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Progressive Humanism is not about Free Will
Posted: 14 May 2006 05:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 46 ]
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[quote author=“dougsmith”][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.


Dear Doug:

It is very easy, in this area of philosophy, to fall into circular arguments.  If one is in the habit of believing that seriously wrong choices deserve purely retributive punishment, the idea of evil appears directly connected to the idea of retributive punishment.  Then, when one agrees that genocidal desires are evil, it sounds as if one is agreeing that genocidal desires (especially when they lead to genocidal acts) deserve personal retribution.

Thus, you make the argument that it is not arbitrary to designate genocidal desires as evil.  You are totally correct.  Assuming we have agreed on a basis for ethical analysis (such as the Golden Rule), it is NOT at all arbitrary to characterize genocidal desires as evil.  I never said it was.  I said it was arbitrary to circle the subset of, say, genocidal desires and declare that those desires make you personally deserve to suffer a purely retributive punishment.

To get to step one—designating genocidal desires as evil—we apply the Golden Rule: Would I like to see my little girl rounded up as Anne Frank was rounded up?  It is, I take it, easy to see that genocide is evil.

It’s on step two that the confusion sets in.  The decision as to whether we endorse purely retributive punishment is ALSO an ethical decision—a totally separate ethical decision.  Once we are aware there are Nazis committing genocide, we must decide if we advocate purely retributive punishment for them.  I would argue that the same Golden Rule that brings us down on the side against genocide also brings us down on the side that two wrongs don’t make a right.  Certainly, it is unclear that the Golden Rule requires us to impose suffering when there is no evidence that such suffering must be imposed to bring about a future benefit of some kind.

Now you continue to use the somewhat confusing term “free will” to describe choices that you acknowledge are as mechanical as the inner workings of a toaster.  Prior to Hume/Mill compatibilism, the idea of “free will” was felt to involve a lot more than that, and, on that basis, was alleged to justify purely retributive punishment.  The fact that you continue to use the same term can cause the misleading impression that you are talking about the same thing.

You are quite right to say that the compatibilist, when evaluating for what he calls “free will,” disregards the fact that there are causal roots for what he is considering, and calls “free” that which proceeds from the interior desires of the individual involved.  But the fact that the compatibilist DEFINES A TERM without considering the causal roots doesn’t mean the causal roots cease to exist.  When the compatibilist mistakenly advocates retribution, he is advocating revenge against toasters, which is exactly as silly as it sounds.

You say, “For purposes of freedom and culpability, that does not include the causal beliefs and desires.”  As a matter of definition, the compatibilist does not define “freedom” as requiring considering causality.  As a matter of ethical analysis, the compatibilist may also justify imposing deterrent punishment on people whose behavior was fully caused.  But we are not not discussing either “freedom” or “culpability for deterrent punishment.”  We are discussing culpability for purely retributive punishment, and that is an entirely different thing that requires an entirely different ethical analysis.  The fact that the term “culpability” may be properly used in one context does not compel us to admit it may be properly used in an entirely different context.

That is where I think you’re going wrong.  But I don’t blame you in the slightest.

In conclusion, you are quite right to say, this “has to do with one’s analysis of justice, and what justice demands.”  But I would argue one should begin analyzing justice with something like the Golden Rule or utilitarianism, and that, beginning in such a manner, you will find it hard to justify revenge.  It is only if you carefully begin by defining justice as “doing what the Golden Rule demands, unless revenge requires the imposition of suffering”  that you will find it easy to justify revenge.

Sincerely,

BOB GULACK

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Posted: 14 May 2006 06:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 47 ]
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[quote author=“Robert Gulack”]Thus, you make the argument that it is not arbitrary to designate genocidal desires as evil.  You are totally correct.  Assuming we have agreed on a basis for ethical analysis (such as the Golden Rule), it is NOT at all arbitrary to characterize genocidal desires as evil.  I never said it was.  I said it was arbitrary to circle the subset of, say, genocidal desires and declare that those desires make you personally deserve to suffer a purely retributive punishment.

