• tinman917
    33
    About the idea that we don’t have free will. Which is a conclusion some people have arrived at or think we might arrive at.

    How does this relate to the ordinary understanding of what free will is? So suppose Mary points a gun at Jack and demands he hands over some secret documents and he does. Then we would say that he didn’t do so “of his own free will” and we would not blame him. But if Jack had handed over the documents despite not being threatened in any way (for example Mary bribed him instead) then we would say he handed them over “of his own free will”. And we would blame (and maybe punish) him accordingly.

    The idea that we don’t ever have free will would mean that in both these cases Jack (equally) did what he did not “of his own free-will”. But that can’t (ever) be true, can it? So does that mean there is something wrong with the idea that we don’t ever have free will?

    How does this fit into the broader free will debate?
  • Cuthbert
    214
    Yes, there are things wrong with it and you've summarised two of those things. It's probably worth pulling them out separately. One is the problem of ascribing moral responsibility in the absence of free will. The other is the problem of distinguishing actions done under compulsion from those that are not, in the absence of free will in both cases.
  • VagabondSpectre
    1.6k
    If we don't have free will, we still have the illusion of free will, and so basically everything works out the same in the end.

    Jack may not have had free will in his actions, but since we don't want to live in a world where we're agents leak documents for no good reason, it's in our interest to take action against jack to protect ourselves.

    No free will does absolve us of absolute moral guilt, but we are still held responsible for our actions on a practical basis. When clear outside coercion causes people to do misdeeds we don't hold them as responsible as we would if their actions were a normal result of their desires and behavior (a serial rapist for instance: they may not have free will, and so we probably shouldn't treat them inhumanely when we capture them, but capture them we should).

    The compatibilist sense of no free will can be summed by by "an absence of external coercion", the legal definition of free will. There's always some coercion from our environments so the lines can become quite blurred, but essentially the less coerced you are the more we must pragmatically hold you accountable for your actions.
  • Edmund
    15
    The Free will debate has historically been captured in many differing contexts, I am particularly interested in 17th century British history where it underpinned many of the religious/political/economic issues involved in the build up to the English ( British ) civil War. The Church of England under Queen Elizabeth had steered a middle ground, the essential British compromise, avoiding the perceived extremes of Catholicism and Puritanism. Elizabeth's desire not to make a window into men's ( sic )souls was helpful in this context. Her successor the Scot James 1 began as a moderate Calvinist theologically but structurally was wedded to the role of Bishops "No bishop no king" he famously said, as he felt the church hierarchy usefully bolstered that of the state. At this time, early 17th century the rise of Arminianism offered a differing theological perspective moving away from the Calvinist view of pre destination towards one of Free Will. Under James' son Charles notions of Free Will became married with the practical visions of order and hierarchy promulgated by Archbishop William Laud whose quest was for the "beauty of holiness" What became a struggle over church architecture, position of altars, pulpits et. had behind an arguably much more significant debate about Free Will vs Predestination. For extreme adherents of the latter, ones ultimate destination was already decided, one did not choose salvation one had to discover if one was one of the elect. Arguably much of the contrasting religious practice of those at the Laudian end of the church reflected this division in the sense that the Free Will adherents place much more emphasis on having church structures which facilitated the active choices of the believer, if one never knows if one is saved then regular active confession etc becomes more significant. In philosophical terms all this relates to the perception of the Divine they had and notions of the active or passive will of God; does predestination permit free will/ the illusion of free will and how does judgement relate to ideas of free will? As Locke might have said at the end of the century, if society shapes the individual what right has society to punish the individual it has created?
  • Londoner
    54
    So suppose Mary points a gun at Jack and demands he hands over some secret documents and he does. Then we would say that he didn’t do so “of his own free will” and we would not blame him.tinman917

    That would not make sense. If Jack had no free will, then why would Mary point the gun at him? We do not threaten rocks or trees with guns, because we do not think rocks and trees can make choices. If Mary threatens Jack it is because she thinks he can make a choice.

    We can understand why Jack makes the particular choice he does, but that doesn't imply that he had no choice.
  • gurugeorge
    517
    If Mary threatens Jack it is because she thinks he can make a choice.Londoner

    Excellent.

    What's deterministic is the biological machinery that issues in thoughts and actions - for example, the fact that the sound "Ouch!" comes out of my mouth when I hit my thumb with a hammer is a result of largely mechanistic, deterministic processes (that sometimes go wrong, fail of their function), and the fact that I have a subjective blinding flash of pain is also largely the result of deterministic, mechanistic processes going on in the brain; but the fact that this particular sound and that particular image mean their respective signifieds, is a function of social rules. Meaning is not something generated solely in the brain, but also something from the outside world that's attuned-to by the brain. It's a stable pattern of behaviour that arises out of the dance of mutual interaction between deterministic systems that are relatively sealed-off from each other's influence at the level at which their own internal determinism operates.

