther to say that it is an incoherent notion: it does not make sense to “choose non-causally”. But be that as it may, my understanding is that people who believe that there are Good people and Evil people have a view of the will where the act was caused by an uncaused Good will in the case of Good people and an uncaused Evil will in the case of Evil people. So it’s the will that causes the action, and the will that is itself uncaused. And it’s the will that is either graced by God or not, hence Good or Evil.

And it’s the fact that one is constituted by this Good or Evil will that makes one as a person either (wholly) Good or (wholly) Evil on this picture, hence deserving of everlasting blessing or torment.

(I’m capitalizing “Good” and “Evil” here because they are essentially theological notions involving some relation to God; I want to distinguish them from the more everyday notions of lowercase good and evil, right and wrong).

[quote author=“Robert Gulack”]You mention people like St. Paul and Calvin, who believe that many people are destined for evil and hell.  While this is a view taken by many Christians, I don’t think it represents the predominant notion of free will and personally deserved retributive punishment.  On the contrary, I think that the great majority of Americans who favor retributive punishment believe that non-causal/non-random choices are a very common event.  I, as you know, would argue that this factual claim is based on superstition, and not on science.

I think you are right about that—most Christians don’t accept Predestination, although I do believe Aquinas did. The problem with Predestination is that it makes the problem of evil so pressing.

All I wanted to say, though, was that one need not hold to an incoherent notion of free will to believe in retributive justice.

Best,


Dear Doug:

I think we are basically in agreement.

There are some predestination people who believe that God has created and destined some people for lives of evil and eternal punishment in hell, and that there is nothing wrong with God having done so.  This is, as you acknowledge, a very extreme ethical position, and one not held by that many people.  Most people prefer to rationalize their ethical commitment to revenge by saying that they only call for revenge in response to freely-willed choices (by which they do NOT mean the kind of causally inevitable choices you are discussing).  That is why it is so important to understand that there is no reason to believe in the reality of non-causal/non-random choices.

But what about everyone out there other than Doug?  Are you ready to embrace the teachings of Spinoza and “hate none, despise none, deride none, envy none, and be angry with none” (ETHICS, Part II, Prop. XLIX)?  Are you ready to live without guilt, shame, anxiety, and attempts to claim personal merit?  Are you ready to abandon all pride and reach out to all your fellow humans with King’s “understanding creative redemptive good will”?

If you want to know how a determinist lives and makes his choices, look closely at the life of Lincoln.  Are you prepared to abandon the cliches of our society, and follow in Lincoln’s footsteps?  Join in on this discussion and let us know.

Bob Gulack

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Posted: 29 April 2006 08:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 37 ]
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Everyone:

Please allow me to request that you go and tell your friends about this website, and ask them to join our conversation.  Tell them:

The good life is here and now, the good life is ours for the taking.  You don’t have to win the lottery to be free.  You don’t have to stand on barricades, enduring and inflicting violence.  You have only to exercise your independent intelligence for a single moment, and you will see through the lies that have held you captive.  You will, in that moment, be free of them forever.  Never again will the specters of free will and revenge rise to confuse you into cruelty.  Your guilt, your anxiety, your shame, your endless quest for the approval of others, these shackles will crumble into dust.  These tormentors will vanish as a nightmare vanishes after the sleeper awakes.  You will join Spinoza, Lincoln, and Einstein in seeing our universe from the perspective of eternity, and seeing the same unchanging truth they saw, you will be inspired as they were inspired.

You have but to see that you are not something APART from the universe, you are A PART of the universe.  We are all a part, perhaps the most wondrous and beautiful part, of a universe so vast that, were you to travel as fast as physics allows for as long as the sun has shone, you would not have seen a third of it.  We are part of a story so epic in its duration that, had you a penny for every year our universe has existed, if you stacked up the pennies, they would reach halfway to the moon.

We are here, as part of this infinite universe, as part of this eternal story, to take care of each other, not to show that we are better than those who do evil, but purely and simply out of love for love’s own sake.

Blessed are the skeptics: for they know where they live, and what they are.  They know we have come into existence even as the lilies of the field came into existence.

Blessed are those to whom science has taught humility of spirit: for they know when and how and for what we have inherited this earth.