Hello Bob,

OK, but that is a separate issue from the issue of compatibilist free will. That’s all I was saying. It has more to do with an analysis of just punishment.

[quote author=“Robert Gulack”]Now you continue to use the somewhat confusing term “free will” to describe choices that you acknowledge are as mechanical as the inner workings of a toaster.  Prior to Hume/Mill compatibilism, the idea of “free will” was felt to involve a lot more than that, and, on that basis, was alleged to justify purely retributive punishment.

OK, here we’re getting closer to what I am looking for: how did they use this contra-causal notion of free will to justify retributive punishment? So far, the arguments we’ve been provided have no essential link to either notion of free will.

[quote author=“Robert Gulack”]You are quite right to say that the compatibilist, when evaluating for what he calls “free will,” disregards the fact that there are causal roots for what he is considering, and calls “free” that which proceeds from the interior desires of the individual involved.  But the fact that the compatibilist DEFINES A TERM without considering the causal roots doesn’t mean the causal roots cease to exist.  When the compatibilist mistakenly advocates retribution, he is advocating revenge against toasters, which is exactly as silly as it sounds.

A couple of things:

(1) The compatibilist believes (as I do) that the definition of “free will” along causal lines isn’t arbitrary; it’s the correct definition. Indeed, I would argue it is the only possible definition, since the contra-causal version of free will is in fact incoherent. I only make this point because it sounds from your description as though the compatibilist is cooking something up arbitrarily.

The fact that some laypeople are confused by incoherent notions of free will (that they may have gotten indirectly through Sunday School or the like) does not change anything.

(2) I would avoid the reference to toasters and silliness. That’s because any reference to toasters having beliefs, desires, or mental states of any kind sounds silly. So we don’t know if the silliness you are referring to here (viz., retribution) is just a subset of the silliness due to the fact that we are talking about toasters having ethical properties.

The reason it sounds silly for us to attribute ethical properties to toasters is that they are many orders of magnitude too simple. Indeed, arguably even non-human animals lack robust ethical properties. So it isn’t informative to say that some ethical property we might attribute to toasters sounds silly. They all do.

[quote author=“Robert Gulack”]You say, “For purposes of freedom and culpability, that does not include the causal beliefs and desires.”  As a matter of definition, the compatibilist does not define “freedom” as requiring considering causality.

Well ... I wouldn’t go that far. We do have to consider causality when considering if an act was free. The question, however, is what sort of thing caused the act? Was the belief/desire generated by a normal functioning brain? Or was the person deranged somehow? Was he under the influence of some sort of drug? Was he being compelled to act by some outside force? All of these can be exculpatory causal stories, by revealing that the action was not entered into freely.

[quote author=“Robert Gulack”] But we are not not discussing either “freedom” or “culpability for deterrent punishment.”  We are discussing culpability for purely retributive punishment, and that is an entirely different thing that requires an entirely different ethical analysis.  The fact that the term “culpability” may be properly used in one context does not compel us to admit it may be properly used in an entirely different context.

That is where I think you’re going wrong.  But I don’t blame you in the slightest.

But I am not arguing for either sort of culpability, as I said above when I said that I was not arguing for retributive punishment. I am only trying to figure out the arguments at issue. My own views are quite inchoate, so I’m sort of doing a Socratic dialogue here.

[quote author=“Robert Gulack”]In conclusion, you are quite right to say, this “has to do with one’s analysis of justice, and what justice demands.”  But I would argue one should begin analyzing justice with something like the Golden Rule or utilitarianism, and that, beginning in such a manner, you will find it hard to justify revenge.  It is only if you carefully begin by defining justice as “doing what the Golden Rule demands, unless revenge requires the imposition of suffering”  that you will find it easy to justify revenge.

