Does the average person believe in determinism, free will, and moral responsibility?


One of the recurrent arguments made by free-will “compatibilists” (i.e., those who see free will as being compatible with physical determinism), is that those of us who are incompatibilists—in my case, I think people conceive of free will as reflecting a dualistic “ghost in the brain,” and find that incompatible with the determinism that governs our behavior—is this: “Nobody really believes in dualistic free will—the sense that one could have done otherwise. Thus, invoking your kind of incompatibilism is accepting a form of free will that nobody espouses.  So why bother to beat a dead horse?”

Well, of course, they’re wrong insofar as there are many religionists who firmly believe and espouse dualistic free will. Except for Calvinists, for instance, many Christians think that God gave us libertarian (“I could have chosen otherwise”) free will so we can choose not only whether to accept Jesus as our savior, but also to do good or evil. That, these believers say, is why there is evil in the world: human-caused evil is simply a byproduct of the dualistic free will that God gave us. If we have the ability to choose God and Jesus, then an unavoidable byproduct is to choose to do good and evil. That’s explicitly dualistic. (I must add that this religious “free will” argument cannot explain the existence of physical evils, like earthquakes and childhood cancers.)

But many philosophers cite a seven-year-old paper of Eddy Nahmias et al. (reference below) that seems to show, using specific moral situations, that many people (by “people,” they mean honors students at Florida State University) feel that even in a deterministic universe, people still say that they choose actions of their own free will and are morally responsible for those actions.  That seems to show that Florida State honors students are compatibilists. The Nahmias paper is ubiquitously cited as evidence that the average person is a compatibilist.

I am in the process of reading the Nahmias et al. paper for the second time, but have discovered that there is a spate of literature since 2006 that points to opposite conclusions: a majority of people think that a.) the universe is not deterministic and b.) that if the world were truly deterministic, then we have no moral responsibility for our actions.

I finished one of the latter papers yesterday (I read it first because it was shorter!), and will report on the Nahmias et al. paper tomorrow. But for the nonce let us not accept Nahmias’s results as the final word on what the “average person” believes about free will. I would also hope that those many readers who are compatibilists will not try to pick many criticisms with today’s paper but then go easy on the Nahmias paper simply because it comports with their beliefs. In truth, a scan of the Nahmias paper (I read it some time ago) shows that it’s somewhat problematic.

But more on that tomorrow. Let’s look at the paper by Hagop Sarkissian et al. (reference below).

The authors first recount the historical controversy, citing several papers showing that “folk intuition,” contra Nahmias et al, is indeed incompatibilist, and they find a correlation between the kind of study conducted and whether people are shown to be compatibilist or incompatibilist:

These studies that elicited compatibilist responses have an interesting feature: they ask participants to consider concrete cases, often of a type guaranteed to provoke affective responses (such as killing a person or robbing a bank). There is now a wealth of studies in social psychology exploring links between affect and theoretical cognition suggesting that such concrete, affect-laden cases may introduce biases in folk judgments (e.g. Lerner, Goldberg and Tetlock, 1998; Smart and Loewenstein, 2005). It is therefore important to see whether the compatibilist intuitions hold up when participants are presented not with a case likely to trigger affect, but instead asked more directly whether moral responsibility can be possible in a deterministic universe.

In other words, if you give students general scenarios of how the world works, rather than special case studies (even if both limn a deterministic world), subjects show themselves as incompatibilists.

One of these studies, cited by Sarkissian et al., was done by Nichols and Knobe (2007, reference below). In the first part of their studies they presented the students with two different kinds of universes: Universe A is fully deterministic and Universe B is indeterministic insofar as decision-making occurs. That is, in Universe B, but not A, people could have chosen otherwise at any point when they must make a decision:

Picture 3

Picture 1 14-52-28

Nichols and Knobe then asked, “Which of these universes do you think is most like ours? (circle one)

Universe A
Universe B

Nearly all participants in that study (I haven’t read it, but presume they were American college students), chose “B”: the indeterminstic universe. In other words, the vast majority of people believed in dualistic free will and were indeterminists about decisions.

Then Nichols and Knobe gave the students a concrete situation:

Picture 2 Picture 3

In this case, in the deterministic universe (the one students almost all rejected), most (72%) still held Bill morally responsible. That is a compatibilist response! Clearly, outlining a concrete situation rather than an abstract one changed the students’ judgements.

Another set of students were asked a more abstract question:

Picture 6In this case 86% of the students said “no,” an incompatibilist response!

Clearly, whether you see respondents as compatibilist or incompatibilist depends on how you ask the question. It is possible, for instance, that sudents interpret the world according to abstract theories (the second question) and so are largely incompatibilist. Or they could judge specific situations, evincing compatibilism. What is manifestly clear, and something people haven’t emphasized, is that the subjects almost all believe in an indeterministic universe in which people can, in a given situation, make more than one decision. To me, that’s clearly incompatibilism if, like most of us, you accept a determinstic universe. Or at least it shows that most people aren’t determinists.

The present paper by Sarkissian et al. extends Nichols and Knobe’s  (“abstract situation”) results to four groups of students from four places: a total of 231 undergraduates from a.) two US universities, b.) an Indian university, c.) Hong Kong university, and d.) a university in Bogotá, Colombia. Their aim was to see how notions of determinism and moral responsibility varied across the world.

They presented all the students with the same two universes described by Nichols and Knobe: Universe A, deterministic, and Universe B, indeterministic for decision making (that, of course, means indeterministic for other stuff, since once a libertarian decision is made, the course of history is forever changed). They asked two questions again. Here’s the first one:

Picture 2

And here are the results: the large majority of students in all four areas believed in an indeterministic universe, one in which people could have decided otherwise:

Picture 1 14-45-01They then asked the second question:

Picture 2 Picture 2 14-45-01

In all four areas, 60-75% were moral incompatibilists: they thought that in a deterministic universe, people are not fully morally responsible for their decisions. So, on the whole, students are both indeterminists and incompatibilists.

The impressionistic notion that people don’t accept determinism is seen in these two studies, and perhaps as well their belief in moral responsibility depends on kind of universe we really don’t have. At any rate, the lesson is that we need to teach people that Universe A is the right one (excepting, of course, some quantum indeterminacy), and that Universe B, in which people have libertarian free will, is the wrong one.

This study, using an abstract situation, gives no evidence that the average person is a compatibilist. (Remember, though, that these are all students who were surveyed. What the study shows is that students from four diverse places show similar moral and physical intuitions.)

One curious result of this study, however, was that the minority of students who responded to the first question as determinists also tended to respond to question B as compatibilists. That is, a significantly higher fraction of those who believe in a clocklike world thought people were more morally responsible than did the larger fraction of people who believe in a world in which people could make free, libertarian decisions! It’s possible that this means that those people hold to moral responsibility even more tenaciously because they think that accepting a deterministic world tends to lead people to behave immorally. It also suggests that the more we convince people that the world is deterministic, the more people will accept moral responsibility—that is, compatibilism will grow.  Now I don’t believe in the notion of “moral responsibility” in a world where nobody can freely choose their actions, but to each their own.

To me, the data show that the most important task for scientists and philosophers is to teach people that we live in Universe A. If most people think they don’t, then any philosophical version of compatibilism is logically (but not emotionally) incoherent. And I still feel that accepting a deterministic world has enormous beneficial consequences for how we punish and reward people, especially when it concerns the judicial system.  In a deterministic universe, there’s no room for punishment based on retribution, or differential punishment based on the notion that people could vs. could not choose how to behave.  But philosophers seem to prefer arguing about semantics (“compatibilism” vs. “incompatibilism” when nearly all admit a deterministic universe)  than discussing the very real implications of accepting determinism. I’m beginning to think that such philosophers are deliberately removing themselves from the real world.

Sarkissian et al. go on to speculate whether these views are innate or are learned through experience (of course, both factors may act). They reach no decision, and I find their results much more interesting than the speculations.

These results are at odds with the findings of Nahmias et al., and, at least insofar as the Universe A vs. Universe B question is concerned, convince me that most people don’t believe in physical determinism of decisions. I’ll argue tomorrow that the question posted to the Florida students by Nahmias et al. don’t fully lay out the consequences of determinism, but I need to first finish their paper. (I’ve read it before but want to refresh myself.)

One difference between the two sets of studies (Nahmias et al. vs. Sarkissian et al. and Nichols and Knobe) is that Nahmias et al. did not ask students to judge whether the universe was determinstic or indeterministic; rather, students were presented with a deterministic universe. Their study thus gives no information on the prevalence of “average people’s” views on determinism.

________

Nahmias, E., S. Morris, T. Nadelhoffer, and J. turner. 2006. Surveying freedom: Folk intuitions about free will and moral responsibility. Philosohical Psychology 18:561-584.

Nichols, S. and J. Knobe. 2007.  Moral responsibility and determinism: the cognitive science of folk intuitions. Nouse 41:663-685.

Sarkissian, H., A. Chatterjee, F. De Brigard, J. Knobe, N. S., and S. Sirker. 2010. Is belief in free will a cultural universal? Mind & Language 25:346-358.

222 Comments

  1. Posted February 19, 2014 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    is this: “Nobody really believes in dualistic free will …”

    I’m not sure that any compatibilists have ever claimed that. I’d have thought that most people’s attitudes on this would be an incoherent mix of both dualism and determinism/compatibilism.

    In other words, if you give students general scenarios of how the world works, rather than special case studies … subjects show themselves as incompatibilists.

    Yes, that sounds about right. If you ask people to invoke their metaphysics with general questions then they are dualists. In day-to-day situations, however, they often reason as determinists/compatibilists.

    It also suggests that the more we convince people that the world is deterministic, the more people will accept moral responsibility—that is, compatibilism will grow.

    Ya-hey!

    To me, the data show that the most important task for scientists and philosophers is to teach people that we live in Universe A.

    Yes, agreed. Argue for determinism. Once that’s accepted, then go for a compatibilist interpretation of it.

    • Posted February 19, 2014 at 9:20 am | Permalink

      Yes, agreed. Argue for determinism. Once that’s accepted, then go for a compatibilist interpretation of it.

      The problem, as evidenced in the studies, is that it seems that the biggest obstacle to people accepting full-on determinism — note that they accept it for anything except human choice — is the feeling that determinism is incompatible with any kind of meaningful choice. It seems to most people that accepting a fully deterministic universe forces them to deny the obvious fact that we do make choices and our deliberations matter. Thus, it actually seems to be the more reasonable tack to first convince them that they can still have meaningful choices in a deterministic universe — ie make them compatiblists — and THEN, with that obstacle removed, show them that the universe is fully determined.

      • eric
        Posted February 19, 2014 at 11:17 am | Permalink

        “It seems to most people that accepting a fully deterministic universe forces them to deny the obvious fact that we do make choices and our deliberations matter.”

        Well, but the point of determinism is that this ‘obvious fact’ is wrong; an illusion perpetrated by our brains. We don’t make choices.

        Now, our deliberations do matter in the sense that brain activity is what determines how we act. But our ‘deliberations’ are part of the deterministic set of causes, not separate from it. If you think of human action as a deterministic rube goldberg machine, our deliberatons are one of the ramps or objects in the ball’s path, not some external hand that can pluck the ball out of the path and make it do something not determined by the path.

        • Posted February 19, 2014 at 11:31 am | Permalink

          Well, but the point of determinism is that this ‘obvious fact’ is wrong; an illusion perpetrated by our brains. We don’t make choices.

          Even in the compatibilist sense? Well, if that’s the case, then you’d have something to actually argue with compatibilists about beyond mere semantics. And if you mean not in the “libertarian” sense, then again convincing people that the compatibilist sense of choice is both what we have and actually meaningful seems to be what you’d want to do first, because determinists don’t have the evidence — at least not yet — to provide the extraordinary proof of the rather extraordinary claim that we don’t really choose. Getting people to accept the compatibilist view of choice first means that they no longer have that extraordinary claim to worry them.

          • eric
            Posted February 20, 2014 at 6:42 am | Permalink

            I am not sure what ‘choice in the compatibilist sense’ means. Can you describe that for me?

            If you mean something like what chemicalscum says below (we have if/then algorithms like computers, and using them constitutes “choice”), then my question to you would be the same one I asked of him – if our thinking is like a computer algorithm, then to be rationally consistent we should either impute morality to them or stop imputing it to us. Which are you going to pick?

            • Posted February 20, 2014 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

              The compatibilists argue that we can be said to make choices in some meaningful way, just not the libertarian way. Chemicalscum’s answer is one way, but there are others. If you claim that we can’t make any choices at all, then you’d have something to argue with compatibilists that wouldn’t be the normal semantic arguments that have been frustrating so many people in these comment threads. Alternatively, if you are only going after libertarian, “dualistic” choice, and allowing for them to be right, then my contention holds that convincing them that it is at least possible to maintain SOME sort of meaningful choice even in a deterministic universe is likely to remove one of the main impediments to accepting determinism.

              Dennett likes the computer example, but most compatibilist notions of choice simply claim that we have decision-making modules/processes in the brain that make real decisions, but are still determined. As for your question, you presume that assigning morality is just a matter of making choices, but just as we can make choices based on abstract considerations and at least some animals can’t, it’s still quite possible that the computers we have now just don’t make moral decisions, due to lack of information or a viewpoint that they can do that from. But that’s something to be discussed.

        • Posted February 19, 2014 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

          A computer algorithm makes choices even if it is from a simple and obviously deterministic code: ‘if…then…else…’

          If our mind is a deterministic algorithm running on our brain, it too makes choices dependant upon inputs. The computer’s algorithm is responsible for its output. If it wrecks up things we will rewrite the code.

          Similarly our deterministic algorithm running on the brain (mind) makes decisions/choices and we (our algorithm) are morally responsible for them. Society tries to remedy anti-social behaviour by rehabilitation (trying to edit the code), prison (unplugging the peripherals) or capital punishment (wiping the hard drive).

