• Relativist
    490
    Compatibilism attempts to account for free will in a manner consistent with determinism. This stands in contrast to Libertarian Free Will, which denies determinism. Libertarians point to the Principle of Alternative Possibilities (PAP), insisting that one can only be considered responsible for an act if one could possibly have chosen to act differently. If determinism is true (they say), then we could not have chosen differently – and therefore no one is responsible for their behavior. In this post, I will show that accountability is consistent with compatibilism.

    By definition, a choice is a behavior in which a person has multiple options before them, and selects one. Choices are plausibly consistent with compatibilism because they are the product of a person's memories, beliefs, dispositions, and impulses. At a point in time, memories, beliefs and dispositions are fixed. Impulses imply a seemingly random element to the choice, but not actually random. The impulse has a basis in one's attitude at the moment (e.g. optimistic, pessimistic, anger, happiness...) or related to an internal or external factor that triggers a transient memory or feeling. These factors plausibly collectively determine the decision - no alternative decision could have been made given the specific set of memories, beliefs dispositions, and impulses that were present at the time of the decision. For purposes of this discussion, we'll assume that there were deterministic causes of the prior memories, beliefs and dispositions as well (in general, a combination of nature and nurture).

    Consider this scenario: a parent raises a child with a lack of discipline, essentially letting the child do whatever she pleases while shielding the child from any negative consequences. The child reaches adulthood and behaves irresponsibly, drinking to excess and driving. One day, the adult child is driving drunk and hits a bicyclist; the adult child drives away leaving the bicyclist on the road to die. The drunk driver chose to drive while drunk, and chose to drive off after hitting the bicyclist. These decisions were plausibly the deterministic result of her beliefs and dispositions. Under this assumption, is this adult child responsible, or is the parent who failed to teach the child discipline and responsibility? Does the prior cause (the poor parenting) negate the adult child’s responsibility? The driver’s sister testified that the poor parenting should at least mitigate responsibility somewhat. But I expect we all agree that the adult child is responsible and should be held fully accountable, even if we also bear the mother responsible for her failure as a mother. (This actually happened in Houston a few years ago).

    With the above scenario in mind, here's two compatibilist accounts of responsibility:

    1.The natural reaction to hearing about the drunk driver killing the bicyclist is a reactive attitude that the driver is guilty. In most cases, a perpetrator has a feeling of guilt after recognizing a consequence of a bad choice (e.g. the girl expressed this to friends, and it was these friends who reported the crime).These morally reactive attitudes are the basis of our moral responsibility practices. They are natural responses, not mere social convention. They are an aspect of interpersonal relations and expectations, and of our natural internal feelings. It is inconceivable that we would stop holding such people morally accountable or stop feeling guilty, even if it were somehow proven that determinism is true. Indeed, the fact that we have these attitudes contributes to our behavior, because we generally prefer to avoid guilt and social approbation, and enjoy pride and respect.

    2. Could the drunk driver have done differently? Yes she could have, if she had held the strong belief that the risk of driving drunk was so great that it outweighed her impulse to do so. This could only have occurred had there been something different about the past (formation of that belief), but that's reasonable. Our choices are fully explainable as being the result of our personal beliefs and dispositions. As a thought experiment: In the actual world, you are presented with a choice between X and Y. You deliberate on the options, weighing pros &cons consistent with your background beliefs and dispositions, and you ultimately choose X (possibly influenced by some sudden impulse). Is there a possible world with an identical history to this one, so that you have exactly the same background beliefs, desires and impulses at the point at which the choice is presented - but you instead choose Y? If yes, then your choice is made for no reason (this seems to be what LFW gets you). If no, then your choice has been caused (consistent with determinism).

    When she is released from prison, let’s hope the drunk driver will actually have learned this, and doesn’t repeat the risky behavior. Our beliefs and dispositions are part of what we are - we own the results, and this makes us accountable. We can learn new beliefs, and these will influence our behavior.

    #1 and #2 are more or less independent, but in tandem they provide not only a coherent account of moral responsibility, they also explain why normal functioning people strive for generally moral behavior. We want to avoid guilt, fit in, and we want to avoid approbation by others. We CAN always do better, but it requires learning things. Social consequences (positive and negative) and internal guilt/pride provide incentives to learn what is needed to behave morally.
  • Jamesk
    173
    Nice essay but I see an immediate problem with your original scenario. Parental example is not the only causal influence that the child is under. There are many other factors that influence the way that we behave as adults apart from parental ones.Also your example cites consequences from accidents which is unrepresentative. Car accidents happen for many reasons in which case anyone who drives imperfectly is just as responsible and we can't trace bad driving back to parental influence.