I take it that the Golden Rule is “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. The problem with relying on that here is that any non-hypocritical supporter of retributive justice will argue that they also should be punished retributively if they do evil things.

The move to utilitarianism may be a potentially better argument, since retribution for its own sake will increase pain in the world without a concomitant increase in pleasure. So yes, I think I can see that a utilitarian would argue that from the hazy mathematics of pain and pleasure, retribution is unjustified since it is ex hypothesi not done in order to increase later pleasure.

But then do you believe that utilitarianism is the correct ethical theory? I have no particular opinion on the matter, although I do have some affinity for some utilitarian analyses. (I have also heard some very weird and prima facie unethical cases that are supported by utilitarianism, so I’m not sure exactly how far it can be pushed).

Best,

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Posted: 14 May 2006 12:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 48 ]
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Dear Doug:

As to ethics, I offer a new synthesis of the Golden Rule and utilitarianism in my lecture, HOW TO TELL THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN RIGHT AND WRONG, which is available at ethical focus.org.

As to your notions of how complex something has to be before compatibilist notions of deterrent “culpability” apply to it, consider that deterrence is not really about YOU at all—it’s about what impact punishing you will have on OTHER PEOPLE.

Let’s suppose I am hiding from the law by pretending to be one of a large group of robot plumbers.  I happen to notice that robot plumbers that take too long to fix leaks are thrown into a pot of boiling metal.  Does this not encourage me to work hard enough to avoid this fate?  Do I have any questions about how complex the robot plumbers are or are not, or is not this absolutely irrelevant to deterrence, as far as I am concerned?

BOB GULACK

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Posted: 14 May 2006 03:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 49 ]
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[quote author=“Robert Gulack”]As to ethics, I offer a new synthesis of the Golden Rule and utilitarianism in my lecture, HOW TO TELL THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN RIGHT AND WRONG, which is available at ethical focus.org.

Hello Bob,

I did a very quick skim of that article and don’t see where you deal with this issue. Perhaps you could summarize?

[quote author=“Robert Gulack”]As to your notions of how complex something has to be before compatibilist notions of deterrent “culpability” apply to it, consider that deterrence is not really about YOU at all—it’s about what impact punishing you will have on OTHER PEOPLE.

Let’s suppose I am hiding from the law by pretending to be one of a large group of robot plumbers.  I happen to notice that robot plumbers that take too long to fix leaks are thrown into a pot of boiling metal.  Does this not encourage me to work hard enough to avoid this fate?  Do I have any questions about how complex the robot plumbers are or are not, or is not this absolutely irrelevant to deterrence, as far as I am concerned?

Well, I think you’re dealing with an entirely separate issue here. When I am working with these robot plumbers, I am the one who is more complex, and hence I am the one who has the ethical properties. As I understand your case, the robot plumbers are basically dumb machines and have no particular ethical properties. They just work properly (fixing leaks, let us suppose) or are thrown into boiling metal.

There is, for example, no question as to whether the person doing the throwing is “murdering” anyone ... so long as I am not tossed in as well!

What makes the distinction between beings with ethical properties and beings without ethical properties has to do with overall cognitive and representational complexity.

My problem with the “toaster” example above is that you were relying on the weirdness of attributing a particular ethical property to a toaster. But of course, attributing any ethical properties to toasters sounds weird. Toasters don’t have ethical properties, even for a compatibilist.

:wink:

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Posted: 15 May 2006 03:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 50 ]
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[quote author=“dougsmith”][quote author=“Robert Gulack”]As to ethics, I offer a new synthesis of the Golden Rule and utilitarianism in my lecture, HOW TO TELL THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN RIGHT AND WRONG, which is available at ethical focus.org.

Hello Bob,

I did a very quick skim of that article and don’t see where you deal with this issue. Perhaps you could summarize?

[quote author=“Robert Gulack”]As to your notions of how complex something has to be before compatibilist notions of deterrent “culpability” apply to it, consider that deterrence is not really about YOU at all—it’s about what impact punishing you will have on OTHER PEOPLE.