Blessed are those that understand that we are part of a four-dimensional space-time continuum: for they know that the past, present, and future are all equally real; and that those they mourn for still exist, precisely as they did exist, in those times in which they did exist.

Blessed are the merciful: for it is scientific skepticism that teaches us mercy, and superstition that encourages us to seek revenge.  Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; do good to them that hate you.

Blessed are those that hunger and thirst to do right, for it is within their power to do right: it is not within their power to deserve personal credit for it.  Do not perform good works in the hope of such personal credit, or to be seen before others as being good.

These are the truths that have been set before us, as a shining city upon a hill, and as a house founded upon a rock, by Spinoza and Lincoln and Einstein.  These truths can neither be hidden nor destroyed.

ROBERT GULACK

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Posted: 01 May 2006 02:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 38 ]
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Re: That poor donkey and the free will issue

[quote author=“Robert Gulack”]In short, we are not doing away with personal responsibility.  But we are very significantly modifying the definition of it so that it no longer includes any element of revenge for its own sake.

Okay, I’m with you now!

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Posted: 10 May 2006 06:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 39 ]
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[quote author=“dougsmith”]
[quote author=“Robert Gulack”]You mention people like St. Paul and Calvin, who believe that many people are destined for evil and hell.  While this is a view taken by many Christians, I don’t think it represents the predominant notion of free will and personally deserved retributive punishment.  On the contrary, I think that the great majority of Americans who favor retributive punishment believe that non-causal/non-random choices are a very common event.  I, as you know, would argue that this factual claim is based on superstition, and not on science.

I think you are right about that—most Christians don’t accept Predestination, although I do believe Aquinas did. The problem with Predestination is that it makes the problem of evil so pressing.

All I wanted to say, though, was that one need not hold to an incoherent notion of free will to believe in retributive justice.

Doug,

I’m curious if you believe in retributive justice, and if so, what the basis for it is.  By retributive justice I mean punishment that’s thought to be appropriate not because it necessarily entails a desired outcome for the offender or society (e.g., public safety, rehabilitation, deterrence, restitution, etc.) but simply because the offender deserves to suffer. 

best,

Tom Clark

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Posted: 10 May 2006 06:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 40 ]
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[quote author=“Tom Clark”]I’m curious if you believe in retributive justice, and if so, what the basis for it is.  By retributive justice I mean punishment that’s thought to be appropriate not because it necessarily entails a desired outcome for the offender or society (e.g., public safety, rehabilitation, deterrence, restitution, etc.) but simply because the offender deserves to suffer. 

Hello Tom,

Honestly I’m not sure about retributive justice. I go both ways on it. My guess, thinking with my “rational cap on”, is that it is not justified; and so my inchoate opinions about retribution are due to an irrational anger towards those who do evil things. But I’m not totally sure.

I think I would need to look at the subject in some depth to make up my mind on it. Part of my aim in this exchange has been to elucidate what different sorts of justice entail. It seems to me that the question of retributive versus non-retributive justice is simply at right angles to how we cash out freedom of the will.

What is your opinion on the issue?

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Posted: 12 May 2006 03:35 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 41 ]
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[quote author=“dougsmith”][quote author=“Tom Clark”]I’m curious if you believe in retributive justice, and if so, what the basis for it is.  By retributive justice I mean punishment that’s thought to be appropriate not because it necessarily entails a desired outcome for the offender or society (e.g., public safety, rehabilitation, deterrence, restitution, etc.) but simply because the offender deserves to suffer. 

Hello Tom,

Honestly I’m not sure about retributive justice. I go both ways on it. My guess, thinking with my “rational cap on”, is that it is not justified; and so my inchoate opinions about retribution are due to an irrational anger towards those who do evil things. But I’m not totally sure.

I think I would need to look at the subject in some depth to make up my mind on it. Part of my aim in this exchange has been to elucidate what different sorts of justice entail. It seems to me that the question of retributive versus non-retributive justice is simply at right angles to how we cash out freedom of the will.

What is your opinion on the issue?