    The intoxication argument is an interesting one in general. You decide to get intoxicated, although sometimes it happens by accident, you never intended to have more than a safe amount to drive home on. Your consequent decision to drive after having a skin full because it was a mates birthday at the pub and you'd forgotten was actually made under the influence of alcohol. So there is a question of causal influence, alcohol influence which makes it even more complicated..
  • Mentalusion
    64
    Yes she could have, if she had held the strong belief that the risk of driving drunk was so great that it outweighed her impulse to do so. This could only have occurred had there been something different about the past (formation of that belief), but that's reasonable.Relativist

    Right, IF her past had been different, she would have been raised in such a way as to potentially care and emphasize moral values. However, in the scenario you provide, she was not, in fact, raised that way. It is possible that someone having experienced such neglect as a child might be incapable as a practical moral-psychological matter of forming the beliefs and convictions about appropriate behavior necessary to avoid the crash, unless one assumes some intervening corrective event to mitigate the neglect. Since there was no such corrective event in the hypo given, as a result, she was never reasonably in a position to develop such beliefs and convictions and, therefore, should not be held responsible for her actions stemming from not having them.

    As a thought experiment: In the actual world, you are presented with a choice between X and Y. You deliberate on the options, weighing pros &cons consistent with your background beliefs and dispositions, and you ultimately choose X (possibly influenced by some sudden impulse). Is there a possible world with an identical history to this one, so that you have exactly the same background beliefs, desires and impulses at the point at which the choice is presented - but you instead choose Y? If yes, then your choice is made for no reason (this seems to be what LFW gets you). If no, then your choice has been caused (consistent with determinism).Relativist

    I think you would have to say more about how you are imaging possible worlds in order for this hold. It doesn't seem to me given that the mere existence of an alternative timeline that differs only with respect to its final event (choice X vs. choice Y) implies that there could be no reason for either choice. You don't even really need possible worlds here. Suppose a person has equally good reasons to make some decision, X, as they do to make some decision, Y. Since the reasons don't preponderate in either direction, they make an "executive decision" to do Y. The decision is arbitrary to some extent, but the fact that it's arbitrary doesn't imply a person has no good reason to do it; they have all the same reasons they had when they were weighing those reasons against the countervailing reasons.

    The conclusions of the thought experiment seem to be committed to the view that the only appropriate choice or decision is the one that has a preponderance of reason in its favor. Clearly that will be the best choice, but it's not clear that it's the only rational choice. In other words, the implication is that the only rational choice is the best choice, and I'm not sure that's necessarily true.
  • Relativist
    490
    Right, IF her past had been different, she would have been raised in such a way as to potentially care and emphasize moral values. However, in the scenario you provide, she was not, in fact, raised that way.Mentalusion
    I was giving one example of a difference in the past that might have made a difference. For example, a near miss where she almost kills someone or herself.

    The conclusions of the thought experiment seem to be committed to the view that the only appropriate choice or decision is the one that has a preponderance of reason in its favor.Mentalusion
    No. I mentioned that the choice was a product of beliefs, disposition, and impulse. In impulsive choice is not rational, but the impulse is the reason for it.

    Regarding an "executive decision" - I suggest this is due to nonlinear logic/pattern recognition/insight. This is the process where we recognize a solution to a problem without having arrived at it deductively. Depending on the circumstance, it can be subconsciously influenced by desires, false beliefs (like a racist jumping to conclusions about something done by a member of the hated race), or by a positive or negative attitude. Our judgment can be impacted by any number of things - becoming angry due to a perceived slight (getting cut off in traffic, arguing with a spouse about money, grief...). For this reason, I used possible world semantics to conceptually wind back the clock to the point of decision, keeping every possible factor identical.

    Understand that I'm not suggesting Libertarian Free Will is impossible or incoherent. I'm just showing that compatibilism is also coherent and plausible, it just depends on a different conceptual framework.
  • Relativist
    490
    Sure, there's lots of factors in addition to her mother, but the drunk driving woman deserved to be convicted because she was the direct cause of the bicyclists death, unless someone was forcing her against her will.