Let’s suppose I am hiding from the law by pretending to be one of a large group of robot plumbers.  I happen to notice that robot plumbers that take too long to fix leaks are thrown into a pot of boiling metal.  Does this not encourage me to work hard enough to avoid this fate?  Do I have any questions about how complex the robot plumbers are or are not, or is not this absolutely irrelevant to deterrence, as far as I am concerned?

Well, I think you’re dealing with an entirely separate issue here. When I am working with these robot plumbers, I am the one who is more complex, and hence I am the one who has the ethical properties. As I understand your case, the robot plumbers are basically dumb machines and have no particular ethical properties. They just work properly (fixing leaks, let us suppose) or are thrown into boiling metal.

There is, for example, no question as to whether the person doing the throwing is “murdering” anyone ... so long as I am not tossed in as well!

What makes the distinction between beings with ethical properties and beings without ethical properties has to do with overall cognitive and representational complexity.

My problem with the “toaster” example above is that you were relying on the weirdness of attributing a particular ethical property to a toaster. But of course, attributing any ethical properties to toasters sounds weird. Toasters don’t have ethical properties, even for a compatibilist.

:wink:


Dear Doug:

My whole lecture HOW TO TELL THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN RIGHT AND WRONG presents my new theory of ethics (see ethicalfocus.org).  The basic idea is to imagine every human being who has ever lived or will ever live shares one single soul, which is reincarnated both forward AND BACKWARD in time.  If we knew this were true, what kind of ethical choices would we make?

The reason I brought in the hypothetical about the robot plumbers was to dramatize the difference between compatibilist deterrence and traditional retributivism.

Under the traditional view, there is one thing—culpability—that makes it ALL RIGHT to punish us and, at the same time, makes it a MORAL GOOD to punish us.  It is the sin we have chosen by our free will that both negates our right not to suffer AND obligates society to make us suffer.

But, when a compatibilist such as yourself is exploring the idea of deterrent punishment, an entirely different analysis is implied.

Our general right not to suffer bad things is negated by the alleged fact that society NEEDS to punish us in order to deter others from committing crimes.  My point with the robot plumbers is that such an analysis does not presume any level of complexity in the thing being sacrificed.  All that is required is that the things being deterred have sufficient complexity to catch on that a punishment will be inflicted for certain acts.

Thomas Bentham, the founder of utilitarianism, fell into a confusion similar to yours when he was considering the question as to why we don’t punish lunatics.  Under the retributive system, we don’t punish lunatics because, lacking free will, they have not negated their general protection against being made to suffer.  Bentham, in discarding retributivism, saw the need for a new rationale.  He said we don’t punish lunatics because they wouldn’t understand what was happening.  What he failed to see was that the deterrence would arguably be justified even if it only succeeded in deterring sane people.

BOB GULACK

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Posted: 15 May 2006 04:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 51 ]
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Hello Bob,

Lots of stuff here to discuss ... I almost think we need a different thread.

:wink:

[quote author=“Robert Gulack”]My whole lecture HOW TO TELL THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN RIGHT AND WRONG presents my new theory of ethics (see ethicalfocus.org).  The basic idea is to imagine every human being who has ever lived or will ever live shares one single soul, which is reincarnated both forward AND BACKWARD in time.  If we knew this were true, what kind of ethical choices would we make?

Yes, I noticed this move in your paper and was not sure what to make of it.

(1) This “single soul” idea is clearly just a story, since even by your own lights we do not in fact share such a soul. If it’s in fact just a story, why should we take it seriously?

