• Noah Te Stroete
    2.6k
    If you believe that given outside circumstances and given inner mental states don’t fully determine a course of action, are you less likely to feel empathetic for a poor decision? If you believe one’s character is a choice, are you more or less likely to feel empathy for them than if you would believe that one is not metaphysically responsible for one’s character?

    Suppose one is addicted to heroin. If you believe they have free will in the libertarian sense to stop any time they choose, do you feel even sympathy for them? Or are you just as disgusted if their choice is fully determined, dismissing them as just bad people?

    I would love to hear your thoughts on this.
  • Terrapin Station
    13.8k


    It doesn't seem to me like you're talking about empathy in any of this, but just sympathy (and indeed you change to using the term "sympathy" later in the post). For example, "feel empathetic for" is an odd way to phrase anything about empathy. It sounds more like "feel sympathetic towards."

    At any rate, I don't know the answer, but I'm skeptical that there would be a correlation between beliefs about free will and tendencies towards sympathy or empathy.
  • Jamesk
    317
    Substance addiction acts in many ways like a Frankfurt case with the exception of the seemingly voluntary side. In which case we can't judge the freewill of the addict while he is addicted but we can examine the events leading to the addiction.

    Some addicts became addicted through no fault of their own, the producers of oxycontin need to sell their pills, some US states are suing these companies for telling doctors that they are relatively safe drugs when they are in effect heroin in pill form. These cases deserve empathy.

    For those who chose to mess with addictive drugs and are now trapped, well they do deserve sympathy even though they have given up trying to exercise their freewill.

    Finally some people do actually manage to kick the addiction and I believe these people are real candidates for freewill. BTW Alcohol addiction is just as bad and far more widespread, it is just more affordable and less problematic with the law.
  • Bitter Crank
    8.6k
    If you believe that given outside circumstances and given inner mental states don’t fully determine a course of action, are you less likely to feel empathetic for a poor decision? If you believe one’s character is a choice, are you more or less likely to feel empathy for them than if you would believe that one is not metaphysically responsible for one’s character?Noah Te Stroete


    Lurking in this paragraph is an interesting question about whether we are responsible for our character. Good question. Character is almost by definition something people are responsible for, as the sum of all their various voluntary acts. So, people whose characters are suitable for liars, thieves, knaves, and scoundrels are as responsible as people who are candidates for beatification.

    I wonder about that.

    I wonder whether the brain structure we are born with, the childhood we are given by our families, the environment in which we live... and so on -- all factors over which we may have no control -- so character is not something we are responsible for. Or at least, totally responsible for.

    I don't like that; I'd rather receive credit for my good character. I wouldn't like someone saying "You are a good person, but it's not to your credit; you were just lucky."
  • Jamesk
    317
    I am exploring the idea of character in relation to freewill in another thread here asking if we have the capacity for freewill. I believe that when we act 'out of character' it could be an example of freewill.
  • Wayfarer
    9.5k
    I think the lurking, profound difficulty in this conversation is something like this.

    We will recall that Plato believed that the soul was all-knowing before it’s ‘descent’ into bodily being. Being born caused such a shock that it caused the soul to forget its true knowledge, which is the meaning of ‘amnesis’ (= amnesia). The task for the philosopher was to recall what had been forgotten - hence, ‘anamnesis’, unforgetting.

    Buddhism vastly elaborates on this basic idea, with the Buddha recalling his many previous lives (literally numbering into hundreds of thousands) on the night of the Awakening, as prelude to ‘going beyond’ altogether. Likewise, in some schools of Mahāyāna Buddhism, the process of awakening is referred to as ‘recalling the true nature’.

    Both these mythological or apocryphal accounts provide something which our modern sensibility cannot: that is, the ability to assume a kind retrospective sense of identity: we are who we, on account of who we were - prior to this life. But of course, for us moderns, there can be no ‘prior’, as the net sum of who and what we are is bookended by our [physical] birth and death. Furthermore our culture is one which has overwhelmingly forgotten its ancestral and cultural identity, in any deep sense. We’re ‘marooned in the present’, as some have put it. So we can’t be responsible for our deeper aspects - the ego is like a hapless mahoot astride the lumbering elephant of the unconscious. It is a consequence of individualism.
  • Noah Te Stroete
    2.6k
    Thank you all for your responses. I am agnostic on the topic question but would like to hear more from others.
  • javra
    923
    To add to the previous posters:

    I’m here addressing what most take to be freewill, agency; roughly: a finite LFW limited by factors beyond any individual’s control, one in part contextualized by a fluid form of causal determinism and in part formed from birth (biologically (and/or karmically for some)) by these same fluid factors of causal determinacy. I take it that most individuals worldwide would agree to something like this as rough description, although evidencing it philosophically is a completely different ball park.