          We cannot predict what a sufficiently complex computational system (Turing machine) will do.

          Seth Lloyd’s “A Turing test for free will” paper:

          http://arxiv.org/pdf/1310.3225v1.pdf

          Is particularly relevant here where he writes “… any Turing simulatable decision making process leads to intrinsically unpredictable decisions, even if the underlying process is completely deterministic”

          • eric
            Posted February 20, 2014 at 6:38 am | Permalink

            “Similarly our deterministic algorithm running on the brain (mind) makes decisions/choices and we (our algorithm) are morally responsible for them.”

            So, you hold computers morally responsible for following their code? If not (and assuming you really accept your own analogy as legitimate), why do you hold humans morally responsible for doing so?

    • Posted February 19, 2014 at 10:23 am | Permalink

      I agree that what you and other compatibilist commenters here like Gregory Kusnick and Vaal have been doing is arguing about the different kinds of behavior exhibited by different kinds of entities, and not about whatever definition of free will is floating around in most peoples’ head.

      Don’t you think it’s actually easier to escape dualistic thinking by thinking abstractly? I find it’s much easier to go full “greedy” reductionist when not contemplating a real event/action.

  2. Diana MacPherson
    Posted February 19, 2014 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    This was a very smart way of asking the questions and I’m not surprised with the results. It seems to me that the students ultimately made their decisions based on how the scenarios made them feel and given the power of our instincts to punish wrong doing and reward good behaviour, coupled with both the self and the free will illusions they made the choices that felt best. Going by a logical choice is counter intuitive and demonstrates what we are up against in convincing people about determinism and moral responsibility.

    • SA Gould
      Posted February 19, 2014 at 11:17 am | Permalink

      Since I’ve been following this debate (only for several months) it seems to me to be… just like religion.

      God: created, knows, controls everything. No real free will.
      Determinism: The Big Bang created, knows, controls created, knows, controls everything. No real free will.

      But! Supposedly, I have choices. That’s the part I don’t get. And yes, I am an average person.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted February 19, 2014 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

        Both compatibilists and non compatibilists can accept determinism and I suspect most do on this site. The question then becomes is determinism (everything happens because of a prior cause – basic cause & effect) compatible with free will (as in choices).

        Somewhat unrelated, for LOLz and to make things easier to understand, I refer to the unknowns in statistics as “what god knows” to differentiate it from a census or sample. :)

  3. francis
    Posted February 19, 2014 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    //

    • Jesper Both Pedersen
      Posted February 19, 2014 at 10:36 am | Permalink

      2

  4. Sean
    Posted February 19, 2014 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    I hate to comment off topic but I wanted to point out this story to Proff Coyne

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/19/herbert-schaible-catherine-schaible-sentencing-faith-healing_n_4813638.html

    I noticed a number of stories about this on the blog, and I don’t think this one has been covered.

  5. Posted February 19, 2014 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    To me, the data show that the most important task for scientists and philosophers is to teach people that we live in Universe A.

    You are missing the other half of this equation: philosophers also have the mission to shed light on *how* to live in Universe A, after acknowledging we live in it. For the philosophical domains concerned ethics and virtue, political theory, aesthetics and all the other dimensions of “the examined life,” the central questions do not reduce to the metaphysical free-will question. Fine, we’re all automata in a clockwork universe. Now let’s get back to understanding what kind of automata we should be. (or, if you prefer, what kind of automata do we *want* to be).

    As to the question of public understanding or the average person’s opinion, the issue seems more connected to psychology than philosophy. The average person probably doesn’t have a strong grasp on determinism; they probably also couldn’t explain utilitarianism or empiricism. But maybe the average person’s understanding of free will has an impact on their self-perception. In the last Point of Inquiry podcast (Feb. 10), Stanton Peele addressed the problem of determinism in drug addiction and its consequences for treatment and recovery. He strongly believes it is important to remind addicts that they are not ruled by their addiction; that they can exercise control over it. When people believe they have no control over something, they are less likely to try and control it. It’s therefore equally important to “teach people” that they still have a will, that they still have self determination, even in Universe A.

    • Dale
      Posted February 19, 2014 at 10:16 am | Permalink

      “Stanton Peele addressed the problem of determinism in drug addiction and its consequences for treatment and recovery”

      I’ve brought this up before wrt to tobacco recovery. When one is physically addicted to such a substance, certainly it could be said that one’s future behavior is guaranteed, regardless of what the conscious mind thinks.

      When I quit smoking, I think I did it by adopting a contrary habit that provided good feedback, exercise. I don’t know how much “conscious will” is involved but it wouldn’t have helped to tell me that there was nothing to be done to change my behavior.

      Some can be addicted to pushing their biochemical buttons in less adaptive ways as in gambling addiction.

      Some of these issues have moral consequences, especially wrt to the purveyors of that such as gambling and certain drug use. We can see the evolution of thought wrt to tobacco in this country just in the last few decades. I can’t believe that when I was a kid, people smoked on airplanes!

  6. NewEnglandBob
    Posted February 19, 2014 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    Making popcorn and finding a comfortable seat. It show time.

    • reasonshark
      Posted February 19, 2014 at 11:01 am | Permalink

      I hope you’re enjoying that popcorn? Wish I had some. :-(

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted February 19, 2014 at 11:17 am | Permalink

        I prefer Redenbacher to Pop Secret. I use an air popper, not a Karl Popper.

        • Posted February 19, 2014 at 11:29 am | Permalink

          Yes, but is this verifiable? Whirley Pop falsifiability is equally essential.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted February 19, 2014 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

          Did you real have a choice of popper? ;)

          • NewEnglandBob
            Posted February 19, 2014 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

            I used to use a pot on the stove with oil but then my caloric intake made me buy the air popper. I couldn’t help it.

  7. Posted February 19, 2014 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    I appreciate the focus on criminal justice, but please also consider the implications for social welfare policy. In the absence of dualistic, libertarian free will, no one earns or deserves the economic circumstances in which they find themselves. The wealthiest bank executive deserves no praise for his good fortune, because that is all it is. Likewise, the lowliest beggar deserves no blame for his misfortune. The central myth of capitalism is that the market will distribute wealth according to desert. In truth there is no such thing.

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted February 19, 2014 at 8:44 am | Permalink

      This ignores that rewards for effort are part of the decision-making system. Also the corollary: punishment as a deterrent is part of the process.

      • Posted February 19, 2014 at 9:11 am | Permalink

        None of that alters my point in any way. Obviously, the incentive/deterrent effects of any economic system are very important. An economic system that rewards short-term profitability but overlooks long-term environmental damage will produce wealthy oil executives and catastrophic climate change, for example. But whenever the economic system is challenged, the political libertarians respond with explicitly moralistic invocations of liberty, desert, and merit. These arguments are totally vacuous, based as they are on the fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of human choice known as “free will”.

        So we can’t lock a murderer because he freely chose to murder, but we can lock him up to deter others and protect the innocent. Likewise, we can’t defend any given wealth-distribution as fully-deserved consequence of free choice, but only as conducive (or not) to a healthy society. The status quo in the US and UK, and throughout much of the West, is decidedly non-conducive to a healthy society. It creates destructive incentives and dooms millions to lives or misery and deprivation through no fault of their own.

        • Posted February 19, 2014 at 10:18 am | Permalink

          The status quo in the US and UK, and throughout much of the West, is decidedly non-conducive to a healthy society.

          Really? I’d have thought that today’s West is just about the best place ever to live, compared to anywhere else in the world or any previous time in history. Where/when you prefer to be plonked down as a random citizen?

          Western society and wealth-distribution may not be perfect, but they result in better societies than any alternative tried.

          • Posted February 19, 2014 at 11:00 am | Permalink

            I think you need to raise your standards. A system that allows a handful of billionaires to control the wealth of half the world while countless millions struggle is the definition of “needs improvement”.

            • TJR
              Posted February 19, 2014 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

              The post-war West is the worst society ever to live in.

              Apart from every other society both now and in the past.

              • Posted February 19, 2014 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

                I didn’t think it would be controversial to suggest that, as of February 2014, the best human society ever devised in the history of the world falls somewhat short of what we should be striving for.

            • abrotherhoodofman
              Posted February 19, 2014 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

              I agree. Something seems amiss about a system where millionaires dressed in pin-stripes can laugh and joke and walk blithely past an impoverished 65 year-old ex-soldier who will perish on that same street in less than a year.

              We shouldn’t be satisfied until every person on this planet can live a decent and largely misery-free existence.

    • Posted February 19, 2014 at 8:45 am | Permalink

      In the absence of dualistic, libertarian free will, no one earns or deserves the economic circumstances in which they find themselves.

      Unless one takes a compatibilist intepretation of “earns” and “deserves”.

      (Are those yet more words that the incompatibilists want to remove from the language? You’re not going to have much language left!)

      • Posted February 19, 2014 at 9:23 am | Permalink

        Indeed, if determinism implies that words like “free will,” “earn,” “deserve” and “moral responsibility” are all meaningless illusions, why stop there? Are not our preferences and desires also illusions? What about words like “should” and “ought”? Someone in poverty may not “deserve to be blamed,” but they also don’t “deserve” to be “helped,” since “help” is another illusion that rests on the mirage of human goals and desires.

        This whole “incompatibilism” thing is starting to feel pretty useless when it comes to understanding the human condition.

        • Posted February 19, 2014 at 9:34 am | Permalink

          How do you deduce that “help” is an illusion?

          • Posted February 19, 2014 at 9:47 am | Permalink

            “Help” is an illusion because it is requires several preliminaries that seem also to be illusions: that one state of affairs is “better” than another; that a person’s judgement of those affairs is meaningful; that we can actually alter outcomes by making choices and decisions.

            How exactly do you propose to distinguish between the concepts rendered illusory (like “earn” and “deserve”) and the legitimate concepts (since you seem to think “help” is legitimate)? Once you start making a big deal out of determinism, how exactly do you decide where its implications intrude on our normal perceptions of life and justice?

            • reasonshark
              Posted February 19, 2014 at 9:58 am | Permalink

              ““Help” is an illusion because it is requires several preliminaries that seem also to be illusions: that one state of affairs is “better” than another; that a person’s judgement of those affairs is meaningful; that we can actually alter outcomes by making choices and decisions.”

              So long as you insist on confusing determinism with nihilism and fatalism, you’re using one big straw man.

              • Posted February 19, 2014 at 10:13 am | Permalink

                I don’t think I’m straw-man-ing; I’m criticizing the habit of cherry-picking the supposed consequences of determinism. Supposedly a deterministic universe is incompatible with moral responsibility, and ventzone suggested that it somehow impacts economic justice. Jerry Coyne believes it has some impact on criminal justice. I don’t see how determinism specifically or uniquely impacts these subject areas without impacting all other concepts of human desire and judgement.

                If determinism means that we can’t be said to “earn” or “deserve” our economic circumstances (at all? in any way?), then to my ears it sounds exactly the same as fatalism, i.e. “the view that we are powerless to do anything other than what we actually do.” (definition from Wikipedia).

              • reasonshark
                Posted February 19, 2014 at 10:30 am | Permalink

                You are straw-manning because you still confuse determinism and fatalism. From your same source:

                “Determinists generally agree that human actions affect the future but that human action is itself determined by a causal chain of prior events. Their view does not accentuate a “submission” to fate or destiny, whereas fatalists stress an acceptance of future events as inevitable. Determinists believe the future is fixed specifically due to causality; fatalists and predeterminists believe that some or all aspects of the future are inescapable, but not necessarily due to causality.”

                Fatalism is essentially saying “don’t bother” to people trying to make and making decisions, which you commandeer to make it sound like thinking decision-making has prior causes assumes that our decisions don’t make a difference and to think otherwise is an illusion. Of course our decisions make a difference, but just the same as any other cause or factor. Determinism does not promote giving up on decision-making, yet you act as though it does, which misrepresents the position.

                Also, you seem to think that determinists claim that desires, and “better” things don’t exist. This is another misrepresentation because it assumes determinists are nihilists.

              • Posted February 19, 2014 at 10:44 am | Permalink

                Determinism does not promote giving up on decision-making …

                You are presumably taking a compatibilist interpretation of the term “decision making” there?

              • reasonshark
                Posted February 19, 2014 at 10:53 am | Permalink

                “You are presumably taking a compatibilist interpretation of the term “decision making” there?”

                Depends. If you think decision-making is shorthand for the processes of the brain that compute the organism’s future behaviour based on its structure and functions, using inputs and processing, according to the logic of its circuitry, and influenced by the emergent phenomena of psychology and social interaction, then yes. If you think decision-making somehow involves more than that or has nothing to do with that, then no.

                I don’t see the issue. Decision-making exists, but in the same way that the functions of other biological organs do, according to a logic that emerges from its constitution, and as a subset of the phenomena of the brain. Knowing this won’t kill colloquial language use, but it provides a clinical means of looking into the mind, and makes it harder to act like decision-making is somehow exempt from scientific study – for instance, of the brain, of neurons, of cortical matter, and of behaviours, as well as of psychology and social sciences.

              • Posted February 19, 2014 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

                @reasonshark – It seems to me that when pressed incompatibilists just bring up concepts, such as dualistic free will that are in no way a part of the compatibilist position, as Sam Harris does, and as you appear to be doing here. And when has a compatibilist ever claimed that the brain is exempt from study? Just what are you claiming about compatibilism that you believe to be wrong? Do you not understand what the compatibilist position *actually* is and if you do why are you asking questions about it? Hume’s position, the basic position of compatibilism, is very simple. So instead of arguing against other stuff, that no one believes, why not take on that?