(2) On any notion of ethics going, responsibility for actions goes with the “soul”. Indeed, one can argue that a “soul” just is that sort of thing that tracks ethical responsibility. For example, we know that identical twins can’t share souls, because twin A is in no way responsible for twin B’s crime. You ask, “If we knew this [soul-identity] were true, what kind of ethical choices would we make?” ... Hmmm. If, per imposible, it were true that we were all the same person, then we would all be responsible for the crimes of our forefathers, as our descendants would for ours. Certainly an odd result, and indeed a reductio ad absurdum. Why should we pay it any attention?

[quote author=“Robert Gulack”]Under the traditional view, there is one thing—culpability—that makes it ALL RIGHT to punish us and, at the same time, makes it a MORAL GOOD to punish us.  It is the sin we have chosen by our free will that both negates our right not to suffer AND obligates society to make us suffer.

But, when a compatibilist such as yourself is exploring the idea of deterrent punishment, an entirely different analysis is implied.

I can see that some people hold to the “traditional” view you outline. But compatibilism does not imply a different analysis. The “traditional” view could equally well be held by a compatibilist. That is, someone whose evil act was caused by evil beliefs and desires would gain the property of “culpability” by so doing.

Again, I am not saying that this is the “correct” analysis, but that it seems perfectly genuine to me that a compatibilist could hold it.

[quote author=“Robert Gulack”]Our general right not to suffer bad things is negated by the alleged fact that society NEEDS to punish us in order to deter others from committing crimes.  My point with the robot plumbers is that such an analysis does not presume any level of complexity in the thing being sacrificed.  All that is required is that the things being deterred have sufficient complexity to catch on that a punishment will be inflicted for certain acts.

Thomas Bentham, the founder of utilitarianism, fell into a confusion similar to yours when he was considering the question as to why we don’t punish lunatics.  Under the retributive system, we don’t punish lunatics because, lacking free will, they have not negated their general protection against being made to suffer.  Bentham, in discarding retributivism, saw the need for a new rationale.  He said we don’t punish lunatics because they wouldn’t understand what was happening.  What he failed to see was that the deterrence would arguably be justified even if it only succeeded in deterring sane people.

So ... let me see, are you arguing that bad robot plumbers and criminal lunatics deserve punishment, even though they are incapable of understanding it, because that punishment might deter others?

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Posted: 15 May 2006 07:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 52 ]
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[quote author=“dougsmith”][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.

Doug,

Some philosophers think that an analysis of freedom is central to deciding about retribution, since the idea of just deserts is intuitively linked to the kind of capacities the agent has to originate behavior.  For instance, at the Online Philosophy Conference now underway   at http://experimentalphilosophy.typepad.com/online_philosophy_confere/  Eddy Nahmais says in a commentary at http://garnet.acns.fsu.edu/~tan02/OPC Week Three/Commentary on Vargas.pdf

“Skeptics about free will tend to accept that compatibilist theories can secure much of what we care about when it comes to agency and responsibility but that these theories cannot secure retributive attitudes and practices (“robust” moral responsibility). Consider the way Galen Strawson defines libertarian agency as the sort that would secure “eternal reward or punishment” and then argues this type of agency is impossible. Along with other skeptics, such as Saul Smilansky and Derk Pereboom, Strawson emphasizes that compatibilist agency is sufficient to ground most of our attitudes and practices, just not retribution.”

and

““incompatibilists (libertarians and skeptics alike) may be happy to go along for the ride—to work with “compatibilists to develop an account of the capacities required to get beasts like us to behave better in the future. But they will inevitably think that such accounts fail to secure everything important about morally responsible agency, since moral agents also have to be fair targets of retributive attitudes and practices. They may think it is pragmatic and sometimes necessary to beat beasts (like us) to make us behave better, but they will argue that it is nonetheless unfair to beat them unless the beasts were the “ultimate source” of their misdeeds and could have avoided doing them even given the actual past and laws.”