    One incompatibilist argument is to claim that if LFW is false, then the bicyclists death was entailed by the state of the universe when the big bang occurred: everything that follows is deterministic, so there were no true choices and thus no one to blame. This overlooks the role of the direct cause, and I'm explaining that we naturally cast blame to the direct cause, and that it is reasonable to do so.
  • Jamesk
    173
    There is a difference between causation and explanation. I believe that we can choose between different deterministic influences and that possibly the crux of virtue ethics.
  • Terrapin Station
    5.2k
    In your initial post, i don't think that you're describing compatibilism in either 1 or 2.

    Of course, keep in mind that I'm of the view that compatibilism can't be made coherent in the first place.
  • Jamesk
    173
    Of course, keep in mind that I'm of the view that compatibilism can't be made coherent in the first place.Terrapin Station

    Which is quite an extreme view really when you think that incompatibilism has been largely abandoned.
  • Terrapin Station
    5.2k


    I still think that argumentum ad populums are fallacies.
  • Relativist
    490
    In your initial post, i don't think that you're describing compatibilism in either 1 or 2.Terrapin Station

    Thanks for the comment. It reminded me that I failed to include a preliminary description of a compatibilist choice. I have added that - it's now the second paragraph of the Op, and I'll repeat it here:

    By definition, a choice is a behavior in which a person has multiple options before them, and selects one. Choices are plausibly consistent with compatibilism because they are the product of a person's memories, beliefs, dispositions, and impulses. At a point in time, memories, beliefs and dispositions are fixed. Impulses imply a seemingly random element to the choice, but not actually random. The impulse has a basis in one's attitude at the moment (e.g. optimistic, pessimistic, anger, happiness...) or related to an internal or external factor that triggers a transient memory or feeling. These factors plausibly collectively determine the decision - no alternative decision could have been made given the specific set of memories, beliefs dispositions, and impulses that were present at the time of the decision. For purposes of this discussion, we'll assume that there were deterministic causes of the prior memories, beliefs and dispositions as well (in general, a combination of nature and nurture).

    The drunk driver chose to drive while drunk, and chose to drive off after hitting the bicyclist. These decisions were plausibly the deterministic result of her beliefs, dispositions, and impulses of the moment. The question I was addressing in #1 and #2 pertained to whether or not a plausible account of moral accountability could be provided.

    I still think that argumentum ad populums are fallacies.Terrapin Station
    I'm not making an argumentum ad populum. I'm noting that each of us has a natural reaction to such deeds as I've described, and it is these natural reactions that are the basis for assigning responsibility.
  • Terrapin Station
    5.2k
    no alternative decision could have been madeRelativist

    Then it's not actually a choice and not compatibilist. There's no actual (ontological) freedom involved.

    The argumentum ad populum comment was in response to Jamesk saying "Which is quite an extreme view really when you think that incompatibilism has been largely abandoned." In other words, supposing it's been largely abandoned only matters if you're swayed by the crowd for its own sake.
  • Relativist
    490
    Then it's not actually a choice and not compatibilist. There's no actual (ontological) freedom involved. — TerrapinStation

    It is a choice by definition (a choice is a behavior in which a person has multiple options before them, and selects one), and I explained how it is consistent with determinism, so it is compatibilist.
  • Terrapin Station
    5.2k
    It is a choice by definition (a choice is a behavior in which a person has multiple options before them, and selects one)Relativist

    You don't have multiple options if it's the case that "no alternative decision could have been made."
  • Noah Te Stroete
    257
    Doesn’t free will just mean to a Compatibilist that the actor isn’t being coerced by anyone? So they are morally responsible as long as they are not being coerced?
  • Relativist
    490


    Multiple options are available, and one is chosen. This is the case irrespective of whether or not compatibilism is true. This is indisputable.