    Mary can expect a certain type of behaviour of Jack, because they're both attuned to the same folkways, ways of interaction, use of language, gestures, etc.

    The entity that's making the choice is the total organic being ("moist robot") Jack, it's not any of the innumerable little deterministic processes that are causing Jack's behaviour, it's the whole relatively sealed-off "boat" of Jack, who is an internally-deterministic process navigating a chaotic ocean, with imperfect knowledge and imperfect information, and the burden of the necessity of choosing among more or less dubious courses of action.
  • Galuchat
    671
    ...does predestination permit free will/ the illusion of free will and how does judgement relate to ideas of free will? — Edmund

    The Augustinian and Calvinist concept of total depravity (congenial to Luther's "The Bondage of the Will") denies free will, but doesn't preclude the possibility of free will as illusion (re-defining free will as uncoerced choice). On this view, personal responsibility and judgement are contingent upon the presence or absence of coercion.

    As Locke might have said at the end of the century, if society shapes the individual what right has society to punish the individual it has created? — Edmund

    The same right whereby individuals shape society (including its norms).
  • ChrisH
    150

    I think you'll find tinman isn't using the term 'free will' in the same way you're using it.
  • tinman917
    33
    Thanks for the responses. But I’m confused by what Londoner says.

    To recap (and maybe clarify) my original line of enquiry. I hear people say “we have no free will” and I think: if that was true then there would be no difference between some instance about which we say “Jack did that of his own free will” and some other instance about which we say “Jack didn’t do that of his own free will”. The idea that there is no free will would imply that both of these are equally instances where it is true to say “Jack didn’t do that of his own free will”. But that seems plain wrong. Which suggests that the idea that “we have no free will” is obviously false. But then I think: that can’t be right either.

    So I’m trying to get my head round to an understanding of what “we have no free will” actually means. Where what it means doesn’t end up with me concluding that it’s obviously false in the way I’ve described.

    In reply to which Londoner seems to be saying (correct me if I’m wrong) that actually in the instance where we say “Jack didn’t do that of his own free will” we are wrong to do so and that he did do it of his own free will. Because he had a choice.

    But I don’t understand how that point relates to my original query. The aim of which is, like I said, to understand what “we have no free will” means.

    Also doesn’t it follow from what Londoner is saying that we always have free will. Which is the opposite of “we don’t ever have free will”! Londoner talks about making choices. But isn’t there a difference between “making a choice”, which we can always do, and “making a free choice” (where this means roughly the same as “having free will”), which sometimes we can’t do.
  • Txastopher
    169
    If we don't have free will, we still have the illusion of free will, and so basically everything works out the same in the end.VagabondSpectre

    Or to put it another way, 'free-will' is the term we use for the sense that we have control over our own actions. The fact that we have this sensation demonstrates that we have 'free-will'.
  • VagabondSpectre
    1.6k


    Here's an analogy that might help:

    Ever hear of 'learning machines'? Long story short, they're very complicated algorithms that are in fact too complicated for us to fully understand once they really get going (example: a computers are better at Ches sand 'Go' than any living human.

    So let's say we watch a learning computer trounce a chess master in a series of matches. What did we just see?

    Two machines, one silicon, one biological, who "followed their internal programming" which largely consists of learned experiences, and the silicon machine proved the better decision maker. We can easily imagine how the computer is determined and lacks what we can call "hard free-will", and if we learn enough physics, biology, neuroscience, etc, we also begin to see the human machine as likewise lacking hard free-will.

    Nothing has hard free will, as far as determinism and causation are concerned.

    But...

    Let's say in the middle of the computer Vs human chess match, you kept shining a laser pointer into the eyes of the human player, or you put drugs in his beverage: you would be coercing him and interfering with the set of decisions he would have made were he not coerced by some external force which is not a part of "him". If you stuck a powerful magnet up against the processor of the computer player, it would likewise screw with and coerce the set of decisions which it would have made had it not been interfered with.

    This idea of not being interfered with doesn't define "hard free-will" (which may be undefinable once you really get into it), instead it defines a compatibilist notion of free will. We do make choices, and even though the choices we make are inevitable, the decision making entity that is "me" can be approximately blamed and credited for its decisions when it makes them from a reasonably uncoerced state.

    Imagine two bank robbers; one robs because the thrill of violence is a central part of what they enjoy and who they are, while the other robs a bank because his child has been kidnapped and he has been extorted into doing so. Neither of them has hard free-will, but it's plain to see, in the pragmatic sense, which type of robber we need to sentence with prison time. Likewise, if a learning machine or a chess grand-master loses because of magnets or drugs, we won't feel that it says something about their chess skill.