    Let’s assume one worst case scenario: the heroin addict once chose to pursue experimentation with heroin despite knowing of all the risks of addiction simply on account of feeling bored with life—as though life itself can ever be deemed boring. (Were the heroin addict to have so become due to extreme psychological or physical pain that was itself not of their choosing, one for which heroin seemed to be the only available remedy, to my mind the scenario of culpability, guilt, would be nowhere near as extreme.)

    Even in this worst case, there yet exists the choice on the part of others for things such as forgiveness upon the person’s acknowledgment of having made an error, an understanding born from willingness to step into the other’s shoes, and, consequently, a sympathy—regardless of how mild—via which others attempt to resolve what the heroin addict now recognizes to have been a mistake.

    LFW does not apply only to one person, but to everybody. And everybody is fallible—though some will do all they can to deny it, often by placing blame on other(s) for their own doings. In this universally shared fallibility there is the potential for a universally shared forgiveness of imperfections. Not as an encouragement of wrongs but as a—maybe all too idealized—communal effort for mutual assistance to help others out when they are down.

    The same becomes far more complex when it is likewise applied to those that intentionally do harm toward others for reasons other than that of self-defense. It is one thing to understand that Charles Manson had an extremely difficult life during his formative years as a child, and to thereby hold sympathy, if not even empathy, for him as a child (something that, from my experiences, unfortunately few people are willing to do). It is an utterly different thing to then deem Charles Manson devoid of culpability for his actions as the adult he became. Notwithstanding, we westerners (or many just those of the USA?) live in a world focused on punishment as retaliation, as communal revenge—this rather than punishment for crimes and misdeeds that is sincerely influenced by motives of successful rehabilitation into society. The former is almost by definition devoid of compassion. The latter almost by definition consists of compassionate forms of realignment to states of moral sanity. But this too is a choice of how to react on the part of those who judge wrongs (as we all always do).

    My intend point to all this is that the belief in LFW is not in and of itself something that leads towards less compassion for others. Instead, it is the sense of moral superiority that is, when rationally appraised, bogus which leads to lack of sympathy and empathy for others. For all her imperfections, Mother Teresa would have welcomed helping the heroin addict when she/he asked for help. Whereas your average so called “virtuous person (one that likely believes her/himself to already have a seat in some heaven)” would at best treat such person like lepers not to be touched.

    It is true that we all have our limits of inclusion. But while some deal with the us/them divide in terms of absolutes, other’s will address it in terms of degrees, always willing to be more inclusive when they themselves are sufficiently stable in their daily needs.

    At any rate, belief in any form of LFW will be belief that LFW is equally applicable to all. There is no grand end of perfect righteousness that anyone of us can obtain in this lifetime (or any other, as the case might be). We all on occasion err. And we all have personal culpability for our errors. From this vantage, we then can choose to assist others in due measure to need, or we can choose to indiscriminately forsake all those who have stumbled while simultaneously declaring ourselves innocent of any “significant” wrong doing … which is bullshit. Our choices today will in part determine what our futures will be; and this applies for every day of our lives.

    So no, belief in LFW does not make one less empathetic or sympathetic toward others by comparison to hard determinism. Though it might consist of a somewhat different mindset.

    … However, as per William James’ argument, LFW does explain the presence of regret—regretting having chosen this alternative rather than that, something which hard determinism cannot coherently account for. When we don’t succumb to moods of desperation for things we’ve previously done (which is never a good thing for oneself or anyone other we have yet to interact with) our regrets then help us in not repeating the same mistakes ad infinitum, as well as in best remedying the things that are within our control to remedy. Imo, one could well argue that it is the absence of regret which leads to societal mayhem, including lack of sympathy and empathy for others—the rational absence of regret being something that is more in keeping with hard determinism.
  • Noah Te Stroete
    2.6k
    Thank you for your insightful thoughts. I feel regret for some of my recent behavior, but I choose not to dwell on it, instead choosing to forgive myself for stumbling and choosing to move forward, hoping to keep my focus on God’s Presence and doing better in the future.
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