So you see operating here the link between retribution and libertarian agency (contra-causal free will), which generates the question of how compatibilists justify retribution.  Despite the number of compatibilist-retributivists out there, I haven’t yet seen a transparent, convincing answer to this, so if you run across one by all means point me to it.  The basic question, again, is why should we inflict suffering that serves no consequential benefit?

best,

Tom
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Posted: 15 May 2006 07:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 53 ]
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[quote author=“Tom Clark”]Some philosophers think that an analysis of freedom is central to deciding about retribution, since the idea of just deserts is intuitively linked to the kind of capacities the agent has to originate behavior.

<snip>

“Skeptics about free will tend to accept that compatibilist theories can secure much of what we care about when it comes to agency and responsibility but that these theories cannot secure retributive attitudes and practices (“robust” moral responsibility). Consider the way Galen Strawson defines libertarian agency as the sort that would secure “eternal reward or punishment” and then argues this type of agency is impossible. Along with other skeptics, such as Saul Smilansky and Derk Pereboom, Strawson emphasizes that compatibilist agency is sufficient to ground most of our attitudes and practices, just not retribution.”

and

““incompatibilists (libertarians and skeptics alike) may be happy to go along for the ride—to work with “compatibilists to develop an account of the capacities required to get beasts like us to behave better in the future. But they will inevitably think that such accounts fail to secure everything important about morally responsible agency, since moral agents also have to be fair targets of retributive attitudes and practices. They may think it is pragmatic and sometimes necessary to beat beasts (like us) to make us behave better, but they will argue that it is nonetheless unfair to beat them unless the beasts were the “ultimate source” of their misdeeds and could have avoided doing them even given the actual past and laws.”

Hello Tom,

This sort of contra-causal argument makes no sense to me, on many levels. I want to distinguish two issues:

(1) Compatibilism vs. CCFW
(2) Retributive vs. non-retributive justice

The question is whether in any shape or form CCFW <—> retribution.

Here we have someone saying that it would be unfair to exact retribution unless the perpetrator were the “ultimate source” of his misdeeds. OK. A compatibilist will say that the perpetrator was the ultimate source of his misdeeds, so long as he had freedom of action.  The source was in the beliefs, desires and other mental states that constitute who the perpetrator is.

(I know that a follower of CCFW will say that these mental states aren’t the “ultimate” source, in that a further causal story remains to be told about their own antecedents. But for the compatibilist as regards responsibility the buck stops at these mental states, so long as the act was done freely).

Further, a compatibilist will say that the CC notion of an “ultimate source” is incoherent. There is no other “ultimate source” we could be looking to except the bundle of beliefs and desires that make up the mental states of our supposed perpetrator.

[quote author=“Tom Clark”]So you see operating here the link between retribution and libertarian agency (contra-causal free will), which generates the question of how compatibilists justify retribution.  Despite the number of compatibilist-retributivists out there, I haven’t yet seen a transparent, convincing answer to this, so if you run across one by all means point me to it.  The basic question, again, is why should we inflict suffering that serves no consequential benefit?

Right, well, I can definitely see that as a crucial question.

I can, however, understand how a compatibilist could be in favor of retributive justice: the mental states which caused the acts are evil and so the person who had them, and caused the crime because of them, is in some fundamental sense, deserving of retribution.

If so, then as I say, there is no necessary link between CCFW and retributive justice. (1) and (2) above are separate philosophical issues, and separate debates. They should be treated separately.

It would, of course, be better if I added an argument as to how a follower of CCFW could be against retributive justice. That would complete the 4x4 table. It seems to me prima facie that we could find such a person. My only concern is that since I believe CCFW to be incoherent, I can’t hope to make much sense of what he argues ...

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Posted: 15 May 2006 08:58 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 54 ]
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Dear Doug:

There are plenty of nonretributivists who believe in free will.  Martin Luther King, Jr., and Vaclav Havel are conspicuous modern examples.  They oppose retribution on ethical grounds (which is one of the reasons I, too, oppose it).  Traditional retributivism is scientifically crazy AND morally wrong, so it is rejected by anyone who can either do science or ethics.  It is certainly rejected by the few who can do both.