    We have decisions to make but the outcome of our decisions might be wholly pre-determined. But, the more decisions we have available to us, and the less our decisions are coerced by impermanent and irregular environmental forces, the more we must be pragmatically or in practice held responsible for our actions.

    One sensical way to think of compatibilist free-will is in terms of degrees of freedom in decision making available to a deciding entity; the more visible options, the more free we can hold them to be. There are of course many opportunities and decisions available to us of which we are simply not aware (possible technologies, routes, strategies. solutions, etc...). And the more we learn about the biological realities of human behavior, the more we realize that we are subconsciously coerced even in our thought processes concerning the options which are known to us (fallacies, biases, emotions, etc).

    Someone once employed the now fabled "Twinky defense" in a murder trial, where the lawyer and expert witness successfully argued that the defendant's extraordinary Twinky consumption habits caused a sugar fluctuations so wild in his body that it dis-regulated neuro-chemicals in his brain, causing him to essentially become temporarily insane, and thus we held him less accountable for the murder.

    In the legal sphere they call these "mitigating factors" which Wiki defines as :a mitigating factor is any information or evidence presented to the court regarding the defendant or the circumstances of the crime that might result in reduced charges or a lesser sentence.
  • tinman917
    33

    OK, so let me see if I’ve understood you. Basically what you’re saying is that the idea that “we have no free will” is only saying that we have no “hard free will”. It’s not at all saying we don’t have (what we might call) normal (or “soft”) free will. Is that right?

    (By the way I really like the term “hard free will”! I've not heard it before but I’m going to use it from now on.)

    And, as you say, it’s very difficult to define what this hard free will is. Or even to give an example of it. It’s easy to give examples of normal free will. But, despite trying, I can’t come up with an example of someone doing something of their own hard free will.

    So when people say “there is no free will” they are denying the existence of something where they can't really say what that thing is. And whatever they are denying the existence of doesn’t matter. Because, while the absence of normal free will makes a difference to the important issue of responsibility, the absence of hard free will doesn’t make any difference to anything.

    So is that it then? Or is there more to it? Because if all the above is right then there is no free will problem at all is there? But, I can’t help thinking I’ve missed something.

    (P.S. If anybody responds to this can you please keep it as short as possible and make sure it relates very directly to my query. It’s just that I get confused very easily! Thanks.)
  • VagabondSpectre
    1.6k
    Basically what you’re saying is that the idea that “we have no free will” is only saying that we have no “hard free will”. It’s not at all saying we don’t have (what we might call) normal (or “soft”) free will. Is that right?tinman917

    Good so far.

    And, as you say, it’s very difficult to define what this hard free will is. Or even to give an example of it. It’s easy to give examples of normal free will. But, despite trying, I can’t come up with an example of someone doing something of their own hard free will.tinman917

    Indeed, it is almost as if to suggest an un-caused cause, which then makes calling that our will seem rather absurd.

    So when people say “there is no free will” they are denying the existence of something where they can't really say what that thing is. And whatever they are denying the existence of doesn’t matter. Because, while the absence of normal free will makes a difference to the important issue of responsibility, the absence of hard free will doesn’t make any difference to anything.tinman917

    Pretty much! But there are a few ramifications of lacking hard-free will. Torturing someone to death for revenge (for instance) makes no moral sense if they are not truly responsible. In some situations where we have no other options, capital punishment may be required for the survival and safety of others, but to do it inhumanely would be a crime in and of itself. There are a few other ramifications but nothing major really. 99% of the same moral questions and dilemmas apply if we have no hard free will.

    So is that it then? Or is there more to it? Because if all the above is right then there is no free will problem at all is there? But, I can’t help thinking I’ve missed something.tinman917

    Intuition tells people they have free will, experience tells people they have free will, and the unpredictability of their actions implies that people do have free will. Add to this the fact that we need free will to exist to hate and lay emotionally laden blame at the feet of our transgressors, and you can imagine the persuasive biases which cause people to believe in hard free will.

    The hard problem of free will is actually proving that it exists (let alone define it), and while it really can be usefully simplified such as I have presented it, there are a vast plethora of approaches to answering the problem of free will
  • tinman917
    33


    But there are a few ramifications of lacking hard-free will. Torturing someone to death for revenge (for instance) makes no moral sense if they are not truly responsible.VagabondSpectre
    Can I clarify what you mean by this? Do you mean the following: if someone is lacking hard free will then they are not truly responsible, and so this has the ramification that it makes no moral sense to inflict any sort of punishment on them for whatever objectionable thing they might have done.