              • reasonshark
                Posted February 19, 2014 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

                “@reasonshark – It seems to me that when pressed incompatibilists just bring up concepts, such as dualistic free will that are in no way a part of the compatibilist position, as Sam Harris does, and as you appear to be doing here. And when has a compatibilist ever claimed that the brain is exempt from study? Just what are you claiming about compatibilism that you believe to be wrong? Do you not understand what the compatibilist position *actually* is and if you do why are you asking questions about it? Hume’s position, the basic position of compatibilism, is very simple. So instead of arguing against other stuff, that no one believes, why not take on that?”

                As I found when talking to Coel on the other thread, dividing the issue between “compatibilists” and “incompatibilists” is bogus because whether one is compatibilist or incompatibilist depends on how you define free will. In this regard, our positions are identical because we’re both incompatibilists with regard to libertarian and dualist free will, but compatibilists if free will simply means the capacity for an organism to act independently – say, of coercion or manhandling. Our only real difference then was whether particular word use would get people to understand the position better, which both of us agreed was a semantics issue.

                What I’d like to know is why “incompatibilists” (I use the scare quotes for a reason) are being confused with fatalists and nihilists when, that being the case, the “compatibilists” are basically arguing against their own positions, our positions being basically the same? I’m also interested in knowing what becomes of the notion of responsibility, good, and bad, in the eyes of others. Despite our positions being apparently the same on the issue of free will, I’ve encountered contrary views with regards to these, and I’m interested in knowing why.

                Lastly, I’m not suggesting “compatibilists” don’t exempt the brain from study. I’m presuming that we all agree that, without dualistic free will, neuroscience and psychology become highly relevant for ethics and morality. My long description about the brain was basically a way of seeing that we all agree to the implications of this definition of “decision-making”, given the definition of free will I presented.

              • Posted February 19, 2014 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

                @reasonshark – Yes I do accuse incompatibilists of believing in fatalism (including Same Harris, if the the language he uses is any evidence), because the reason why determinism doesn’t lead to fatalism is quite subtle. And it looks like I am right to do so see #9 and the responses. In particular read the abstract to Nahmias & Murray’s paper. I do notice though that you don’t fall into that error, so from a practical point of view we probably believe much the same things about free will. However, if incompabilists are arguing that free will terminology encourages dualistic delusions, then the counter to that is that dropping free will much more surely leads to fatalism, which IMOP is a worse delusion.

            • Posted February 19, 2014 at 10:08 am | Permalink

              But there clearly are better and worse outcomes, our judgments are meaningful, and we can alter outcomes by making choices. I don’t see the problem. Perhaps you’re confusing determinism with fatalism?

              • Posted February 19, 2014 at 11:31 am | Permalink

                In reply to both @ventzone and @reasonshark:

                I am not confusing determinism with fatalism. I am suggesting that you blur the distinction when you suggest people cannot be considered responsible for their economic conditions. While I do believe in some degree of progressive social justice, I also believe that people can “earn” things and that they “deserve” the benefits of successful efforts. If you’re telling me that people can’t be credited with their successes or blamed for their failures because they could not have done otherwise, then that just sounds like retrospective fatalism.

              • abrotherhoodofman
                Posted February 19, 2014 at 10:39 pm | Permalink

                A bunch of meat robots, all with varying backgrounds, experiences, and abilities (read that pre-programming), are placed into an economic system. Some get rich, and some don’t. Do the rich robots “deserve” praise?

                You were fortunate” is a much more appropriate response, methinks.

                And to be fair, many wealthy people understand this perfectly.

        • reasonshark
          Posted February 19, 2014 at 9:56 am | Permalink

          “Are not our preferences and desires also illusions? What about words like “should” and “ought”? Someone in poverty may not “deserve to be blamed,” but they also don’t “deserve” to be “helped,” since “help” is another illusion that rests on the mirage of human goals and desires.”

          This is a non-sequitur. Preferences and desires don’t vanish in a puff of logic just because we notice that human actions are caused. Words like “should and ought” are predicated on the existence of better and worse ways to do things, not on whether or not humans have free will or not. You can talk about human goals and desires without agreeing that retribution is necessary.

          So long as people buy into the idea of retribution and responsibility as some kind of fundamental principle rather than as a way of curing harms, they’re going to confuse incompatibilism with moral nihilism, which is so muddle-headed that it’s not even wrong.

          • Posted February 19, 2014 at 10:18 am | Permalink

            “You can talk about human goals and desires without agreeing that retribution is necessary.”

            And I can agree that retribution is unnecessary even if I believe in libertarian free will! Don’t Christians ostensibly believe one should “turn the other cheek”? The point is that the logic of blame and retribution is ultimately not decided by the metaphysics of determinism.

            • reasonshark
              Posted February 19, 2014 at 11:16 am | Permalink

              However, you can’t argue for it as a principle if you’re not, because the very notion of retribution relies on the other person having something akin to dualistic free will to pick between the right and the wrong action.

              • Posted February 19, 2014 at 11:21 am | Permalink

                “the very notion of retribution relies on…”

                I really don’t see what the notion of retribution relies on, other than an emotional desire for vengeance. “The notion of retribution” relies on free-will in a completely alogical sense. Free will doesn’t dictate that we should have a retributive conception of justice. Determinism doesn’t dictate that we should refrain from indulging retributive impulses.

              • reasonshark
                Posted February 19, 2014 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

                “I really don’t see what the notion of retribution relies on, other than an emotional desire for vengeance.”

                The whole notion of punishing someone for doing evil willingly is based on the premise that they have a soul with free will that can make the choice between doing good and doing evil, and so could have chosen differently. So long as libertarian free will is considered true, it’s presumed that human agency follows its own laws independently of other things, which is where the idea gets its survival value. Shooting this dualistic claim down turns the issue of punishment from a fundamental tenet of morality to simply a technique to be scrutinised and evaluated.

                Don’t look at me if other people’s ideas don’t survive scrutiny.

                ” “The notion of retribution” relies on free-will in a completely alogical sense. Free will doesn’t dictate that we should have a retributive conception of justice.”

                Free will posits that human decision-making is quantitatively different from the causal logic of the rest of the world. In this, the otherwise weak notion of retribution can be propped up by people’s instinct towards revenge and so on rather than on any articulate foundation. Libertarian free will provides the grounds to justify retribution, even if only because determinism doesn’t.

                “Determinism doesn’t dictate that we should refrain from indulging retributive impulses.”

                Punishing people for the sake of punishing them makes no sense in a deterministic world and just becomes an act of spite. There’s no cosmic balance that’s restored by doing it because the cosmic means of checking it – the soul with free will – is a complete fiction. It can rationally be buoyed up using other principles, like deterrence, but it carries no special privilege by itself.

              • Posted February 20, 2014 at 1:14 am | Permalink

                @reasonshark: “There’s no cosmic balance that’s restored by doing it because the cosmic means of checking it – the soul with free will – is a complete fiction.”

                I think here you acknowledge that the mere notion of libertarian free will has no logical consequences unless it is supplemented by a bigger mythology that accounts for “cosmic balance.” (And one could believe in a metric of cosmic balance even if the universe is deterministic). If you clear your mental slate completely, and then try to entertain the premise of libertarian free will, and then apply your most rigorous reasoning, you won’t get to any conclusions. Nothing follows from it.

                It’s been said repeatedly that libertarian free will isn’t even well defined, so you can’t build a logical system around it. There may be people (maybe a lot?) who imagine that their moral beliefs depend logically on libertarian free will, but I think most of us agree they are mistaken.

        • eric
          Posted February 19, 2014 at 10:11 am | Permalink

          This whole “incompatibilism” thing is starting to feel pretty useless when it comes to understanding the human condition.

          Well, it means you have to justify your goals and priorities differently. You’ve already given two examples of that (justice and economics).

          But IMO you are right to imply that incompatibilism as an idea is pretty useless when it comes to telling us how to reach those goals. It does not dictate one solution over another; only empirical study of what works and what doesn’t work (for us to reach our goals) will do that.

          This is something I think Jerry misses or at least disagrees with. He seems to think that incompatibilism leads to more liberal and reform-focused criminal justice policies, for instance. But it doesn’t. If we are meat robots then certainly we should focus our justice system more on prevention/reduction than moral retribution. However, incompatibilism alone does not say that counseling will be more effective than flogging at preventing recidivism. You cannot get from incompatibilism to counseling by logic, which seems to be one of the things Jerry tries to do. If, in theory, we found that us incompatibilist meat robots could be best controlled and prevented from enacting future crimes by harsh punishment when we commit them, then incompatibilism should dictate that harsh punishment is warranted.

          • Posted February 19, 2014 at 10:22 am | Permalink

            “If we are meat robots then certainly we should focus our justice system more on prevention/reduction than moral retribution.”

            Perhaps, but Jerry also seems to think determinism weighs against the death penalty. But I’m left wondering why, if we’re concerned solely with outcomes, should we not adopt a policy of executing all intractable sociopaths? I don’t see how determinism helps us analyze that question.

            • eric
              Posted February 19, 2014 at 11:19 am | Permalink

              I would agree; I don’t see how determinism leads to any particular criminal justice (or other social) policy.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted February 19, 2014 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

        You may be engaging in reductio ad absurdum here. Regardless of the words, incompatiblisists recognize the inputs of deterring or encouraging factors as effecting behaviour just like any other deterministic factor does.

    • Posted February 19, 2014 at 11:45 am | Permalink

      I think the question of free will is largely irrelevant here.

      If if full-on, magic, libertarian, dualistic free will were real, this would not mean that an infant born into squalor in Calcutta would have deserved or earned that birth and the difficult life that lay ahead.

  8. Jiten
    Posted February 19, 2014 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    Doesn’t anybody go to Borneo or Uganda or Venezuela do these kinds of studies? Just to compare. It’d be very interesting to know how some of the rest of the world thinks on these issues.

    • Posted February 19, 2014 at 10:56 am | Permalink

      There’s some (distantly related) cross-society work on understanding folk biological concepts, by Atran and someone else whose name I forget at present. But yes, this bears investigation more places.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted February 19, 2014 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

      These studies are often criticized because the demographic is typically students as well.

    • pacopicopiedra
      Posted February 19, 2014 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

      It says they went to Columbia. Is that significantly different from Venezuela?

  9. Posted February 19, 2014 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    I hope to have more to say, especially after Jerry says more about our 2006 paper, but briefly for now:

    1) There has indeed been a lot more experimental philosophy work on free will. See here: http://pantheon.yale.edu/~jk762/xphipage/Experimental%20Philosophy-Free%20Will.html

    2) That work indeed shows that there are indeed two sets of intuitions or concepts of free will (and responsibility) in common usage. (No one, including me, has ever asserted that no one has incompatibilist or dualist views of free will.)

    3) However (unsurprisingly), I raise some critiques of the studies suggesting most people have incompatibilist intuitions, in part because they present determinism (Universe A) in a problematic way, stating that human decisions happen in Universe B and do not *have to happen* the way they do, and suggesting that in Universe A decisions *have to happen* the way they do. My view is that most people have a “theory-lite” view of free will and responsibility, one that does not require indeterminism or a non-physical mind or soul. I’m happy to point people to specific papers by me or others supporting this view. If Jerry (or others) wish to engage with more recent work, I suggest this paper by Dylan Murray and me: http://philpapers.org/rec/MUREAI-2

    4) Our initial studies were not done on honors students at FSU. Most of my studies have been done on students in intro-level classes at FSU and Georgia State. Others have used more general populations and typically replicate the results.

    • Posted February 19, 2014 at 9:06 am | Permalink

      Yes, I’ll have more to say tomorrow. Thanks for this comment. I’ll point out, though, that I got a “beat the dead horse” comment just the other day on this site, saying why should I bother to address a libertarian notion of free will if nobody holds it.

      Second, in the paper I reference (which is not “our initial studies”), footenote 16 says, “Participants were drawn from an Honors student colloquium and several introductory philosophy classes at Florida State University”. I forgot the “philosophy classes,” but that is the totality of the students surveyed described in the paper that I referenced. I wasn’t talking about any other papers. The implication that I got stuff wrong here is incorrect.

      • Posted February 19, 2014 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

        Sorry about that: I was not trying to imply you got stuff wrong. In fact, I’d forgotten that we included an honors section in the studies we ran for the Phil Psych paper! Most of the students we used were in non-honors sections (but whatever). You wrote, “by “people,” they mean honors students at Florida State University,” which I took to imply you thought we had a problematic or non-representative sample. In using college students, we indeed had the same problematic sample many psych experiments have (though I should not that the students at FSU and GSU are more diverse, including racially and religiously, than those at many colleges).

        I have not read all the comments below, but I think that you and many others are right that a great deal turns on how we should understanding the ability to make choices (and to do or choose otherwise). For now, I’ll just note that (1) it is not uncontroversial that determinism is incompatible with the ability to make choices (or to do otherwise), and (2) it is not clear whether most people think determinism rules out these abilities (I have some studies suggesting most people do not see a conflict, but I’m not sure you’d be satisfied by those studies). Compatibilist analyses of choice and ability to do otherwise are not just changing the subject or redefining ordinary notions.

    • Posted February 19, 2014 at 9:30 am | Permalink

      Agree, the definition of universe A appears to beg the question, suggesting fatalism rather than determinism.

      • Gregory Kusnick
        Posted February 19, 2014 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

        Indeed, Universe A is explicitly framed in terms of classical, Laplacean determinism, with everything fully determined all the way back to the Big Bang. We’ve known for a century that’s not the kind of universe we live in.

        • Peter Beattie
          Posted February 19, 2014 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

          We’ve known for a century that’s not the kind of universe we live in.

          On that point, cf. David Deutsch’s The Fabric of Reality:

          Another mental attribute that is somehow associated with consciousness is free will. Free will is also notoriously difficult to understand in the classical world-picture. The difficulty of reconciling free will with physics is often attributed to determinism, but it is not determinism that is at fault. It is … classical spacetime. In spacetime, something happens to me at each particular moment in my future. Even if what will happen is unpredictable, it is already there, on the appropriate cross-section of spacetime. It makes no sense to speak of my ‘changing’ what is on that cross-section. Spacetime does not change, therefore one cannot, within spacetime physics, conceive of causes, effects, the openness of the future or free will.