    I described what is involved in the selection process (i.e. it is a product of a person's memories, beliefs, dispositions, and impulses), and this is also irrespective of whether or not compatibilism is true. Do you disagree? Am I omitting something?
  • Relativist
    490
    "Doesn’t free will just mean to a Compatibilist that the actor isn’t being coerced by anyone?"
    Yes, but some deny there is moral accountability if choices are the product of determinism. I was addresssing that in my Op.
  • Terrapin Station
    5.2k
    Multiple options are available,Relativist

    Not if "no alternative decision could have been made."
  • Jamesk
    173
    Not if "no alternative decision could have been made."Terrapin Station

    What situation could you envisage that would offer no alternative courses of action? Unless you have unwillingly and unknowingly been 'possessed' or 'taken over' in some way then there are always alternatives. An unattractive alternative is still an alternative.
  • Terrapin Station
    5.2k


    "no alternative decision could have been made" was in quotation marks because I'm quoting Relativist.
  • Heiko
    189
    An unattractive alternative is still an alternative.Jamesk
    But doing a bad thing is never an act of free will.
  • Relativist
    490
    "What situation could you envisage that would offer no alternative courses of action? Unless you have unwillingly and unknowingly been 'possessed' or 'taken over' in some way then there are always alternatives. An unattractive alternative is still an alternative"

    Alternative courses of action exist, but only one is selected. Under my compatibilist account, the one selected is determined by the chooser's memories, beliefs, dispositions and impulses. Given those specific memories, beliefs, etc - no other decision could have been made.

    It seems reasonable to think those factors determine our choices. If these don't determine our choices, then we're making choices for no reason. But hypothetically, we could make a different choice if we had a different belief, memory, disposition, or impulse.
  • Pierre-Normand
    1.5k
    Not if "no alternative decision could have been made."Terrapin Station

    The thesis here being defended by @Relativist is purportedly compatibilist while resting on the rejection of the principle of alternative possibilities (PAP). If you construe a possible "alternative decision" as an "alternative possibility", which is consistent, that is, with the past state of the universe and with the laws of nature, then, there are indeed no "alternative decisions" that are genuinely open to an agent if determinism is true.

    I take it, however, that when Relativist speaks of alternatives, s/he is speaking of a range of options that merely appear open to the agent, for all she knows; since a deliberating agent never (or very seldom) is in an epistemic position where she would know in advance what decision she is being predetermined to make.

    Hence, Relativists's position could properly be termed a form of semi-compatibilism. John Martin Fischer argues for such a position, claiming that determinism is compatible with moral responsibility although it precludes alternative possibilities. Depending on whether you define "free will" as requiring the truth of PAP, or as resting only on the criteria of moral responsibility, you might say that semi-compatibilism doesn't or does, respectively, allow for the compatibility of determinism and "free will". This issue becomes a matter of mere semantics.
  • Terrapin Station
    5.2k


    Yeah, i would say that's just determinism, then. I don't see it as a semantic issue, really. I don't think it matters what we call anything. I just don't see how we can have both ontological freedom and ontological determinism at the same time (whatever we call them).
  • Pierre-Normand
    1.5k
    Yeah, i would say that's just determinism, then. I don't see it as a semantic issue, really. I don't think it matters what we call anything. I just don't see how we can have both ontological freedom and ontological determinism at the same time (whatever we call them).Terrapin Station

    You dont seem to be disagreeing with the thesis Relativist presents in the original post, then. S/he is arguing that personal and moral responsibility are compatible with determinism. This is not the sort of compatibilism that you are disagreeing with.
  • Relativist
    490
    I take it, hower, that when Relativist speaks of alternatives, s/he is speaking of a range of options that merely appear open to the agent, for all she knows; since a deliberating agent never (or very seldom) is in an epistemic position where she would know in advance what decision she is being predetermined to make.Pierre-Normand
    I mildly object to saying a decision is predetermined. Saying the decision was "predetermined" can be interpreted to mean the same decision would be made irrespective of the cognitive processes the agent engages in. I stress that the agent's specific cognitive processes were necessary to the reaching of the decision, even though no other decision could have been made given the full set of characteristics of the agent. This is relevant to avoiding fatalism. An agent's role is an active one.
  • Pierre-Normand
    1.5k
    I mildly object to saying a decision is predetermined. Saying the decision was "predetermined" can be interpreted to mean the same decision would be made irrespective of the cognitive processes the agent engages in. I stress that the agent's specific cognitive processes were necessary to the reaching of the decision, even though no other decision could have been made given the full set of characteristics of the agent. This is relevant to avoiding fatalism. An agent's role is an active one.Relativist

    Yes, I quite concur with your mild objection ;-) But if it is right, it also threatens the cogency of the doctrine of determinism, on my view. On your view, on the assumption that determinism is true, the agent's decision is being jointly determined by the external constraints that the agent is being subjected to and, also, by the intrinsic characteristics of the agent. Hence, since the agent's own character and cognitive processes are involved in the determination of her behavior, her personal responsibility for her actions (and hence, also, the propriety of reactive attitudes towards her, such as gratitude and resentment) aren't necessarily threatened by the (alleged) falsity of the principle of alternative possibilities.