    Intuition tells people they have free willVagabondSpectre
    When you use the term “free will” here (and in the rest of your reply after this quote) do you mean hard free will or normal free will?
  • VagabondSpectre
    1.6k
    Can I clarify what you mean by this? Do you mean the following: if someone is lacking hard free will then they are not truly responsible, and so this has the ramification that it makes no moral sense to inflict any sort of punishment on them for whatever objectionable thing they might have done.tinman917

    It makes very little moral sense to inflict punishment for the sake of punishment (such as torture or revenge) if there is no hard free will. A good example is the case of child-like-innocence. When children misbehave we do not blame them for their misdeeds in the same way we would blame an adult. We realize they didn't know any better, and so the "punishment" we then inflict on them as a result is corrective, not punitive.

    We spank children who misbehave not because they deserve it or we want them to suffer, but as a last resort to get them to behave or impart an important lesson. Often times we need to take action against transgressors, but once we've secured our own safety there's no utility in inflicting additional pain to the transgressor. (some people may make the argument that punishment for deterrence is a good enough utility to warrant the torture of criminals, but I do not assent to that position myself).

    When you use the term “free will” here (and in the rest of your reply after this quote) do you mean hard free will or normal free will?tinman917

    Sorry to be inconsistent: yes I mean hard free will. Lots of people hate the idea of determinism and cling to the idea that they have hard free will. Some people feel existentially threatened by the idea that we lack it (it confuses their moral and existential frameworks). I blame "theism"...
  • tinman917
    33

    So about the answer to my “do you mean the following” question. Is that yes or no?

    I must admit that I’ve got confused by you introducing other concepts such as revenge and the responsibility of children for their actions! (Both of which raise other issues I think.) Can you explain what you mean without using those concepts?

    Maybe we should back up a little. Previously you said: “But there are a few ramifications of lacking hard-free will.” Can you give an example of some agent doing something not of their own hard free will. This might help me understand what you say about the ramifications after that.
  • VagabondSpectre
    1.6k
    So about the answer to my “do you mean the following” question. Is that yes or no?tinman917

    Yes. Not having hard-free-will absolves us of absolute moral responsibility, but it does not absolve us of practical responsibility.

    Previously you said: “But there are a few ramifications of lacking hard-free will.” Can you give an example of some agent doing something not of their own hard free will.tinman917

    Nobody seems to actually have hard free-will; it doesn't exist. I can only give examples of "reasonably un-coerced will".

    I must admit that I’ve got confused by you introducing other concepts such as revenge and the responsibility of children for their actions! (Both of which raise other issues I think.) Can you explain what you mean without using those concepts?tinman917

    If we did have hard free-will (something I cannot even give a clear example of) then we could blame all of the mistakes someone makes on them instead of understanding that many external causes contributed to their immoral behavior. Using this reasoning, if someone grew up to be a criminal it wouldn't matter that they were, for instance, raised on the streets, because they have hard free-will, and therefore could and should have chosen to not behave immorally.

    It doesn't make much sense to take revenge on someone if their actions were not truly their fault. Often times we need to retaliate to protect ourselves, but the distinct belief that our transgressors deserve to and should suffer only makes sense if we have the kind of inherent moral guilt that hard free-will would provide.

    Revenge doesn't rehabilitate.
  • SherlockH
    73
    Under multiverse thoery we have no free will becuase there is a bunch of other people doing what you didnt. So your action is the only action left not taken. However in the discussed situation you are free to do what you wish but there are consequences to every action or in action. How fair those choices are though depend. You are basically asking Jack to let himself die which is not fair to ask of him. So the only fair option is do what the person with the gun makes you do.
  • Hanover
    5k
    Under multiverse thoery we have no free will becuase there is a bunch of other people doing what you didnt. So your action is the only action left not taken.SherlockH

    If there were an infinite number of universes, why couldn't there be multiple ones that did that same thing?
  • Mayor of Simpleton
    425
    How does this relate to the ordinary understanding of what free will is?tinman917

    I'm not sure the debate of determinism vs. free will has very much to do with the ordinary understanding of free will.

    Determinism basically concludes that no actions or events occur without some sort of predicating factors leading to the actions or events playing out as they do. The notion of such occurances (such a luck or chance) are basically the result of our inability have knowledge of and be able to take into consideration all the predicating factors leading up to the actions and events playing out as they do; thus the only reason why there is a notion of luck or chance or free will is due to our personal inability and not the nature of the universe or any metaphysical principles.

    The example illustrated seems to be more the ordinary usage of free will... that being a decision made out of one's choice (on one's own accord) in spite of or in defiance of agents of constraint. This usage does not address any predicating factors leading up to the action or event beyond the immediate or obvious.