I think the issues are connected since the intuition that people have contra-causal free will (CCFW - something not random and not determined that makes them the ultimate source of their actions) is often used to justify the idea that offenders deserve to suffer whether or not punishment serves any good purpose. Once you let go of CCFW, then you have to say why punishment should be carried out simply to impose suffering, and I haven’t seen a good reason for that.  This is explored in a number of articles at http://www.naturalism.org/criminal.htm

If you can say why suffering should be endured that brings about no good consequences, I’m all ears.  If I buy that reason, I’ll then feel justified in satisfying my retributive impulses.  Until then, however, I can’t endorse them.

best,

Tom Clark
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Posted: 12 May 2006 03:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 42 ]
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Hello Tom,

The URL you cited is broken—it includes the “period” at the end.

I checked the webpage—phoo! A lot of stuff there! I’m sure it’s very good, but not sure when I’ll have time to read it all through carefully. Just for kicks could you summarize how it is that “CCFW”, as you put it, is linked with retributive justice, and how compatibilist free will doesn’t countenance retributive justice?

I’d be interested to hear a summary of the arguments.

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Posted: 14 May 2006 02:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 43 ]
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[quote author=“dougsmith”]Hello Tom,

The URL you cited is broken—it includes the “period” at the end.

I checked the webpage—phoo! A lot of stuff there! I’m sure it’s very good, but not sure when I’ll have time to read it all through carefully. Just for kicks could you summarize how it is that “CCFW”, as you put it, is linked with retributive justice, and how compatibilist free will doesn’t countenance retributive justice?

I’d be interested to hear a summary of the arguments.

Doug,

I think Bob Gulack got into this earlier on this thread.  Retribution is often justified by the supposition that the offender could, in the situation exactly as it arose, have acted other than he did.  In Massachusetts recently, a juror commented after sentencing a murderer to death: “If I could say anything to him, the only thing I would say is, ‘Why?’ When it comes down to it, you really have a choice.  He didn’t have to do what he did.  That’s what he picked to do.”  CCFW (contra-causal free will) makes the offender the ultimate originator of his acts, and therefore deserving of suffering since he just chose to do what he did, he wasn’t caused to do it.  Nietzsche called this the “metaphysics of the hangman” see http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2004/05/the_metaphysics.html

When we see that people are indeed fully caused to behave as they do, then it’s difficult to sustain the idea that they deserve to suffer in this deep, metaphysical, retributive sense, a sense disconnected from achieving any personal or social benefit.  However,  many compatibilists still think retribution is justified, for reasons I don’t understand, so I’ve taken them to task at http://www.naturalism.org/criminal.htm , for instance in my critique of Stephen Morse at http://www.naturalism.org/morse.htm .  I’ve also just posted a piece on “Explaining Moussaoui” that attacks retributivism, see http://www.naturalism.org/moussaoui.htm .  Again, if you can say why we should impose suffering that brings about no good consequences, I’m all ears.

best,

Tom
http://www.centerfornaturalism.org

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Posted: 14 May 2006 03:19 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 44 ]
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[quote author=“Tom Clark”][quote author=“dougsmith”]Hello Tom,

The URL you cited is broken—it includes the “period” at the end.

I checked the webpage—phoo! A lot of stuff there! I’m sure it’s very good, but not sure when I’ll have time to read it all through carefully. Just for kicks could you summarize how it is that “CCFW”, as you put it, is linked with retributive justice, and how compatibilist free will doesn’t countenance retributive justice?

I’d be interested to hear a summary of the arguments.

Doug,

I think Bob Gulack got into this earlier on this thread.  Retribution is often justified by the supposition that the offender could, in the situation exactly as it arose, have acted other than he did.  In Massachusetts recently, a juror commented after sentencing a murderer to death: “If I could say anything to him, the only thing I would say is, ‘Why?’ When it comes down to it, you really have a choice.  He didn’t have to do what he did.  That’s what he picked to do.”  CCFW (contra-causal free will) makes the offender the ultimate originator of his acts, and therefore deserving of suffering since he just chose to do what he did, he wasn’t caused to do it.  Nietzsche called this the “metaphysics of the hangman” see http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2004/05/the_metaphysics.html