          Thus, replacing deterministic laws of motion by indeterministic (random) ones would do nothing to solve the problem of free will, so long as the laws remained classical. Freedom has nothing to do with randomness. We value our free will as the ability to express, in our actions, who we as individuals are. Who would value being random? What we think of as our free actions are not those that are random or undetermined but those that are largely determined by who we are, and what we think, and what is at issue. (Although they are largely determined, they may be highly unpredictable in practice for reasons of complexity.)

    • Posted February 19, 2014 at 10:00 am | Permalink

      From the abstract to the paper by Nahmias & Murray: “Most participants only give apparent incompatibilist judgments when they mistakenly interpret determinism to imply that agents’ mental states are bypassed in the causal chains that lead to their behavior. Determinism does not entail bypassing, so these responses do not reflect genuine incompatibilist intuitions.”

      This is interesting and very important for this argument, I think. I take this to mean that (in a deterministic universe like A) our thought processes and decision making algorithms would be a part of the universe’s total causal chains, rather than something separate, so that we aren’t puppets having our strings pulled by something outside of ourselves, but are essentially self determining. That’s a point I have made in previous free will threads.

      • Posted February 19, 2014 at 10:58 am | Permalink

        The problem is that although this can work at any given time slice, one’s current state is also a function of what is outside you (genes, society, etc.). One wants to be self-originating in some way – or so some people say.

        • Posted February 19, 2014 at 11:26 am | Permalink

          Sure it is, it’s also a function of many other things in your environment, such as the weather etc. But the point is that the evaluation procedure you run to calculate what you are going to do next is itself a part of the universe’s causal chain *and* that procedure starts running at the time you start to make a decision. Ergo, the idea that you are fated to eat fish and chips from the beginning of time is nonsense.

  10. Kevin
    Posted February 19, 2014 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    A lot of Americans do not think deeply about this issue. They know intuitively that some actions are easily predictable and that tends to make them believe there is less ability to make a choice. The sun will rise tomorrow, the sky will be there, my house will not likely explode. Regularities remove the option for free will.

    But if you ask them something that has a rather wide range of outcomes, like what will my unborn son do when he is thirty years old. The options are too many and it is fair to say no one could predict that outcome with certainty.

    An existence with free will is indistinguishable from one without free will. It only depends on the level of prediction one is willing to accept.

    • Posted February 19, 2014 at 9:09 am | Permalink

      Sorry, but we’re talking more than just about “an existence” here. We’re also talking about what are the implications in believing that people have libertarian free will, and of determinism, for the way we structure society. So it’s incorrect to imply that that the discussion has no point.

      • Kevin
        Posted February 19, 2014 at 10:14 am | Permalink

        I meant to imply that if libertarian free will people are shown that there is a fragment of determinism in their lives it should eventually have a positive effect on the way they structure their lives and society. Those who think there are ghosts in the machine are not likely to be convinced that we cannot make free choices. Giving them a tiny amount of doubt is a good start.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted February 19, 2014 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

          I would say that given what this study shows, people will go back to the illusion regardless because it’s a powerful illusion. In order to make changes based on determinism, you will need to convince people you are right then train them to think this way as it will not come naturally.

          • Posted February 21, 2014 at 4:37 am | Permalink

            “In order to make changes based on determinism, you will need to convince people you are right then train them to think this way as it will not come naturally.”

            You will also have to explain exactly what changes are warranted by accepting determinism and why. There are either lots of undesirable consequences to abandoning this “illusion,” or there are no consequences at all, depending on who you ask. So it’s hard to accept the simplistic account that there’s just a world full of people who need to have their illusions shattered.

            Some determinists (Coyne and Harris, for example) have cherry picked some pet concepts that they think follow from determinism, but I don’t think their arguments are rigorous or correct.

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted February 21, 2014 at 6:36 am | Permalink

              Most likely whether we have free will or whether we live in a deterministic universe will have absolutely no effect on people in their daily lives because if free will is an illusion it’s a powerful one just as the self illusion is a powerful one and most likely has evolved for good reasons.

              However, if we accept that we live in a deterministic universe, then we also accept that we cannot be morally responsible for our actions but we can still be held responsible (or accountable) for them. This means our laws would have to remove the “revenge” part of punishment. This is a slight shift in thinking and this slight shift would mean a greater shift in how we handle those who commit crimes.

              • Posted February 21, 2014 at 6:43 am | Permalink

                There’s no logical necessity to remove “revenge” from our concept of punishment. For example, the law might hold that a victim (or victim’s surviving family) are entitled to emotional satisfaction by choosing or influencing punishments. Courts already lean this direction by allowing victim statements at sentencing hearings. This is perfectly consistent with determinism and is not rendered illogical by the absence of free will.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted February 21, 2014 at 6:51 am | Permalink

                Victim statements aren’t about revenge. They are to show the impact of the crime on those close to the victim. It’s to understand the gravity of that crime and persuade either the jury to make sure this person is not allowed to do this again or to persuade the parole board that this person should not be allowed out of jail. It’s an emotional appeal but we are emotional animals. Further, what we do today doesn’t mean it’s consistent with a deterministic universe that lacks free will considering the number of religious people who hold to the concept of libertarian free will. Revenge is logically coherent in such a world.

                However, revenge is absolutely illogical in a deterministic universe without free will. How could you choose to harm someone? You are the person you are at that moment in time when the harm occurs. You should be locked up and kept away from others.

              • Posted February 21, 2014 at 7:31 am | Permalink

                Emotional motivations are alogical. Revenge is something based on emotional satisfaction. It is neither “logically coherent” in a world with libertarian free will nor in a world without free will. In either world, it is still just a desire for emotional satisfaction. The truth of that statement is unaffected by determinism. I don’t need a philosophy to want revenge, and a legal system that incorporates revenge isn’t illogical, even if we prefer not to have that kind of system.

                Here’s the root of the problem: libertarian free will is an ill-defined concept, which means that nothing can be logically predicated on it. It is definable only in negative terms: it is the set of non-random actions that are not governed by determinism. What remains is the empty set, and you can get some strange logical results by predicating on the empty set.

                You want to give the libertarians a lot of credit by agreeing that their concept is meaningful and that it has genuine logical consequences. When you say, “the only way to support concept X is via libertarian free will,” you admit that the concept is sufficiently well defined to support logical deductions.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted February 21, 2014 at 8:52 am | Permalink

                Before you move on to what you see as the “root of the problem” you need to stay on point about what we are discussing. You seem to be taking pieces of what I say to refocus the conversation.

                I don’t know how you think that in a deterministic universe it makes sense to punish people for revenge when those people could not help but do what they did in that time. Libertarian free will assumes that we have a ghost in the machine that is in charge and nothing else affects those decisions. Revenge makes sense in this world but not a deterministic one. It doesn’t matter if revenge is something we seek in either world (and this is part of my argument for why it is difficult for people to accept determinism), we react to things on emotion and instinct regularly – that doesn’t mean that in a society that we want to live in, this is the correct way to react.

              • Posted February 21, 2014 at 8:57 am | Permalink

                “I don’t know how you think that in a deterministic universe it makes sense to punish people for revenge when those people could not help but do what they did”

                I’m saying it makes no more or less sense in either world. I don’t think any concept derives logical support from libertarian free will. If I’m right about that, then there is no concept that stands to lose support as a result of rejecting libertarian free will.

                Can you explain in more exact terms why revenge-seeking “makes sense” in the libertarian world? Why is it more than an emotional impulse?

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted February 21, 2014 at 9:34 am | Permalink

                Revenge makes sense in the libertarian free will world because you yourself are the author of all that you do. In other words, you choose freely to hurt someone. That decision is independent and not influenced by anything else but your decision. In this scenario, it makes sense to punish someone as revenge for that independent decision.

                Revenge as the emotional response we feel in any scenario is beside the point. What I’m arguing is does it make sense to base a legal system to revenge and make suffer a person who commits an injustice or does it make more sense to isolate and where possible rehabilitate as well as deter.

              • Posted February 21, 2014 at 11:08 am | Permalink

                Many people who believe in libertarian free will also believe in an all encompassing creator god, so it can not be the case that they are the final authors of their actions. And in any case revenge can make no sense in a libertarian context, because libertarianism is incoherent. The best you could argue is that people *think* revenge makes sense, because they hold confused views about agency.

              • Posted February 21, 2014 at 11:14 am | Permalink

                “Revenge makes sense in the libertarian free will world because you yourself are the author of all that you do. In other words, you choose freely to hurt someone.”

                This is not by itself a reason for revenge. I might offer it as an excuse for revenge, but that doesn’t mean that revenge follows logically from free will.

                Amongst those who practice revenge as a lifestyle (as in some films about the mafia, for instance), the significance of revenge is sometimes emphasized in terms of deterrence: “We must have our revenge to show the inevitable consequences of acting against our family.” The logic of revenge is easily translated into the logic of deterrence.

              • Posted February 21, 2014 at 11:25 am | Permalink

                @cj That’s a very good point, I don’t think it’s really possible to separate retribution from deterrence in any practical way. In fact one might say that retribution is the implementation of deterrence.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted February 21, 2014 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

                I never said revenge follows logically from free will. I said it works in a universe where libertarian free will is the norm. I also didn’t say anything was a reason for revenge. My statement is simple. You’re making more out of what I said.

              • Posted February 21, 2014 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

                “I never said revenge follows logically from free will.”

                You said revenge “makes sense” in a world with libertarian free will, and it doesn’t “make sense” in a deterministic world. I responded that revenge can be considered (A) an emotional impulse that doesn’t necessarily need to make sense; or (B) motivated by deterrence. Does determinism strike down revenge under either of these interpretations? Is there really a purely libertarian rationale for revenge that would be defeated by determinism? (I don’t think there is).

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted February 21, 2014 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

                Ok – I see. I thought you said that if there was a libertarian free will world that people would seek revenge not that revenge itself is logically more sensible in a libertarian free will world. I agree on A. and that’s why I think in a deterministic world it would be difficult to get people to believe revenge was illogical/wrong to achieve an outcome of protecting the public/rehabilitation/deterrence. They may not even accept a deterministic world because they have a powerful revenge instinct. So, I think we are arguing about two different things: 1) that a deterministic universe would make a difference in how people live their day to day lives 2) that revenge makes logical sense in a deterministic world.

    • Posted February 19, 2014 at 10:39 am | Permalink

      A lot of Americans do not think deeply about this issue

      Every post on this site might start with the same sentiment … ;0)

  11. Posted February 19, 2014 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    Imagine a universe C where most things are caused, at a macro level, but random quantum noise occurs, which bubbles up through chaotic effects (such as weather) and breaks the causal chains leading back to the beginning of the universe (and in C the physicists have proved that QM is genuinely indeterministic). In that case John wouldn’t have to have French fries, and if he did choose them he would be doing so at the time he made his decision. But would he therefore be any more free in such a universe than he would be in Universe A?

    I wonder how the general public would answer that one.

    • eric
      Posted February 19, 2014 at 9:46 am | Permalink

      The significance of this bubbling is not clear. Proposing that quantum fluctuations significantly affects nerve firing is somewhat analogous to saying that the brownian motion of dust particles in the air significantly affects the flight paths of cannonballs, in that we have no measurable evidence of either effect being important (in their respective scenarios).

      But would he therefore be any more free in such a universe than he would be in Universe A?

      In my book (and probably Jerry’s too), unpredictable true randomness /= freedom to choose. Adding a random number generator to a robot’s decision-making algorithm doesn’t give you a free willed robot.

      • Posted February 19, 2014 at 10:10 am | Permalink

        You are missing the point – which is that in universe C, causal chains do not stretch back to the beginning of the universe, they only go back as far as the last indeterministic event. So, I’m not proposing here that quantum fluctuations affect nerve firings, at least to any significant extent. i.e. you can still accept computational theory of mind in universe C.

        Also universe C is meant to be a model – it’s basically no different to universe A, with the exception that the physicists in universe C have prove QM to be truly random.

        • eric
          Posted February 19, 2014 at 10:22 am | Permalink

          I think you’re actually missing *my* point. In universe C, John would still have to have french fries based on causal precedents and not have any decision-making ability at the time of choice, because local quantum fluctuations (local meaning ‘in his body, at the time of choice’) are too small to make any difference. At the scale of ‘John, today, making a decision using brain machinery’ C is the same as A.

          Look, think of it this way. We have effectively indeterminant random motion of particles around us. That is what brownian motion is. But yet the temperature and pressure of a room is fully determinant to any reasonable number of significant digits, because the scale of the fluctuations is much smaller than the scale of “room pressure.” Same thing with John’s choice of french fries. The scale of quantum fluctuations is much smaller than the scale of “neural firing,” so he has no choice in whether to eat them or not.

          • Posted February 19, 2014 at 11:05 am | Permalink

            No that’s wrong and I gave an example (in order to avoid endless discussion of quibbles such as yours): The weather, chaotic systems are sensitive to initial conditions. So quantum random fluctuations will get amplified and effect macroscopic events. And if you aren’t convinced, then just *imagine* a universe C with macroscopic quantum events that *are* a part of the determination of John’s choice! :).

            • eric
              Posted February 19, 2014 at 11:26 am | Permalink

              The weather, chaotic systems are sensitive to initial conditions. So quantum random fluctuations will get amplified and effect macroscopic events.

              Saying the universe is chaotic is not an argument that John could change his choice. Its not an argument against determinism. Its an argument for saying we cannot predict his fully deterministic choice because its sensitive to data we don’t have. So under your C, John has no choice in what he does. He cannot choose whether to eat fries or not. However, an outside observer could not determine whether John has no choice in eating them or no choice in not-eating them.