    I might also mention that the counterpart to this ordinary usage of free will is not determinism but rather fate or destiny.

    In my case I can say that I know that actions and events all have some sort of predication and that no actions and events can be void of predicating factors; thus all actions and events are indeed determined. Unless one can disrupt the arrow of time and change the past the predicating factors will lead to the results to play out as they do 100% of all cases. The problem is this is far too complicated and has far too many factors to take into considerating; thus I live under the notion that I make choices without any clear cut certainty. I know one thing, yet experience life as another.

    This is really a short version of a much longer and detailed explanation, so I'll leave it at that. If you want I can add more words if needed.

    Meow!

    G
  • SherlockH
    73
    you mean to say a universe which differs from others not by all chioces but some? I think that is possible under the thoery. Excellent piont!
  • tinman917
    33


    I was looking for an example of some agent doing something NOT of their own “hard free will”. But now that I think of it, given that we’re working with the idea that we don’t ever have hard free will, then I guess we could just use an example of mine from earlier. Jack chooses to give Mary the secret documents for a bribe. This choice is a free choice, he chooses of his own “normal free will”. But not of his own “hard free will”. (Because, according to the idea I am considering, all of our choices are not of our hard free will). Is this OK as an example?

    Then the first question is: what is it exactly about Jack’s choosing to give Mary the documents in this example that constitutes it being a not hard free will choice.

    The second question is: what are the ramifications? You would say, as you said before, that Jack has “practical responsibility” (due to his having “normal free will”) but not “absolute moral responsibility”. But what does it mean exactly to say he does not have absolute moral responsibility here?

    P. S. Thanks to the other people for the recent new replies but I’m not going to respond to these yet as I want to remain focussed on my initial query. Which is (to recap) that I am trying to figure out exactly what it means when people say that we have no free will. And what (if any) significance there is of this not having free will.
  • VagabondSpectre
    1.6k
    Then the first question is: what is it exactly about Jack’s choosing to give Mary the documents in this example that constitutes it being a not hard free will choice.tinman917

    it's not a choice made with hard free-will because he could not have chosen otherwise. While Jack's decision was relatively free and un-coerced in the regular every-day sense (such that we ought to pragmatically hold him accountable), ultimately Jack was not in control of the chain of causes and effects which inexorably led to his existence, development, the circumstances he found himself in, and his subsequent criminal behavior.

    Imagine that Jack had a drug addiction he needed the money to satiate; or that he had a growing tumor pressing on a part of his brain responsible for empathy or critical thinking; or that he had been targeted and groomed for bribery by manipulative foreign agents. These situations convey different levels of direct external influence, but even when there are no direct external influences on a given decision, the growth and development of who we are is in part determined (beyond our control) by the experiences, stimulus, and responses we get from the environment that assist in shaping us into who we are (we're not completely blank slates, the biological component - our genetics - is also beyond our control).

    If Jack is just a greedy bastard, we should probably lock him up and see what we can do about rehabilitation, but I don't blame him for being who he is in the sense of inherent moral guilt (he is not the true originator of his actions), and so torturing or obliterating him seems vastly unfair. (However, if we're incapable of incarceration for whatever reason, and his greed presents an existential threat to us, obliteration may become a necessity of self-defense).

    The second question is: what are the ramifications? You would say, as you said before, that Jack has “practical responsibility” (due to his having “normal free will”) but not “absolute moral responsibility”. But what does it mean exactly to say he does not have absolute moral responsibility here?tinman917

    "We lack absolute moral responsibility" is a moral ramification of lacking hard free-will. It has to do with inherent guilt and blame: original sin, and says something about what we should do in response to moral transgressions. It means that when we retaliate against transgressors for our own defense, we should limit and temper the extent of our retaliation to what is necessary for our defense and useful for rehabilitation (also a kind of defense) because if we one day find ourselves in the position of transgressor, we would want others not to disproportionately punish us as a result.

    The example of rapists is extreme but perhaps suitable to illustrate the difference: People who develop into rapists have often been the victims of sexual assault themselves, which can affect their subsequent development toward a penchant for sexual assault. Now, it's very obvious that if someone turns out to be a rapist we must incarcerate them for our own protection, but what should we do beyond that? It's possible we can never rehabilitate them and so they must remain locked up forever, but what standard of living conditions should we offer them? If they truly have no hard free-will, it's not like they're inherently evil or deserving of torture. If they can indeed be rehabilitated and safely reintroduced into society, would you not rather that instead of them being irrevocably condemned to suffering for reasons that in the end were beyond their control and can be corrected?