Let me sum up what you and I appear to be arguing about.

Within the context of compatibilism, without assuming anything more about ethics than that we have a duty to minimize crime, we could find ourselves driven to embrace deterrence.  This is what I have been characterizing as “compatibilist deterrence,” and, as you point out, it does raise issues about why we fail to punish lunatics.  I think there are answers to such complications that don’t require us to embrace any form of culpability beyond compatibilist deterrence.

Within the context of compatibilism, if we are willing to complicate our ethical assumptions further, we COULD, in principle, circle a subset of causal phenomena and say that people exhibiting such phenomena had lost some degree of their ethical right not to be subjected to suffering.  And we could also say the same subset “personally deserved” to suffer.  So, in that sense, you’re quite right to say that a compatibilist COULD choose to believe in culpability in these two additional senses.  My argument is such a choice would be immoral in terms of either the Golden Rule, Rawlsian ethics, utilitarian ethics, OR my own personal one-soul system.
 
Nevertheless, someone COULD believe in it, and thus become a “compatibilist retributivist.”  Compatibilist retributivists can circle any subset they wish to condemn to their vengeance, including subsets with required minimum levels of cognition.  It’s totally arbitrary, and, therefore, totally up to them.

BOB GULACK

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Posted: 15 May 2006 09:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 55 ]
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Hi Bob,

Since we seem to be drifting off the topic of free will now, I have moved the discussion over to its own thread over in the Philosophy section, here .

:wink:

Best,

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Posted: 15 May 2006 10:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 56 ]
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I would like to encourage anyone with questions specifically about free will to continue our discussion here.
BOB GULACK

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Posted: 15 May 2006 03:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 57 ]
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[quote author=“dougsmith”] [quote author=“Tom Clark”]So you see operating here the link between retribution and libertarian agency (contra-causal free will), which generates the question of how compatibilists justify retribution.  Despite the number of compatibilist-retributivists out there, I haven’t yet seen a transparent, convincing answer to this, so if you run across one by all means point me to it.  The basic question, again, is why should we inflict suffering that serves no consequential benefit?

Right, well, I can definitely see that as a crucial question.

I can, however, understand how a compatibilist could be in favor of retributive justice: the mental states which caused the acts are evil and so the person who had them, and caused the crime because of them, is in some fundamental sense, deserving of retribution.

Saying what that fundamental sense consists in is the crucial missing step that compatibilists must fill in.  Beyond simply saying that (fully caused) evil-doers deserve to suffer, one wants to know why they should be made to suffer independently of bringing about good consequences, which is what retribution entails.  Libertarians have an answer:  the evil-doer deserves such suffering because he has ultimate, self-caused responsibility for himself and his actions.  The compatibilist can’t point to that sort of metaphysical buck-stopping responsibility.

[quote author=“dougsmith”] If so, then as I say, there is no necessary link between CCFW and retributive justice. (1) and (2) above are separate philosophical issues, and separate debates. They should be treated separately.

There might not be a necessary link, but since CCFW is one of the standard justifications for retribution, they are in practice linked.  After all, one of the major reasons people get worked up about free will is because of its implications for responsibility, blame, and punishment.  A common response to hearing that we’re fully determined is, “Well, then what grounds do we have for holding people responsible?”

[quote author=“dougsmith”] It would, of course, be better if I added an argument as to how a follower of CCFW could be against retributive justice. That would complete the 4x4 table. It seems to me prima facie that we could find such a person. My only concern is that since I believe CCFW to be incoherent, I can’t hope to make much sense of what he argues ...

Agreed, CCFW is incoherent.  But a surprising number of people have that notion at the core of their idea of human agency.  In a recent study of undergraduates, 95% thought that human decision-making wasn’t fully caused by antecedent factors, such that “even if everything in the universe was exactly the same up until Mary made her decision, it did not have to happen that Mary would decide to have French Fries.  She could have decided to have something different.”  see http://gfp.typepad.com/online_papers/files/moralresponsibilityc1.doc pp. 11-13.