            • Posted February 19, 2014 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

              You are still completely missing the point of universe C. So lets try again: Look at Nichols and Knobe’s definition of universe A in Jerry’s post. In particular the phrase “this is true from the very beginning of the universe”. The point is that what N&K are actually defining is a *fatalistic universe*, where John’s decision is linked to particular conditions right at the beginning of the universe and follows inexorably no matter what John does. Now in universe C (which is in fact a model that many physicists take seriously) there are no longer causal chains leading back to the beginning of the universe, but John can still decide to eat chips in exactly the same way he did in universe A – by running a procedure in his brain that calculates what he wants to eat. What this shows is that we actually make decisions in real time right now by running the software in our heads, decisions aren’t “fated” and don’t follow from the initial conditions at the beginning of the universe. And forget all that stuff about “choices” here, that isn’t in the least bit relevant to the point, libertarian free will is an incoherent concept. What we are talking about is why it is possible for autonomous agents, such as chess programs and human beings to exist in deterministic systems, without their functionality being implied from the beginning of the universe.

              • eric
                Posted February 20, 2014 at 6:51 am | Permalink

                No, quantum fluctuations do NOT show that “we actually make decisions in real time right now by running the software in our heads.” To show that, you have to demonstrate two things which you haven’t demonstrated. First, that local quantum flucuations (i.e. the ones that occur in real time right now in people’s brains) are large enough to impact the causal chain of neural functioning. Secondly, that these fluctuations somehow give us what most people consider intentional choice, rather than just being some random number generator used by a program that makes it less predictable.

                Look, the computer sitting right in front of you as you read this is also affected by quantum fluctuations. Does that give it choice? If not, what evidence do you have that humans are particularly, specially influenced by the universal and ubiquitous presence of quantum fluctuations?

              • Posted February 20, 2014 at 8:40 am | Permalink

                You are still missing the point, way off in fact, nothing you have said has *anything* to do with what I wrote at all. Maybe I’m not being clear, but try to think outside your knee jerk “free will” box a bit: It has nothing to do with neural functioning, “intentional” choices, whatever they might be and is not restricted to humans. The point is that in a *random* universe, such as C, things happen that are not causally connected (they are random!), therefore it should be obvious that agents in C (of which humans are one example) must have the inbuilt ability to respond flexibly to such events *when* they happen.

                I really can’t think how to make it any simpler, without writing an essay, but if you still can’t understand (and want to!?), try reading chapter 2 of “Freedom Evolves” by Daniel Dennett (and what he says about evitability). And check how “fatalism” (the kind of thing depicted by universe A) differs from determinism: this is enlightening although hardly complete (there are some subtleties not mentioned): http://philosophyonthemesa.com/2009/03/24/determinism-is-not-fatalism/

              • Posted February 20, 2014 at 9:27 am | Permalink

                Oh and HowieKornstein, elsewhere in this thread, independently came up with the same specification for a universe C, for the same reasons as me. So check out what he says: http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2014/02/19/does-the-average-person-believe-in-determinism-free-will-and-moral-responsibility/comment-page-1/#comment-728250

      • Posted February 19, 2014 at 10:38 am | Permalink

        In my case, I get lost on the apparent disconnect between this supposed macroscopic determinism and what seem to me to be clearly chaotic systems. I don’t see predictions of weather patterns or faucet drip timings being predictable/determined even in principle, due to both the non-linear dynamics of these systems, as well as the impossibility of determining any initial conditions with infinite precision. And now we’d like to extrapolate this to the complexity of a human being & the timing involved? To reduce the problem to a firing of a few neurons or drawing an analogy to a robot and a random number generator doesn’t take into account what we know about the level of complexity of the entire human (or fly) decision-making process… that of a constant interplay between environment and *timing* of waves of firings — cascades of nervous pulses, in feedback with everything else in the body… eyerolls, twitching the feet, etc. It’s not just our brains that are doing the thinking, apparently. So it’s just not clear to me that we can just sweep all this chaotic emergence under the carpet, as if it is even possible to compute in principle. It all just leaves me shaking my head.

        • Posted February 20, 2014 at 7:51 am | Permalink

          I have the same issues. How can we accept the idea that we are living in a deterministic universe when the best minds current believe that QM underlies everything and therefore, our universe is not deterministic.

          We are supposed to ignore that fact and ignore the sensation that we are making choices and accept that it is an illusion because….?

          • Posted February 20, 2014 at 9:57 am | Permalink

            I guess I’ve expressed myself a bit poorly… it’s not that I have trouble seeing that the system (universe) overall is deterministic… things can be (and are, I think) “determined”, just largely unpredictable. For those exceptions where their dynamics can be characterized as non-linear (your flying cannonball, your idealized physical models used to position comm/GPS satellites in relativistic space, your non-relativistic mechanics used to get the moon shot done, your materials models, i.e. most idealized things modeled in physics, electronics, chemistry, thermodynamics, metabolism, etc.) you can safely ignore the non-linear aspects and its associated chaos, quantum bubbling. And even the chaotic systems (what I’m thinking of at any given moment) – completely “natural” stuff… no spookiness or “free will” arising out of the fact that the priors at any moment cannot be nailed down with infinite precision… it’s just that any of the philosophical thought experiments that involve phrases like “run the clock back two seconds and let it go forward and I’d be thinking / deciding the same thing two seconds later” is complete bullshit. First, assume a spherical elephant kind of bullshit. …and for reasons that have nothing to do with anything beyond standard model physics (no multi-verse nothing)… just that I suspect the time frames are so short. So by the time the thought experiment gets to the point of defining compatibilism vs. incompatibilism, I’m left with the suspicion that we’re merely arguing fluff – a distinction without a difference… something as undefined and loaded with cultural baggage as the term “free will” itself. Am certainly not arguing that chaotic emergence implies anything contra-causal (not that you are either)… but that the framing of the thought experiment/philosophical stuff goes off the rails early on because ti doesn’t really map well (or at all, in the case of thoughts/motivations/decision-making – what particular thoughts/memories we become conscious of as a function of embodied experience – what our whole mind-body system is doing at any particular split-second) to real physical systems. The whole mind-body is just too full of n*10^23 feedback loops to seriously discuss what you would be thinking if you even moved the clock back even a millisecond and went forward again… it seems to me this inescapable fact could be key to realizing why it is that we have such a strong illusion of completely free agency to begin with (i.e. that little magic leprechaun calling the shots from a little control room somewhere between our ears).

            • Posted February 20, 2014 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

              I’ve seen some people make the distinction between determinism and fatalism. I think it might be a bit clearer to make a distinction between something being predetermined versus determined. If there are truly random fluctuations in QM, then the Universe isn’t predetermined, but once the event actualizes, it does still determine subsequent events.

              As I’ve said in several other comment threads here, I still think the non-dualist debate amounts largely to one of semantics and pure philosophy disconnected from the empirical data we have. For one, we can’t possibly test whether something else would’ve happened if we put the Universe back into the same state. Even, if we could in principle do this, we’d have to be operating from outside the Universe and then that state would have to be considered and would by definition be different. That is, standing outside our Universe, we rearrange all subatomic particles into the exact state they were in. Well, now we’ve introduced a new state where the previous state is putting the state back to the old one and that condition didn’t hold the first time around! So the conversation of “could have done otherwise” at that level is incoherent to me.

              This is why, I think if you press most reasonable people enough, they’d indicate that “could have done otherwise” is with respect to a largely similar set of local circumstances. For example, I have at times had food with me and given it to a homeless person who I pass on the street. Other times, I don’t do it. This example applies at the personal level as well as within the population. Person A may help the homeless; Person B may not. This is what I would view as a sound definition for whether I, or anyone, could have done otherwise, and similar lines are taking when Dennett argues for compatibilism.

              But, at a high level, viewing how much the two sides actually can agree upon, I still see this as semantics. We know people within society can be influenced to progress and become more rational, peaceful and content because we have evidence that it’s happened. We also know that individuals can take steps to modify their behavior and sometimes these steps can at least have some causes originating within the individual. But, I just don’t see the question of what the consequences would be if people accepted determinism as being well-formed. I don’t see it as mattering anymore than asking how people would act if they were convinced the Earth revolves around the sun (which according to some recent press releases, a disturbingly high amount of people still don’t accept).

              • Posted February 20, 2014 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

                Bingo on all accounts, methinks. With little uppy thumbies, and a smiley thrown in for good measure.

    • Posted February 19, 2014 at 9:57 am | Permalink

      precisely the problem I have with such a dichotomy. Both universes A and B are entirely nonsensical to me.

      • Erik Verbruggen
        Posted February 19, 2014 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

        I totally agree. Just that one event is caused by another one prior to it, doesn’t mean it’s predictable. We know of so many processes that are probabilistic that one cannot genuinely hold the belief that it’s all one unfolding of inevitable history.

      • Posted February 19, 2014 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

        Universe A is fatalism and isn’t implied by determinism – so it seams clear that my suspicion that many incompatibilists confuse fatalism with determinism for the reasons Nahmias & Murray make clear (see post #9 and replies) is right on the money.

  12. Richard Olson
    Posted February 19, 2014 at 9:33 am | Permalink

  13. eric
    Posted February 19, 2014 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    most (72%) still held Bill morally responsible. That is a compatibilist response!

    I am not sure about that. I would answer “B” to the universe question but probably answer “yes” to the Bill question (he’s responsible), because I would interpret the question in a vernacular sense. I.e., the question’s “morally responsible” = “he did it by intent; it was not an accident, and so when it comes to deciding what to do about the event, we should probably do something about/to Bill.”

  14. reasonshark
    Posted February 19, 2014 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    I look forward to the day when we stop trying to argue over whether we can cosmically blame someone for bad things or not and just focus on eliminating those bad things as much and as effectively as possible. The sadistic urge to punish wrongdoers is a primitive, crude, and desperate form of deterrence and should be dropped the instant something more effective comes along. A system of rewards and punishments is, at best, a mutually agreed man-made tool for solving social coordination problems, just as the organization of medical institutions and legal issues around medicine are tools for answering questions about how to organize the work staff and deal with problems among them and between them and others. It’s secondary to the primary task of eliminating pain and disease as and when they occur.

    • eric
      Posted February 19, 2014 at 9:58 am | Permalink

      I agree with your first sentence, but then I think you start assuming what you’re trying to argumentatively conclude. Yes, we should focus on eliminating/reducing bad behavior. But do you know that the liberal policies you espouse will do that better than punishment and incarceration? Or do you just assume they will? What if some empirical study showed that flogging us meat robots was the most effective deterrent to criminal recidivism…would you support it? How could you not, given that under the non-free-will conception of the human mind, there can be nothing immoral about the act of flogging someone?

      Another problem with incompatibilism is that there is no longer any moral reason to object to nonliberal police state prevention methods. There can be nothing immoral about, say, GPS-tagging every person in the nation, recording their every move, and using that data to catch people when they commit crimes. So, do you espouse it? If not, why not?

      • reasonshark
        Posted February 19, 2014 at 10:20 am | Permalink

        “But do you know that the liberal policies you espouse will do that better than punishment and incarceration? Or do you just assume they will?”

        I make no assumptions as to the efficacy of any particular policy. My main point was that reducing harm was the priority because it justified deterrence and isolation, the logical bases for the policy of punishment and incarceration in the first place.

        “What if some empirical study showed that flogging us meat robots was the most effective deterrent to criminal recidivism… would you support it?”

        Only if all the other options were much worse; causing harm to prevent harm is not easy to justify because of the paradox in it.

        “How could you not, given that under the non-free-will conception of the human mind, there can be nothing immoral about the act of flogging someone?”

        You’re confusing free will with morality, so your argument is rendered nonsensical as a result. The immorality of flogging someone comes from the fact that it inflicts harm, and if there’s a way to get equivalent or better results without doing it, that way is superior. If society had no better way of dealing with criminals, then unpleasant as it is, it might have to be a “necessary evil”. Sometimes, you’re only solutions are not so much “do good” as “do less harm”.

        “Another problem with incompatibilism is that there is no longer any moral reason to object to nonliberal police state prevention methods.”

        If you believe all the police are all totally and incorruptibly trustworthy and competent, maybe, but here in the real world, so long as people cause harm, there have to be societal checks to make it harder for people to take advantage of others. There are reasons why not to put up a police state, and you don’t need to act like free will is the be-all-and-end-all of morality to make them.

        • eric
          Posted February 19, 2014 at 10:25 am | Permalink

          The immorality of flogging someone comes from the fact that it inflicts harm, and if there’s a way to get equivalent or better results without doing it, that way is superior

          You’re arguing circularly. Why is inflicting harm bad? “Other ways are superior” is your conclusion, so it can’t be your premise.

          • reasonshark
            Posted February 19, 2014 at 10:44 am | Permalink

            “You’re arguing circularly. Why is inflicting harm bad?”

            Tautologically, I should think. Why does 1+1=2? It’s sufficient to note that harm has a real-world effect that can’t be denied, and insofar as we’re aware of other people’s having it, it’s impossible to inflict it on them without ignorance or denial – basically, experiencing it as they do, or sympathizing to a degree – or an offsetting of positive experience right afterwards. The fact that it is rooted in a real sentient experience rather than an abstract social rule that can be broken makes it a stronger ground to reason from. Even masochists only harm themselves when it’s accompanied by an expectation of pleasure or pleasure itself that acts as a painkiller; they wouldn’t do it otherwise.

            I might not that, if you’re making the case for libertarian or legalistic free will, you’re not going to do it solely by criticizing a rival position. You have to provide positive arguments to support it.

            • eric
              Posted February 19, 2014 at 11:30 am | Permalink

              “Tautologically, I should think. Why does 1+1=2?”

              That’s just admitting you are arguing circularly, not fixing the fallacy. Okay, so if you define “harm” as “bad,” you can conclude that harm is bad. I agree. This reasoning that you’re using should convince me that harm is bad…why?