    It seems clear to me that forcing convicts, regardless of their crime, to endure a life-long condition of suffering doesn't serve any justified purpose. It gives a feeling of pleasurable revenge to victims, and it deters though fear others committing crimes, but would you not rather live in a society that does not make an extreme example of you by housing you in inhumane conditions and forcing you to suffer instead of offering rehabilitation? Capital punishment is immoral in my view (if it can be avoided), as is "revenge", torture, and "eye for an eye" systems of justice.

    want to remain focused on my initial query. Which is (to recap) that I am trying to figure out exactly what it means when people say that we have no free will. And what (if any) significance there is of this not having free will.tinman917

    When people say "we do not have free will" they are saying that our decisions are influenced and determined by a myriad of internal and external causal factors, acting within and upon the complex contraptions that we are, such that the outcomes of our decisions are not truly our own or determined by "us".

    That's "no free-will" in a nutshell, and teasing out the difference between un-coerced will and hard free-will cannot be so easily condensed. When we ought to hold people accountable for their decisions, to what extent, and in what way, are questions that must be informed by the specifics of each individual case, as the presence of and mitigating factors determine what kind of response is appropriate. Since we cannot predict the future with certainty (especially our future decisions) we have an effective illusion of free will. We appear to be the originators of our actions because it is too difficult to fully account for all the factors that cause us to behave the way we do.

    The following video is the first lecture in a very interesting series of lectures on human behavioral biology by Professor Robert Sapolsky (stanford). If you want to get a better sense of what people mean when we say "we have no free-will", the first 5 minutes of this video does an excellent job (I highly recommend the entire series).

  • TheMadFool
    4.1k
    Very interesting post. I like how you exposed a flaw in the issue of free will. It seems wrong to say that free will is absent given your thought experiment.

    However this impression that it's odd, to say the least, to hold the view that there's no free will arises only when we focus on the difference between the bribe and the gun.

    Look at the similarities instead. In both cases there's a compulsion to hand over the documents. In the case of the bribe it's our uncontrollable desire to get rich and in the case of the gun it's the , again, uncontrollable instinct to live.

    Also, free will can't be assessed unless we're free. I mean your comparison isn't fair. The correct form of the thought experiment should be one in which there's a bribe and one in which there's none. The influence over our free will that matters is an internal one. Not external.
  • Hanover
    5k
    How does this relate to the ordinary understanding of what free will is? So suppose Mary points a gun at Jack and demands he hands over some secret documents and he does. Then we would say that he didn’t do so “of his own free will” and we would not blame him. But if Jack had handed over the documents despite not being threatened in any way (for example Mary bribed him instead) then we would say he handed them over “of his own free will”. And we would blame (and maybe punish) him accordingly.tinman917

    Whether one hands over documents under threat of death or whether one does so for personal advantage, both are the result of free will, yet in the former the person is absolved from moral responsibility because of the choice imposed on him.
  • kilehetek
    10


    One day I will try to sympathize with that Idea!
  • tinman917
    33


    OK so let me see if I’ve understood what’s been said so far. So the idea is that, when we say “there is no free will”, this means that all our choices are the outcome of prior factors. Such that any choice we make could not have been otherwise than the way it was.

    Clarification point. We should clarify that “could not have been otherwise” here is not meant in the same way as that same phrase when we are talking about normal free will. So, in my previous example, when Jack hands over the documents at gunpoint we would say “he couldn’t have chosen otherwise” where this refers to the fact that he was being coerced to do what he did by being threatened with being shot. But in the hard free will case the phrase does not mean that. It means something else.

    Then, as for the blame issue. That’s what I’m not clear about. Is the idea that, because an agent has no hard free will, that then we don’t blame them? So we don’t blame Jack for handing over the documents to Mary in return for a bribe. We treat him as blameless in that scenario as we do if he had handed over the documents at gunpoint?

    In your last response you seem to be saying that the only sorts of punishment that are appropriate in cases of lack of hard free will are things like incarceration simply as a kind of preventative measure. That suggests you mean that we treat people who lack hard free will in the same way as ones who lack normal free will. Because in the latter situation preventative incarceration is also justified. (For example with regard to people diagnosed with certain “mental illnesses”.)

    I know you give other examples (rapists, drug addicts) but, to keep it simple, let’s stick to the example of Jack handing over the documents in return for a bribe. (After all the idea I am figuring out that “we have no free will” applies to all choices of all agents.) What does it mean to say that, in this case, Jack has no “absolute moral responsibility”?
  • VagabondSpectre
    1.6k
    OK so let me see if I’ve understood what’s been said so far. So the idea is that, when we say “there is no free will”, this means that all our choices are the outcome of prior factors. Such that any choice we make could not have been otherwise than the way it was.tinman917

    This is correct. The bolded statement amounts to a belief in "determinism", which undermines the possibility that hard free will exists. This is generally what people mean when they say "there is no free will", but specifically they mean that the decisions we make are inevitable due to internal and external causes which determine outcomes.