When we see that people are indeed fully caused to behave as they do, then it’s difficult to sustain the idea that they deserve to suffer in this deep, metaphysical, retributive sense, a sense disconnected from achieving any personal or social benefit.  However,  many compatibilists still think retribution is justified, for reasons I don’t understand, so I’ve taken them to task at http://www.naturalism.org/criminal.htm , for instance in my critique of Stephen Morse at http://www.naturalism.org/morse.htm .  I’ve also just posted a piece on “Explaining Moussaoui” that attacks retributivism, see http://www.naturalism.org/moussaoui.htm .  Again, if you can say why we should impose suffering that brings about no good consequences, I’m all ears.

best,

Tom
http://www.centerfornaturalism.org


Dear Doug & Everyone:

I think Tom’s comments are right on the money.  Once one adopts Doug’s compatibilist stance, acknowledging that all human thought, desire, choice, and action is the caused result of past circumstances, to be a retributivist simply means one is circling an arbitrary subset of causes and effects and saying—“There!  That subset is evil and must be punished!”  One might as logically circle the various subsets of causes and effects having to do with, say, photosynthesis or pizza. and demand vengeance upon those items.  (In fact, I know some beer drinkers wear a T-shirt proclaiming, THE LIVER IS EVIL AND MUST BE PUNISHED, which makes just as much sense as advocating personally deserved retribution against any other subset of totally caused phenomena.)

When pressed, retributivists I have met simply retreat into saying that they “know” that retribution is a good thing, and, if there’s nothing besides causality, then retribution against caused events must be a good thing.  I have never heard an actual argument offered by any of these people—even the professional philosophers who take this stance.  They just mumble something about how they have a irrefutable understanding that this is what “justice” requires (a circular argument).

All the best,
BOB GULACK

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Posted: 14 May 2006 04:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 45 ]
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[quote author=“Tom Clark”]I think Bob Gulack got into this earlier on this thread.  Retribution is often justified by the supposition that the offender could, in the situation exactly as it arose, have acted other than he did.  In Massachusetts recently, a juror commented after sentencing a murderer to death: “If I could say anything to him, the only thing I would say is, ‘Why?’ When it comes down to it, you really have a choice.  He didn’t have to do what he did.  That’s what he picked to do.”  CCFW (contra-causal free will) makes the offender the ultimate originator of his acts, and therefore deserving of suffering since he just chose to do what he did, he wasn’t caused to do it.

Yes, we did sort of circle around this point earlier. But I don’t understand the argument—it sounds like a bad one to me. On a compatibilist understanding of free will, the act is free because the offender “could, in the situation exactly as it arose, have acted other than he did” ... if he had had different beliefs or desires. It depends what we consider “the situation”. For purposes of freedom and culpability, that does not include the causal beliefs and desires.

A compatibilist can quite well say: “The murderer is culpable because he wasn’t forced to kill this person—he could have acted other than he did. But he wanted this man dead, so he shot him.”

[quote author=“Robert Gulack”]Once one adopts Doug’s compatibilist stance, acknowledging that all human thought, desire, choice, and action is the caused result of past circumstances, to be a retributivist simply means one is circling an arbitrary subset of causes and effects and saying—“There! That subset is evil and must be punished!” One might as logically circle the various subsets of causes and effects having to do with, say, photosynthesis or pizza. and demand vengeance upon those items.

But on the compatibilist understanding of free will, there are evil subsets of causes: namely, desires to do evil things, or evil beliefs. For example, the belief that all Jews deserve to die is an evil belief. The desire to cause suffering on innocent people is an evil desire. So the subset here is not arbitrary.

[quote author=“Tom Clark”]When we see that people are indeed fully caused to behave as they do, then it’s difficult to sustain the idea that they deserve to suffer in this deep, metaphysical, retributive sense, a sense disconnected from achieving any personal or social benefit.  However,  many compatibilists still think retribution is justified, for reasons I don’t understand, so I’ve taken them to task ...

Again, I don’t see how one’s account of freedom of the will (compatibilist or contra-causal) makes any difference in these cases.

And indeed, as Tom says, many compatibilists do think that retribution is justified. That doesn’t surprise me, since the question as to whether retribution is justified is quite a separate question. It has to do with one’s analysis of justice, and what justice demands, and not an analysis of freedom.

To repeat here: I am not arguing for retributive justice. I am instead trying to find out what the basis for it is supposed to be, and what the arguments are against it.

The argument that free will is compatible with determinism is not an argument against retributive justice; or at least I still haven’t seen why it is yet.

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Doug

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