              • reasonshark
                Posted February 19, 2014 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

                Circular reasoning is technically not a fallacy. And quite frankly, you don’t convince people that, say, sticking their hand into a fire doesn’t cause pain for the same reason you don’t have to convince people that they hear you when you yell in their ear. If the word “bad” has any real-world correlate, then one of the most apparent examples of it would be inflicting pain on others, since it’s a negative experience that many people have. That’s why I say it’s tautological in the sense that 1+1=2 is; no amount of wordplay hides the reality.

            • eric
              Posted February 19, 2014 at 11:37 am | Permalink

              For the record, I’m not making an argument for libertarian free will. I’m making the argument that determinism does not necessarily or logically support liberal social justice policies (or any other specific policy). Maybe it does, and maybe it doesn’t; IMO the answer to that depends a lot on the specific and contingent biological facts of how we meat-machines are wired. Its entirely possible that we are deterministic meat-machines that respond most efficiently to punishment. Or Jerry could be right and we respond better to support etc. Frankly, I hope he’s right. My point is, observing that we are meat-machines does not lock-step lead to the latter conclusion. The question of whether we have free will is largely unrelated to the question of what social policies work most effectively to reduce crime.

              • reasonshark
                Posted February 19, 2014 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

                “For the record, I’m not making an argument for libertarian free will. I’m making the argument that determinism does not necessarily or logically support liberal social justice policies (or any other specific policy).”

                Since I’m not making an argument for liberal social policies, you’re going off on a tangent. My point was that excessive hand-wringing over “responsibility” that accompanies people who believe in libertarian free will obscures the fact that the notion is not a rule set in stone, but that it is merely a solution to more fundamental issues in ethics. The confusion comes from the idea that, without responsibility, “good” and “bad” somehow vanish in a puff of logic, as if there were no such thing as pain, pleasure, and other sentient experiences.

      • Posted February 19, 2014 at 10:31 am | Permalink

        That’s easy! Constant government surveillance has a demonstrated chilling effect on free expression which has measurable negative implications for individuals, communities, and society as a whole.

        And I think the jury came in on flogging a long time ago. It’s harmful, not helpful.

        • Latverian Diplomat
          Posted February 19, 2014 at 10:46 am | Permalink

          Global surveillance is also expensive, prone to abuse (e.g., what’s my ex-wife up to these days), and produces a glut of data that tends to obscure the activities of legitimate suspects.

          • Posted February 19, 2014 at 11:05 am | Permalink

            That’s not what I’d expect to hear from a Latverian diplomat, but I agree!

        • eric
          Posted February 19, 2014 at 11:42 am | Permalink

          So…surveillance is bad because its negative?

          Flogging is bad because its harmful…okay, why is harmful bad? Remember to parse your noncompatibilist answer in a way that does not reference or use morality as a justification, because we are trying to justify this policy under a noncompatibilist framework where individuals are not morally culpable for their actions. For example, you cannot say the flogger is doing anything bad because he’s not morally responsible for his actions any more than the criminal is.

          • Posted February 19, 2014 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

            I reject your conditions. The flogger is doing something bad and he’s not morally responsible for his actions.

          • Posted February 20, 2014 at 10:24 am | Permalink

            You’re getting confused. When an earthquake kills a thousand people, that’s bad, but the earth is not morally responsible.

  15. Peter Beattie
    Posted February 19, 2014 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    Jerry, you are still using “could have done otherwise” in a way that looks tailor-made to ensure getting the result you want. This has been pointed out over and over again, not least by Russell Blackford. Here is a comment by my to that effect. I am not aware that you have ever replied to this (fundamental) criticism.

    Also, why do you react to what random commenters on your website say but not to e.g. Dennett’s essay on Sam Harris’s “veritable museum of mistakes”? The basic arguments in that essay have been made on this website for years, and yet any substantive engagement with them has been lacking. I find this state of affairs rather frustrating, as it makes me feel that actual discussion of the central arguments is being relegated to the sidelines in favour of rehashing the same old assertions.

    • Posted February 19, 2014 at 9:57 am | Permalink

      This is a snarky comment. First of all, I am not obligated to respond to what every reader says, nor do I have time. As far as “could have done otherwise,” that is what I take to be people’s conception of libertarian free will as I’ve found it in discussion. My response to that is the same as Sam’s reponse to Dan, which I said I almost completely agreed with, and that includes “could have done otherwise”.

      If you don’t think I’m engaging with every comment (and really, I don’t have time to do that given that I’m writing a book), I’m sorry, and I recommend you go elsewhere where the host has time for an active give and take with commenters. But I have tried to engage (this essay is an example) and I’ve also read and commented on Dennett’s book. Really, you fault me for engaging “random” commenters but not Dan Dennett, when I’m interested in the first and Sam took care of the second.

      I’m sorry, but I find many of the central arguments muddled in the same way that many of the so-called “important” arguments of theology are muddled. To me, the main issue is whether or not we could have done otherwise, and that is what most people think (see this essay). If not, then there are enormous implications for our justice system. Compatibilists simply ignore these.

      If you are frustrated that I don’t answer every commenter, or you, directly, then I suggest you frequent another site, or don’t read the posts on free will. I have read every comment, even though I don’t have time to respond to them, and I remain an incompatibilist, nor do I see the point of compatibilism except as a way to reassure humans whose behavior is determined that they really do have some form of free will worth wanting (it isn’t), and that they are still morally responsible for the choices that they were determined to make.

      Again, if you don’t like the way I handle the issue, you are free to leave. I often am able just to post so that I inspire discussion among the readers.

      • Peter Beattie
        Posted February 19, 2014 at 10:43 am | Permalink

        No, Jerry, my comment wasn’t snarky. It simply voiced an honest criticism. That criticism was: a) in every piece you do on free will, even when you talked about Dennett’s book Freedom Evolves, you fail to engage with a central argument, which involves the interpretation of “could have done otherwise”; and b) you cite single opinions, whether of commenters here or of others expressing spooky free willism, as support for your claim that that is what most people take “free will” to mean, when those individual voices are strictly irrelevant to your argument.

        I make this criticism in order to improve the discussion about the subject—and I am sure you approve of that intention. Incidentally, all of us in this debate have pretty much the same goals, which include educating people about certain ideas and their consequences. That includes religionists just as much as those enamoured of retributive justice. Any reassurance that you see in what e.g. Dennett writes has nothing whatsoever to do with the self-contradicting contra-causal beliefs of the former nor with supporting the punishment fixation of the latter. (As Dennett has been tirelessly pointing out.)

        There are actual arguments for all this in what serious compatibilists say. I am simply pointing out that engaging them in a more meaningful manner would improve your own arguments. And I refuse to believe that you wouldn’t welcome that sort of feedback from your readers.

      • Posted February 19, 2014 at 10:44 am | Permalink

        “whether or not we could have done otherwise”. I’m not sure how this is relevant to anything. If a randomly caused event had impinged on the decision we were making in order to change our state then we *would* have done otherwise. But then we wouldn’t have been operating with our full mental faculties: Obviously, we make decisions that most accurately represent our character and past experience when our mental algorithms are not interrupted by random events. And that’s all looking at things backwards anyway – if you look at the situation before you run your decision making procedure, then there isn’t anything in the universe that knows what result it is going to settle on, because the result is determined by running the procedure.

        • reasonshark
          Posted February 19, 2014 at 11:11 am | Permalink

          I think the difference is that indeterminism to most people implies that the difference, such that things “could have done otherwise”, can be traced back to a human agent – a Ghost in the Machine, if you will – which is on par ontologically with deterministic processes rather than a subcategory of them.

          • Posted February 19, 2014 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

            It just makes absolutely no sense to say “you could have done otherwise” *after* you have made a decision, since the whole point of running a calculation is to arrive at a result and you can hardly turn both right *and* left down the yellowbrick road. Functions return a result, that’s just how things work and it makes no difference to that as to whether the universe is deterministic or not. So it isn’t even a question of a distinction between compatabilists/incompatibilists, it’s a question of logic. And why should we be forced to change the English language, because some people hold incoherent beliefs relating to certain language constructs? It’s not as if free will is the only one – there’s also morality and “faith” for instance.

            As to whether we are “morally” responsible for our actions: We are responsible in that we are the proximate source of our actions, we are not responsible in the sense that we didn’t create ourselves. If Arnie, the terminator arrives on Earth and reeks havoc we have to stop him, and if god made him then we can ultimately blame God, but most likely he just arose by evolution and we can’t put that in the dock. And sure retribution isn’t so hot, but you don’t need to be an incompatibilist to hold that view, and it’s pretty much what the British legal system thinks anyway (maybe it’s different in the states?).

            • reasonshark
              Posted February 19, 2014 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

              I don’t disagree. The idea of libertarian free will is nonsense. Tell that to the people who don’t think so, though.

            • Vaal
              Posted February 19, 2014 at 11:59 pm | Permalink

              roqoco,

              “It just makes absolutely no sense to say “you could have done otherwise” *after* you have made a decision, since the whole point of running a calculation is to arrive at a result and you can hardly turn both right *and* left down the yellowbrick road. Functions return a result, that’s just how things work and it makes no difference to that as to whether the universe is deterministic or not. So it isn’t even a question of a distinction between compatabilists/incompatibilists, it’s a question of logic.”

              I believe your analysis here misses some very good reasons for saying things like “I could have done otherwise.” That is: the usefulness of hypothetical/counter-factual reasoning. And the general assumptions we use for understanding the nature of anything including ourselves.

              I left home today without shoveling the driveway…but I “could have done otherwise.”
              I could have shoveled the driveway. That is simply a description of the types of things I can do in similar-enough circumstances to be informative. I don’t need the universe to rewind and every snowflake to be the same.
              It’s just the case that, hypothetically/counter-factually speaking, I would have been able to shovel the driveway had I decided to do that instead.

              And that is essentially a compatibilist stance on how “I could have done otherwise” is compatible with (and true and informative within) determinism. Anyone saying “Ok, well then that’s not free will, or that’s not really what people think when they think they could do otherwise,” would be begging the question. Since many compatibilists argue that IS the basis for why we think “I could have done A or B” or faced with a choice “I could choose A or B…I’m capable of doing either…now WHICH one do I want to do?”

              This is why it does in fact so often come down to how you answer “could I have done otherwise?”

              Vaal

            • Posted February 20, 2014 at 2:59 am | Permalink

              @Vaal: I agree with you (I think). But my point is that there are two different things that the phrase “you could have done otherwise” can mean depending on where you implicitly place “you” in time. Let t1 be the time you start making a decision and t2 the time after you made it. Then, if by “you” you mean you at time t2, after you have made the decision, then you could not have done otherwise, because you are looking back at a decision that has already been taken and we know that determinism implies a single future state. But, if by you, you mean you at time t1, before you made the decision then you could do otherwise then in the circumstances you are in then. The future is open, because the causal chains that lead between t1 and t2 *are* what determines which logically possible world you are in and that hasn’t yet been decided at t1:

              If you think of a chess engine calculating a move for a particular position, at time t1 it is free to play any legal move in that position. But at t2, after it has moved its knight to f3, it is no longer free to play the other moves. When you say, “it could have castled, instead of moving it’s knight”, what you mean is that at time t1 it’s evaluation procedure was capable of making the move castles and it hadn’t yet decided by running it’s code. Now, if you examine the engine’s internals you might see that at time t2 when it moved its Knight, it was also considering castling and the two evaluations were very close. Then we can say things like “it would have castled, if it hadn’t moved its knight”, “it really didn’t want to move it’s bishop” etc.

              So what I’m saying is that many incompatibilists are using the phrase “you could not have done otherwise” from a retrospective point of view. And from that point of view the universe is closed and so, of course you at time t2 didn’t do otherwise! But, if we can make decsions that can affect the future, then it must be the case that the future is not decided *before* we made those decisions.

              Another simple thought experiment we can do is to imagine the difference between a universe like A (in Jerry’s post), which is fully determined and a universe C that has random events in it, see: http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2014/02/19/does-the-average-person-believe-in-determinism-free-will-and-moral-responsibility/comment-page-1/#comment-728242.
              If a meteor flies out of the heavens and you get out of the way, do your mental processes need to be different depending on whether you are in A where it is a determined event or C where it is not determined? After all in C the future definitely is not already decided at time t1, so you could have done otherwise even in retrospect. What would happen if you took an agent out of A and put in in C? Would it still be able to avoid meteors now that they are random rather than determined?

  16. Sean
    Posted February 19, 2014 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    “..many Christians think that God gave us libertarian free will so we can choose not only whether to accept Jesus as our savior, but also to do good or evil…”

    Yup, this is the theological cop-out.

    The thing that amazes me is that this was drummed into my stepchild’s head right from the beginning @ sunday school. So on the few occasions I have asked her: if you believe in the all loving god, why does he allow murder / war etc? A SIX year old used freewill as a response/ justification.

    Now that is powerful, methodical indoctrination! Adults cant wrap their brains around these problems but that they drum one point of view into a child’s brain is terrible.

    • Posted February 23, 2014 at 10:37 am | Permalink

      It just occurs to me how illogical that is (ignoring all the basic incoherence that comes with God talk). If God created us with the choice to do good or evil (putting the blame for our evil actions on us), then God did not create some of us more evil than others. Every body was given an equal opportunity to do good or evil. What that means is that whether or not a person chooses evil has nothing to do with their character or soul. Nothing about a person’s soul (or character) can influence their choice of good over evil. So why could justify punishing a person for choosing evil? It’s like God said: “Here, roll these dice. If you get an odd number, I’m sending you to hell for eternity, so you better roll carefully!”

      • Aldo Matteucci
        Posted February 24, 2014 at 3:06 am | Permalink

        Yup, I have this mental image of God creating souls like grey dummies, all alike, to be covered with the infinite diversity of earthly materiality. Why the dummy should be thrown out if the clothes get stained is anyone’s guess, or why they should burn forever, rather than be mulched or recycled.