    Clarification point. We should clarify that “could not have been otherwise” here is not meant in the same way as that same phrase when we are talking about normal free will. So, in my previous example, when Jack hands over the documents at gunpoint we would say “he couldn’t have chosen otherwise” where this refers to the fact that he was being coerced to do what he did by being threatened with being shot. But in the hard free will case the phrase does not mean that. It means something else.tinman917

    In addition to "hard free-will", I'd also like to introduce "compatibilist free-will" so that there can be no confusion. Compatibilist free-will is the idea that the decisions you make which are free from coercion and based on your own motives can be considered to be freely made; it's the every-day kind of free-will we use to hold people accountable for their actions.

    Jack's lawyer could argue that it is unreasonable to expect him to have chosen otherwise in light of the coercive threat.

    Is the idea that, because an agent has no hard free will, that then we don’t blame them? So we don’t blame Jack for handing over the documents to Mary in return for a bribe. We treat him as blameless in that scenario as we do if he had handed over the documents at gunpoint?tinman917

    It's a different kind of blame. We're all blameless in the sense that we all lack hard free-will, but in the sense of compatibilist free-will we still sometimes hold people accountable for their actions if they commit moral transgressions. If someone commits a crime of their own compatibilist free will (free from coercion) then we might expect them to commit such a crime again. We're forced to take action against them if only for our own protection. If someone is significantly coerced into commiting a crime, then it would not be reasonable to assume they will carry on committing crimes once the coercion has ceased, so what would be the point of incarcerating them?

    In your last response you seem to be saying that the only sorts of punishment that are appropriate in cases of lack of hard free will are things like incarceration simply as a kind of preventative measure. That suggests you mean that we treat people who lack hard free will in the same way as ones who lack normal free will. Because in the latter situation preventative incarceration is also justified. (For example with regard to people diagnosed with certain “mental illnesses”.)tinman917

    If someone lacks compatibilist free-will and commits a crime, coerced, then I primarily need to take action against the coercion; the person pointing the gun at Jake has "practical/pragmatic moral responsibility" for the crime. In the case of mental-illness, we must still take preventative action against transgressors, but it's clear in such cases that causing them additional unnecessary suffering serves no justifiable purpose (we blame the disease instead of the person).

    What does it mean to say that, in this case (bribe), Jack has no “absolute moral responsibility”?tinman917

    In short, it means that it would be unfair to force Jack to burn in hell for eternity for his crimes. It is to say that our actions are not sufficient reason to assign a kind of metaphysical ultimate blame or credit. If nobody has hard free-will, then assigning ultimate responsibility to individuals would not make sense given we could blame any number of causes in the chain of cause and effect which led to their actions (we could even try to blame the big bang or god).

    You're probably thinking that this is a very peculiar kind of guilt/responsibility, and you're right! It exists because of the peculiarities of human moral development. If some people are just innately evil then it becomes emotionally easier to destroy them. It's a ruthless strategy and it defends itself well for obvious reasons. This is in part why an ideology that purports to send sinners to hell for eternity because they're inherently evil is the most popular set of religions.

    This is also why Christian Americans are convinced that "homosexuals are born gay" and why it's politically and descriptively correct to say that "addiction is a disease". They got tired of having to blame and condemn one another for "sin" and immoral behavior and so had to undermine the compatibilitst sense of free-will as it applies to these situations by highlight coercion and absence of choice.
  • tinman917
    33


    So, in conclusion. (A long-awaited conclusion to this thread.) You are saying that when we say Jack is blameless in the bribe scenario, this isn’t the same as the blamelessness he has in the gunpoint scenario. The latter blamelessness is the ordinary one which consists of us saying that he shouldn’t be punished. But in the bribe scenario it just means that he shouldn’t “burn in hell for eternity”! That’s the only consequence of his not having hard free will. But we can still blame him in this life.

    So when we say about Jack in the bribe scenario that he has no (hard) free will and is blameless it seems to me we are saying nothing really. On the whole, I don’t find it a very satisfactory conclusion that we have arrived at. It doesn’t sound quite right to me! But there you have it.

    In fact it has occurred to me in the past few days that the statement “we don’t have free will” is somehow meaningless due to a lack of falsifiability. Because there is no possible scenario of some agent choosing to do something “of their own hard free will” which would show that statement to be false! So saying it is saying nothing.