    But that means, also, that what is usually being construed by hard determinists and by libertarians alike as "the past" isn't entirely removed from the scope of the responsibility of the agent. It is, in a way, through the ongoing process of practical reasoning (and the present operation of all the cognitive processes enabling the power of practical reasoning) that "the past" gets funneled into intentional action and hence that choices are being made by the agent between her various (seemingly open) opportunities. This process would be deterministic (and hence only one option would by genuinely open at any given time) only if there were deterministic laws of nature governing what intelligible actions follow from an agent's 'total' circumstances (i.e. her external circumstances and opportunities, and her intrinsic cognitive characteristics). I am prepared to argue that there can't possibly be any such laws. There can't be any such laws irrespective of there being, or there not being, deterministic laws that govern the evolution of sub-personal neurophysiological processes. (My view of the causality of rational agency is a combination of substance causation and of rational causation, rather similar to those defended by E. J. Lowe and by Eric Marcus, broadly following Aristotle and Kant, respectively.)
  • Terrapin Station
    5.2k
    I mildly object to saying a decision is predetermined. Saying the decision was "predetermined" can be interpreted to mean the same decision would be made irrespective of the cognitive processes the agent engages in. I stress that the agent's specific cognitive processes were necessary to the reaching of the decision, even though no other decision could have been made given the full set of characteristics of the agent. This is relevant to avoiding fatalism. An agent's role is an active one.Relativist

    If we assume that the agent's decisions necessarily have some rational connection to the cognitive processes the agent engages in (I don't think this is at all the case, but we can pretend that it is), and we say that the decisions follow from those cognitive processes in some deterministic way (stemming from that "ideal" rationailsm), then the question is simply pushed back to whether the agent's cognitive processes are determined or not. If they are, then effectively, any decision is predetermined and we're not talking about compatibilism. If they're not, then determinism isn't the case and again we don't have compatibilism.
  • Terrapin Station
    5.2k


    Yeah, I don't agree that ontological freedom/determinism has any necessary implication for anyone's view of culpability (aside from "if determinism is the case, then S necessarily has x view re culpability"). That issue is simply semantic in the sense that it simply depends on the concept of culpability that an individual holds.
  • Relativist
    490
    If they are, then effectively, any decision is predetermined and we're not talking about compatibilism.Terrapin Station
    Sure - and they ARE effectively predetermined. I'm drawing the distinction between entailment and causation. Per determinism, the decision is a truth that is entailed by the truths at the big bang. The logic parallels the causation: Big bang truth ->entails a logical chain of truths->entails the truth of the decision. The transitive property applies to the logic, so it's valid to say: big bang truth ->entails truth of the decision. Although this is valid logic, causation unfolds in a temporal sequence and each step in the sequence is necessary to the next (i.e. the transitive property does not apply to the causal sequence). This means we are warranted in considering the necessary role of the immediate cause of the decision.
  • Terrapin Station
    5.2k
    Sure - and they ARE effectively predetermined. I'm drawing the distinction between entailment and causation. Per determinism, the decision is a truth that is entailed by the truths at the big bang. The logic parallels the causation: Big bang truth ->entails a logical chain of truths->entails the truth of the decision. The transitive property applies to the logic, so it's valid to say: big bang truth ->entails truth of the decision. Although this is valid logic, causation unfolds in a temporal sequence and each step in the sequence is necessary to the next (i.e. the transitive property does not apply to the causal sequence). This means we are warranted in considering the necessary role of the immediate cause of the decision.Relativist

    But then that's not compatibilism, because you have no ontological freedom in your ontology. You're just saying something about culpability.
  • Relativist
    490
    Compatibilism = a concept of free will that is consistent with determinism. I've described choices that are consistent with determinism. Is the choice "free"? It is free, because it is a product of the agent's mental processes. That's why I stressed the agent's causal role.

    Could the agent have decided differently? Yes, if there were some difference in the factors contributing to his decision. This is sufficiently free to be classified as "free will," and sufficiently free to be held morally culpable.

    Is that not free enough for you? Do you insist that true freedom entails being sufficiently free to make a different choice given exactly the same set of deciding factors? That seems absurd - because it implies a freedom to make choices for no reason at all.
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