        Please note that since the soul is created at the moment of conception, and over 50% of such fertilized eggs don’t implant, Heaven is
        full of such grey dummies – what a boring place (before these benighted souls were in Limbus, but Benedict scotched the idea, thus triggering the greatest migration ever seen (over 50 billion according to reliable estimates). It has created problems of space allocation in Heaven, and an unseemly run on available harps.

        Generally speaking, I would avoid tackling true believers on their grounds, and limit myself with making fun of them – there is so much to laugh about…

  17. benjdm
    Posted February 19, 2014 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    I would also hope that those many readers who are compatibilists will not try to pick many criticisms with today’s paper but then go easy on the Nahmias paper simply because it comports with their beliefs.

    Beliefs? The only difference between compatibilism and incompatibilism is how one defines ‘free will.’ The only time it becomes important is when people are talking past each other because they’re using different definitions.

  18. Posted February 19, 2014 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    Universe A and Universe B are NOT the only possibilities. Another Universe C exists, which is deterministic but for certain processes operating at certain levels of scale, where a causal chain can sometimes be broken by the effects of randomness. In such a universe there can also exist lifeforms which have internally originated goal seeking behaviour giving them a very simple form of agency. In these lifeforms certain randomising effects also can break certain causal chains. As the sophistication and complexity of these organisms increase significantly, that agency grows to a point that goal seeking is considerably influenced by self forming action (i.e. self programming). Therefore significant parts of their behaviour can be attributed to self formed objectives, along of course with their historic “nature and nurture”.

    I would point out that the REAL universe most resembles C, also which makes “self forming” quite possible. I would also point out that if the universe were Universe A then all Evolution was pre destined, was totally teleological…..which we know is utter nonsense.

    • Jesper Both Pedersen
      Posted February 19, 2014 at 11:31 am | Permalink

      I’m sort of with you, but I see this randomness potentially breaking causal chains as a further indication that no free will exists.

      How does randomness add to your conscious decision making?

      • Posted February 19, 2014 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

        Randomness leads to a number of effects:

        First it removes the direct link between the pre-existing conditions and a single certain unchangeable specific result. By this effect it provides a degree of independence from predestination – a primitive of freedom

        Secondly it affords new reactions to operative causes that can explore a potential solution space. This is not at all unlike mutation in evolution.

        What are the effects of this? The human mind is like a vastly complex self-programmed State Machine which not only chooses goals but constantly processes the criteria that determines its goals. Within limits, this randomness allows the self to shape itself and its own possible futures.

        • Jesper Both Pedersen
          Posted February 19, 2014 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

          “First it removes the direct link between the pre-existing conditions and a single certain unchangeable specific result. By this effect it provides a degree of independence from predestination – a primitive of freedom”

          Just because the causal chain may be broken at certain points, that doesn’t remove the causality from the system altogether.

          Furthermore the random influence may be inconsequential to the chain of events.

          It depends on the system and the scale.

          An outcome regardless of chain of events is an unchangeable result. When we look, it is one or the other.

          “Secondly it affords new reactions to operative causes that can explore a potential solution space. This is not at all unlike mutation in evolution.”

          But every reaction is a new reaction regardless of random influence. It only adds unpredictability to the recipe and it doesn’t necessarily determine the flavour.

          But I don’t think your analogy with evolution works. We can research and establish knowledge regarding what factors may cause mutations to occur and how to manipulate the outcome, thus making it less random.

          “What are the effects of this? The human mind is like a vastly complex self-programmed State Machine which not only chooses goals but constantly processes the criteria that determines its goals. Within limits, this randomness allows the self to shape itself and its own possible futures.”

          I don’t think self-programming constitutes randomness, but I agree that we to some extent are capable of weighing pro’s and con’s based on our prior experience of the environment and all it’s contents that surrounds us in achieving a desired outcome.

          In other words, I don’t think we’re entirely self-programmed. Curious, yes, but not self-programmed. We need something to bounce against in order to establish ourselves.

          • Posted February 20, 2014 at 3:10 am | Permalink

            “Just because the causal chain may be broken at certain points, that doesn’t remove the causality from the system altogether.”

            Absolutely right. That is what any compatiblist like myself totally accepts. But what breaking causal chains does do is enable deviation from a single specific result.. it enables “search of a solution space”, it allows for the generation of differing reactions to a fixed set of causes ( in essence “invention”). In systems that involves employing learned responses it establishes the basis for the defining of a “self” that is self-programmed in part. It’s a continuously iterative process, so if one asks the question “where did that decision come from?” the answer is that IN PART it came from the entity that programmed itself to reach that particular decision. Nature and nurture only form a foundation for behaviours in an agency as complex as the human mind. “Self forming actions” are at play here.
            Let me give you a very crude thought experiment. Suppose you were learning the complexity of chess strategy by playing a long series of example games each game having different opponent openings. But as you played each move a bell rings at some randomly generated time interval where you MUST make your move. After each game you study how the game turned out to form an opinion of what constitutes good chess strategy. The question…if the “tape of time” were rolled back would you always end up to play exactly the same overall strategy? The answer NO. The second question ” name the principle effector of the developed strategy? The answer ” the self”.
            I’ve done my best here to explain a variant of a “two phase” decision making model of free will treated by Dennett, James, Kane, Searle and many others and if my explanation still seems obtuse I refer you to my betters and their own words.

            • Posted February 20, 2014 at 10:00 am | Permalink

              My point about universe C is a rather different one: The only difference between A and C is that in C genuinely random events occur rather than the pseudo random ones in A (because everything in A is ultimately traceable back to initial conditions). But, it would be strange to imagine that whether we have free will or not should depend on what the physicists finally decide as to whether quantum mechanics has deterministic underpinnings or not. And surely deterministic pseudo randomness does precisely the same job as genuine randomness, in that we can hardly predict what events we will need to react to and so must be agents with the internal ability to react in real time.

              I think this is Dennett’s position too: i.e. it really makes little difference to the compatibilist position, if quantum fluctuations are genuinely random or not. In fact (he says) any randomisation that affects our brains is going to reduce our capability to act out our desires, not enhance it.

            • Jesper Both Pedersen
              Posted February 20, 2014 at 10:08 am | Permalink

              I think you put too much emphasis on randomness and attribute it a role/significance that is as of yet unknown.

              Also I’m having a bit trouble reconciling these two statements of yours regarding determinism/indeterminism: “Absolutely right. That is what any compatiblist like myself totally accepts.”

              Here you accept determinism, but then further down you write:

              “The question…if the “tape of time” were rolled back would you always end up to play exactly the same overall strategy? The answer NO.”

              I have to disagree. If we assume a complete tape of time with every single variable including random events were rolled back and played again, it necessarily follows that the outcome would be the same.

              You have to exempt randomness from the rewind process for the outcome to change.

              To me a sounds a bit like you are inserting an indeterministic random-ghost in the machine, but I’ll have to take your word for that it isn’t so.

              As other readers point out, getting people to accept determinism is priority numero uno.

              I’m confident we’ll reach a consensus somewhere down the road.

              • Posted February 20, 2014 at 11:50 am | Permalink

                “I have to disagree. If we assume a complete tape of time with every single variable including random events were rolled back and played again, it necessarily follows that the outcome would be the same.”

                Well yes, if you could roll back the tape on my little chess thought experiment and play it again with all the “random” bell rings produced at the exact times they were rung before, the resultant learned chess strategy would always be exactly the same. But such bell ringing is NO LONGER RANDOM if this could ever be done.
                Similarly, in for my analogy to mutation, if you could roll back the tape of time in evolution, start it over and exactly duplicate the random effects that caused each and every mutation, then the various evolved species would always end up exactly the same, even after millions of years. But this is not Evolution as we know it.

                Nothing of what I’m saying contradicts the nature of CAUSATION. There is nothing acting outside of the laws of physics, no ghosts of any sort. If you want to call it indeterminism you could, but to me its just determinism under the influence of random effects.

                I do believe that in the next decade we will learn enough about brain function for science to help us settle the issue of free will and if there is free will, settle on its exact definition. In the meantime I totally agree with you our task is to make the general public more aware of the nature of determinism. But given that we atheists are also telling them that there is no supernatural, there is no god, that they are closely related to chimpanzees, that when they die that’s it, and that morality is not divinely dictated …maybe its politically wise at the moment not to tell them they are robots, particularly if we are not yet sure of that.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted February 19, 2014 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

      I would see Universe C as another deterministic universe which is more difficult to predict that Universe A.

  19. Gasper Sciacca
    Posted February 19, 2014 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    I like most of the respondents to this post believe that “free will” is an illusion. However, I do not believe the Universe is deterministic. If you back up the Universe to some point back and restart forward, the Universe would most certainly not be exactly the same as before. Quantum effects (i.e., fundamental stochastic behavior of all matter) assure that it will not be. Quantum effects are why every snowflake and every galaxy is similar but different.

    The reason “free will” can not operate is that decision making is usually influenced by some existing condition, or , if it is not, it is random.

    • reasonshark
      Posted February 19, 2014 at 10:07 am | Permalink

      Certainly, quantum mechanics and chaos theory give a more nuanced and accurate account of how the world works, rendering determinism a local approximation rather than the bedrock of physical actions. However, in context, indeterminism doesn’t mean that, but means specifically that the cause of the contra-causal is human choice, not a disturbance in the quarks. Y’know, ‘cos humans are special and all.

    • eric
      Posted February 19, 2014 at 11:46 am | Permalink

      Agree with reasonshark here (though not upstream :). Adding QM makes us at best meat robots with some random number generators in our programming. Still no free will in the normal sense of human choice. And personally I think the jury is still out on whether such fluctuations have any sort of meaningful effect on neural actitivy at all.

    • Posted February 19, 2014 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

      The point about indeterministic events *isn’t* that the brain uses entanglement or other unique parts of QM (it probably doesn’t), it’s that a universe with indeterministic events in it, would not be susceptible to the kind of naive fatalism that immediately strikes people when they think of causal chains leading back to the beginning of the universe as exemplifed by universe A in Jerry’s post. In an indeterministic universe causal chains only lead back as far as the last relevant indeterministic event. *But*, we certainly can not be more free, just because some random events pop off from time to time. There is another subtle point here too, and that is that if we can react to random things happening outside of ourselves, we must be autonomous agents that are not causally connected to a particular initial configuration of the universe, we must be making decisions in real time and thus can’t be puppets having our strings pulled for us by some Laplace’s demon.

  20. TJR
    Posted February 19, 2014 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    I’m going to have another go at trying to see if there is a baseline we, i.e. people here, can agree on.

    Note that I’m not claiming that everyone here will agree with the usages below, just that they will agree that such usages exist.

    The term “free will” is used in at least two ways:
    1) Dualistic/libertarian/contra-causal free will. This is the “ghost in the machine” free will, commonly associated with the conscious mind. This is used as in “God gave us free will”.
    2) Compatibilist free will. This is used as in “There wasn’t a gun to my head, I did it of my own free will”.

    The term “deterministic” is used in at least two ways:
    1) Physically determined.
    2) Non-random.

    Hence, saying that the Universe is deterministic in sense 1 just means that everything is physical, everything is caused by what came before, which can include quantum effects. It does not imply that the universe is perfectly predictable or that it is deterministic in sense 2 (see chaos, quantum etc).

    My hypothesis is that everyone here agrees that:

    A. The Universe is Deterministic_1

    B. The Universe is Deterministic_1 ==> NOT Free_Will_1

    • reasonshark
      Posted February 19, 2014 at 10:08 am | Permalink

      Agreed.

  21. Aldo Matteucci
    Posted February 19, 2014 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    Splendid question, Jerry. I’m travelling, so I can’t get into the detail now.

    But I’m throwing the ball right back into your court.

    The way I see the human mind, it is a perfect Bayesian machine, learning all the time, while being determined each time it acts.

    Where do you place such an entity in your oh so categorical world?

  22. Posted February 19, 2014 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    I remember vividly an experience I had at ten years of age. The Addams Family was on the TV. I really wanted to like the Addams Family, but it just didn’t take! I thought it was boring. But being the 1960’s I had to get off the couch to change the channel. I noticed I kept willing myself up, but my body did not move. In fact, I noticed I could not so much as lift my arm by willing it, yet my arm would go up, and I did get up and change the channel, and I could not sense the “difference” in the effective command in my mind versus the ineffective ones. My takeaway was that there was a silent “me” running the show, and the talking “me” had maybe a vote at best and let’s face it the talking “me” was ambivalent about the Addams Family.

    Since I am what we used to call a “crazy person,” but which we now recognize (and medicate!) as ADHD and bipolar spectrum, I have long been aware of the duality in my own brain. So, first, as I have followed the dead-horse-beating hereon, I have often wondered whether “crazy people” as a class might be more receptive to determinism. As an aside, my older brother is an addict and a career criminal yet is the most creative, intelligent, kind, and sensitive of the five kids in our family. I never believed he had choices: it was evident that he did not. I have always felt it was a matter of chance that I was not felled by the brain mechanism we obviously share (as did my other brother and my father, addicts both).

    And so, second, to a previous commenter’s point, the challenge is how do we make our way in the world when we accept determinism? I have been thinking the answer is in external inputs: the people we meet, the media we consume, etc, are chance externalities that affect the outputs of our deterministic machine. Quantum effects, as PCC has noted, are at play, and they are probably what we experience as “choice” – standing up at one moment versus another, reasoning and contemplating solutions to problems – so is the answer to live “as if” we have free will? What does any of it matter if we do not have a choice to do otherwise? How do we express the effort to eschew delusions, for example, when our executive decision to make the effort is itself an illusion?

    I suspect our evolution, culture and language hold us (hold me, anyway) back in processing what determinism means at the level of the self, how we conduct ourselves and how we communicate these when it seems “we” are acting out rather than writing the script.