    (By the way in your last message you say: “In addition to "hard free-will", I'd also like to introduce "compatibilist free-will" so that there can be no confusion.” But I think that this compatibilist free-will is the same as the “normal (soft) free will” that we have already been referring to!)
  • VagabondSpectre
    1.6k
    So, in conclusion. (A long-awaited conclusion to this thread.) You are saying that when we say Jack is blameless in the bribe scenario, this isn’t the same as the blamelessness he has in the gunpoint scenario. The latter blamelessness is the ordinary one which consists of us saying that he shouldn’t be punished. But in the bribe scenario it just means that he shouldn’t “burn in hell for eternity”! That’s the only consequence of his not having hard free will. But we can still blame him in this life.tinman917

    We are forced to hold him accountable in this life, so to speak, but that doesn't mean we should burn him at the stake in this life either. There's an old adage that says "the punishment should suit the (nature of the) crime", and one of the truths it points to is that the moral and physical retaliations we enact against transgressors ought to somehow address and be proportional to the causes, motivations, and nature of their crimes. This way instead of a moral system which functions like a gulag in sentencing every minor offender to obliteration, it attempts to rehabilitate and restore rather than maintaining justice through merciless counter-aggression. Understanding that Jack has no hard free-will in the bribe scenario makes it quite easy to forgive jack on an emotional level, and even though we may need to incarcerate him it would be irrational to suggest that Jack deserves to suffer for his guilt when we understand his actions were beyond his (hard) control.

    So when we say about Jack in the bribe scenario that he has no (hard) free will and is blameless it seems to me we are saying nothing really. On the whole, I don’t find it a very satisfactory conclusion that we have arrived at. It doesn’t sound quite right to me! But there you have it.tinman917

    It seems a lackluster gem for such a long and narrow dig, but it buffs and appreciates well.

    Most people tend to make moral decisions via a strange mix of intuition, emotion, and possibly the influence of some formal moral framework. Moral outcomes throughout human history have been truly diverse as a result (much like Art, it is a field where the whims of subjective emotion, intuitive interpretation, and cultural convention have produced many'a great failure and masterwork). The idea that we lack hard free-will becomes useful if we want to trim back this over-grown moral hedge and identify what is useful: many moral systems apply absolute moral guilt to individuals for their actions, and so they do things like torture in response, mistakenly thinking that for whatever reason, since they have hard free-will, they are ultimately to blame and therefore causing them to suffer somehow produces justice through equality of suffering; eyes for eyes. But if all we're doing is trading blows, violence and criminal behavior (immoral harm) will likely continue. Beyond the necessity of incarceration, if we're not addressing the prevailing causes of human criminality then we're not solving any problems.

    Some will call me new fashioned, but I prefer a moral system which offers solutions instead of cyclical violence.

    Our moral progression has been heading in this direction for nearly a millennium, perhaps. We're slowly extending more moral consideration to more and more people, our court systems are moving towards rehabilitation and away from deterrence through suffering; our moral, legal, and governmental philosophies are becoming better models of reality which take into account circumstances that better understand and predict the individual. Perhaps you can appreciate that some people can have emotional and cognitive difficulty in understanding that we are products of our biology and environment instead of possessing souls with inherent goodness or evilness and capable of sin through hard free-will. The long history of this quick and dirty answer to moral questions continues to set us back to this day.

    In fact it has occurred to me in the past few days that the statement “we don’t have free will” is somehow meaningless due to a lack of falsifiability. Because there is no possible scenario of some agent choosing to do something “of their own hard free will” which would show that statement to be false! So saying it is saying nothing.tinman917

    It is indeed a highly unscientific claim to make. But vice versa, claiming that hard free-will exists seems even more unscientific given we cannot even offer a single coherent example of someone doing something of their hard-free will. Both claims are so unscientific that they're not even wrong. It's kind of like my atheism: I do not affirm or deny the existence of god (or hard free-will), but I'm certainly not going to pretend they exist without cause or evidence. We do have soft/compatibilist free will to worry about though, and if people weren't so caught up in their supernatural notions of justice and free-will our species wouldn't be so afflicted with excessive and violent confusion.

    (By the way in your last message you say: “In addition to "hard free-will", I'd also like to introduce "compatibilist free-will" so that there can be no confusion.” But I think that this compatibilist free-will is the same as the “normal (soft) free will” that we have already been referring to!)tinman917

    Aye. Soft free-will is a fine term in my approximation, but we are in truth pointing to the general compatibilist or legal definition of free-will which has a long history of exploration in philosophy. Not everyone shares my position in these matters, and trying to keep this discussion condensed and clear isn't easy. And so to avoid teeth gritting by any future and critical readers it's good to make the effort!
  • HexHammer
    4
    Have you actually read any scientific articles about the topic, or are you just inviting for a cozy chat?
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