Tom Clark

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Posted: 20 May 2006 04:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 58 ]
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Skepticism as Originating in Love and Modesty

As far as the topic of free will goes, I would like to point out briefly that the defenders of traditionalist thinking often bring two indictments against skeptics: one, we are said to be soulless and unfeeling; two, we are accused of arrogantly claiming to understand everything.

In both cases, it is the skeptics who are innocent of the charge, and it is the traditionalists who are guilty.

We skeptics seek the truth because we care about what really happens in the real world to real people—in other words, the source of the thirst for accurate and reliable knowledge is love.  It is only people who have no real love in their souls who can have no thirst for objective knowledge of the facts.

We skeptics are skeptics because we are NOT arrogant—we know that any knowledge we have is provisional; subject to revision as new evidence comes in.  That is what Occam’s razor means: you adopt as your WORKING hypothesis that theory that most efficiently covers the evidence now available.  Unlike the traditionalists, who DO claim to understand the universe, we skeptics have no large black book of certain and eternal truths.

In short, the skeptical position, properly considered, is born of love and modesty.

ROBERT GULACK

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Posted: 20 May 2006 05:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 59 ]
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Re: Skepticism as Originating in Love and Modesty

[quote author=“Robert Gulack”]We skeptics seek the truth because we care about what really happens in the real world to real people—in other words, the source of the thirst for accurate and reliable knowledge is love.  It is only people who have no real love in their souls who can have no thirst for objective knowledge of the facts.

We skeptics are skeptics because we are NOT arrogant—we know that any knowledge we have is provisional; subject to revision as new evidence comes in.  That is what Occam’s razor means: you adopt as your WORKING hypothesis that theory that most efficiently covers the evidence now available.  Unlike the traditionalists, who DO claim to understand the universe, we skeptics have no large black book of certain and eternal truths.

In short, the skeptical position, properly considered, is born of love and modesty.

I would certainly like to believe this. I don’t think that all skeptics could be accused of modesty. I recall Dawkins quoting an eminent scientist who basically said that science is at times arrogant, but that it has plenty to be arrogant about. I don’t think that’s an odd position to hold.

I do understand where you’re coming from about science, being “born of modesty”. After all, at base, the scientific enterprise is the most modest enterprise there is: it tells the scientist to design experiments such that he cannot effect the outcome in any way. It removes his beliefs and desires from the equation. A properly designed experiment can demolish a lifetime’s effort of theorizing.

But on the other hand, when your opinions have been backed up by an enormous amount of careful evidence, you certainly have no reason to be overly modest about them. If someone says that Intelligent Design is true because the eye can’t appear from mud, one has every right not to be modest in responding that this person is an illiterate.

“Love” is a harder one. I do agree that in the best Platonic sense, “the source of the thirst for accurate and reliable knowledge is love” ... that is, the love of the Good, or of truth. But we can all come up with examples where it is not loving to tell someone the truth: for example, about being wrong about one’s true parentage, or about infidelities, or about whether or not someone is ugly.

So we quickly get down to difficult cases here.

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Posted: 20 May 2006 05:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 60 ]
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Doug—

That’s not the argument I’m making.  I’m not saying we skeptics love the truth.  I’m saying we love people—real, specific people (not abstractions).  And if you love someone, and want to take care of her or him, then you have to understand what that person really is; what vulnerabilities that person really has; what technologies can be developed in the real world to benefit that person.  These are all simple matters of fact.  We are driven to want to know the real facts because we wish to take care of real people.

It is in this sense that the root of all science is love.  As Bertrand Russell put it, “The good life is inspired by love and guided by knowledge.”

What better example of this could I give than Pres. George W. Bush: a person who is incredibly careless about facts precisely because he has no ability to care about other people.

BOB GULACK

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