    • Posted February 19, 2014 at 11:03 am | Permalink

      I meant to say also the resistance to incompatibility is very much in the personal experience, living in the illusion of choice: the implications for social programs and so forth might be easier for a compatibilist – a Dennett, for example – to accept because they are rational and testable and also not entirely inconsistent with deterministical free will. A moralist, libertarian free-willer will never buy the incompatibilist prescription specifically because retribution is a feature not a bug for them.

      My previous comment was about grappling with incompatibility on a personal level because of our baked-in illusions.

    • reasonshark
      Posted February 19, 2014 at 11:04 am | Permalink

      I kind of think we mostly are on the right track. Libertarian dualists don’t necessarily disagree that there are reasonable “deterministic” methods – you use reason in either case – but they would probably add a few extra, like the concept of retribution borne from the urge to revenge, which is powerful psychologically but not particularly strong logically. That’s where the disagreement seems to begin.

  23. Michael
    Posted February 19, 2014 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    Mr Coyne

    Are you saying I have no choice, I must read whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com?

  24. Posted February 19, 2014 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    “But philosophers seem to prefer arguing about semantics . . . rather than discuss the very real implications of accepting determinism.

    The debate is about whether determinism has any implications (worth caring about).

    The compatibilist says there aren’t.

    If you simply assume that determinism has moral implications, then you’re ignoring the question that underlies the debate between compatibilists and incompatibilists.

    You’re free to ignore the debate if you wish, but you shouldn’t misrepresent it.

    • Dale
      Posted February 19, 2014 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

      “The debate is about whether determinism has any implications (worth caring about).”

      I’ve got to agree with this, Peter.

      Also the flip side of teaching people that they have no control over their lives is of genuine concern. I think that Dennett is very aware of how programmable people really are. When one sees what event extraordinarily stupid ideas can do in the wrong minds, I think one wants to be careful what one wishes for….see snake handling, creationism, intelligent design etc. I think one must also beware, (be aware in advance?) of unintended consequences.

      • Jesper Both Pedersen
        Posted February 19, 2014 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

        But is there any data indicating that acceptance of deterministic incompatibility would lead to loss of responsibility for ones own actions?

      • Posted February 19, 2014 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

        I watched a segment on YouTube some time ago with Harris, Dennett, Dawkins and Hitchens and one of the questions posed was something like, “Is there any truth that science could conceivably find that would be worth hiding from the general public?” I don’t have time to dig the clip up now, but I believe it was Dennett who said something about free will being an illusion.

        There have been some studies showing people are more likely to act less morally when primed that they have no choice in the matter. I definitely agree that it is not obvious that settling this debate has any good implications. Certainly, on a practical level, I still maintain that we can implement methods from behavioral science, which include avoiding retributive punishment and positively reinforcing desired behavior without dragging in the higher level debate. Many people understand that behavior therapy implies that their actions are being programmed with a certain goal in mind without thinking about the underlying implication that this dismisses any notion of freedom to do otherwise. Why explicitly bring this point up when it then becomes a factor which is suspected to negatively impact people’s behavior?

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted February 19, 2014 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

          I believe those who were told they had no free will were given a test and their behaviour showed them behaving less ethically than previously. However, I bet they didn’t continue to do so in the long term. It seems to me, especially given the results of this study that Jerry posted here, that people will behave according to their instincts and that instinct is that they have free will and that determinism isn’t something they care to contemplate. This does not mean, however, that we can’t change our thinking when it comes to crime and punishment – after all, science often informs policing and the law.

          However, I don’t like the idea of the truth being withheld because of a perceived societal ill. I want to know the truth & damn the consequences! Give me the red pill! Anything else is condescending & stinks of the putrid odour of oligarchy!

          • Posted February 20, 2014 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

            I am in agreement. I want to know how things work. History has shown new discoveries to always be stranger than what was previously imagined.

            If your intuition that instincts will prevail is correct, I submit that the the consequences of people accepting determinism are negligible. Of course, I realize that I’m still leaning toward my own bias that I find the discussion at the philosophical level to be useless in practical matters and still don’t feel like I’ve seen an argument on either side of it that implies something different than what we already know about human behavior.

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted February 20, 2014 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

              I think it will be negligible in everyday life because the illusions are powerful. However, I think it still could inform the legal system.

              • Posted February 21, 2014 at 8:10 am | Permalink

                Hmmm….. I don’t quite understand why incompatibilists feel that there would be an improvement in moral standards if society at large also came to this view. Aside from the concern that people who want to do evil, can consider that they “can’t help themselves” there are even further complexities. To begin with, in a world of robots it seems more utilitarian to treat people exactly like the robots they are. For example, to decrease crime by the means of the deterrent of inprisonment (which incompatibilists also agree is necessary) it seems logical to INCREASE sentences to increase the deterrent value, as game theory tells us this is the most effective approach. If an alternative of “rehabilitation” is chosen instead, it seems to me that no consideration should be given to either the feelings, personality or the personal rights of prisoner being rehabilitated as this exercise is nothing but the reprogramming an automaton. A Clockwork Orange world indeed. On this theme, what value are there in giving rights such as free speech, freedom of religion, assembly etc etc to citizens who are not in any sense themselves free? Or, if I were a potential dictator why should I have any concerns whatsoever when I feel it’s useful to usurp these rights? Fortunately for the compatibilist such questions need never arise.

              • Posted February 21, 2014 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

                This whole conversation continues to reinforce my sentiment that this debate is too far removed from practical reality, and too philosophically centered, to determine any effect on the population at large. It’s easy for both sides to argue anything in principle. Evidence showing the effects of rehabilitation and behavior therapy would influence the masses much more. One can easily make arguments with empirical evidence that getting unproductive members of society to be productive is much better than jailing them (whether it’s for retribution or something else).

                I think the real work in this approach is in getting people to repress their emotional instincts for revenge and rationally realize how it benefits both society as a whole and individuals. We don’t need the meta-discussion; it might make for intriguing discussion on an academic level, but the majority of the population could care less about such matters.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted February 21, 2014 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

                I see you subscribe to the theory that if people think they have no free will, they will behave sociopathically.

      • Dale
        Posted February 19, 2014 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

        Any data? On that particular question? I don’t know. But I’m constantly amazed at people will make of things, especially if they see it as being in their “self” interest. We have to remember that we are all nutty as fruitcakes, not just the religious.

        It would seem that this line of reasoning would be very appealing to defense attorneys. The idea that one is not responsible for one’s actions is a universal defense.

        • Jesper Both Pedersen
          Posted February 19, 2014 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

          Why would it be a universal defence?

          You have memory of previous experiences and a basic understanding of what is allowed within the law, I presume.

        • Richard Olson
          Posted February 19, 2014 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

          I give you Affluenza.

          I would be gratified if some civil liberties advocate with more money than I have hired the same defense attorney and expert psychiatrist witness who appeared in the recent Texas trial that resulted in the infamous “affluenza” ruling, to appear before the same judge and plead “povertyfluenza” for a low income defendant accused of multiple homicides in commission of a crime committed to acquire money.

  25. John K.
    Posted February 19, 2014 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    I do not consider myself a compatibilist or a dualist, but I would have held the arsonist murderer morally responsible. A lot of the study seems to go off the assumption that incompatibilism makes moral responsibility impossible, though I am not too sure I agree with that.

    If a computer program gets inputs and produces results we don’t want, we can call that a bad program. Similarly, if a human gets into a situation and reacts in ways we do not want we can call that human bad, or perhaps immoral. If there are exonerating circumstances like brain disease, why not just call the diseased person immoral and then moral once again should they be cured?

    What point does morality have if there is no longer any responsibility in reference to it? If we must do away with moral responsibility, must we not also do away with morality completely? I hope not, moral ways of thinking seem to have great utility. Must we also do away with the concept of decisions?

    More importantly, though, the statement “could have done otherwise” remains not even wrong until time travel makes repeatable experiments possible. Free will defined this way remains meaningless.

    • reasonshark
      Posted February 19, 2014 at 11:08 am | Permalink

      “What point does morality have if there is no longer any responsibility in reference to it? If we must do away with moral responsibility, must we not also do away with morality completely? I hope not, moral ways of thinking seem to have great utility.”

      I don’t think morality is solely about responsibility. When earthquakes cause damage, we don’t waste time trying to give it responsibility; we take precautions and make preparations. Morality is essentially the same thing applied to humans rather than inanimate objects, the main difference being that humans can potentially talk back and negotiate among ourselves.

      • eric
        Posted February 19, 2014 at 11:53 am | Permalink

        We don’t waste time punishing the earth for earthquakes because as far as we can tell, it doesn’t work to prevent future earthquakes. If it did work, I’m sure we would do it.

        When it comes to various (liberal and conservative) responses to human crimes, the situation is not so clear cut. That’s the problem – that’s why noncompatibilism does not lock-step lead to liberalism.

        • reasonshark
          Posted February 19, 2014 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

          Again, missing the point. My point with the earthquake example is that we can still talk about good and bad even without the notion of responsibility. This in turn was a reaction to John K.’s point that dropping responsibility meant dropping morality as a whole.

          • eric
            Posted February 19, 2014 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

            Ohhhh…okay, on that point, AFAIK nobody talks about earthquakes being immoral. They use the word “bad” to refer to its consequences, not its moral worth. One word, multiple meanings.

            If you’re saying the word “bad” can still be used to describe some human actions after we abandon the notion of moral culpability, then yes, that’s true. If you’re saying we don’t have to abandon the notion of moral culpability because we use words like “bad” to describe earthquakes (which don’t have any), then no, I don’t see how that argument works. For the latter argument, I think John K. has it right: its pretty difficult to sustain the idea of human moral culpability under a deterministic framework.

            And if you do (retain it), doesn’t that just kick the stool out from underneath the liberal social policy again? After all, Jerry’s whole argument is that we should favor counseling etc. over punishment
            because criminals are not morally culpable for their actions. If you are arguing that the idea of moral culpability is still valid under determinism, then we are back where we started.

            • reasonshark
              Posted February 19, 2014 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

              “Ohhhh…okay, on that point, AFAIK nobody talks about earthquakes being immoral. They use the word “bad” to refer to its consequences, not its moral worth. One word, multiple meanings.”

              Morality, or at least the broader issue of ethics, is focused on the question of good and evil, or good and bad, themselves. Plus, as I said, it has a social component when applied to humans because humans are more complicated. That’s why it’s erroneous to act like morality vanishes if the notion of responsibility does.

              “If you’re saying the word “bad” can still be used to describe some human actions after we abandon the notion of moral culpability, then yes, that’s true.”

              Yes.

      • Kevin
        Posted February 19, 2014 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

        And we [humans] generally care what happens to us and others. Which is also what makes free interesting and important to some people, because it can be interesting and we know it can have affect on the way people think about one another, even if very minute.

        An electron may or may not have free will, but I am pretty sure it does not care. Likewise, an electron may or may not be morally responsible for its actions, but I am pretty sure it does not care.

        • Jesper Both Pedersen
          Posted February 19, 2014 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

          What makes you doubt electrons have free will and a clean consciousness?

          • NewEnglandBob
            Posted February 19, 2014 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

            I don’t know about clean consciousness but I bet they have clean conscience. They got scrubbed from the quantum mechanics indeterminism before you looked.

            • Jesper Both Pedersen
              Posted February 19, 2014 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

              I bow to your clarity and accept my failed attempt a word/free will pun.

              I swung and missed….thanks for setting me straight. :-)

      • John K.
        Posted February 19, 2014 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

        I wouldn’t say morality is solely about responsibility, but it does seem to be a key component. I am not sure I know what morality is without responsibility, or if it can be anything coherent at all.

    • Posted February 19, 2014 at 11:11 am | Permalink

      What point does morality have if there is no longer any responsibility in reference to it?

      None. Responsibility and accountability do not require morality. Morality carries the appeal to authority rather than reason. It may seem like wordplay but it’s not: morality is completely unnecessary to live what would otherwise be called a “moral” life.

      The illusion of personal agency and “decisions” is, I agree a much trickier problem and I also don’t yet understand what determinism and incompatibility mean for that concept.

      • Posted February 20, 2014 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

        If we go by a dictionary definition of morality, and this is the first one that pops up when you type “define morality” into Google: “principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior,” where is the appeal to authority? True, in the religious sense, it often carries an appeal to authority, but there is nothing in the definition that requires it.

        If we take Sam Harris’ concept of well-being as a way to measure morality, we can coherently define good and bad and thus make moral decisions without an authoritarianism. It is people such as William Lane Craig who introduce the word play by throwing labels such as “objective” into the mix and then saying that in addition to morality not being valid if it isn’t objective, that to be objective it can’t come from humans. This is of course absurd, as we make objective statements all the time that are not subject to the whims of every individual out there.

  26. Janet
    Posted February 19, 2014 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    I guess “I coulda had a V8″ only if I lived in Universe B.

  27. Andrikzen
    Posted February 19, 2014 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    Every choice or action (response) is preconditioned; contingent and dependent on propensity (nature/genetics), experience and circumstance. At any given moment there exists a range or domain of choices along a continuum of probability or likelihood of acting upon a given course of action and how much effort (energy) is applied and time available for implementation. One’s experience, skills and abilities will factor into the probability of a favorable (to the individual) outcome. The confluence of all antecedents will result in only one outcome, however, which is unknown; being favorable, unfavorable or neutral as it emerges. Does this preclude responsibility? Whose interest is served? I think a root-cause analysis would be revealing; does society have the will and means to review each digression, case by case, or is it just easier to apply heuristic justice.
    I was once caught in freezing rain. I managed to stop at a red light but the car behind me did not and the impact pushed me into the intersection like a billiard ball, resulting in a collision with cross traffic. Technically I was not at fault but I was still held responsible; my insurance and deductable paying a claim to the vehicle that hit me in the intersection. This is what I call a cosmic set-up (I do not believe the universe is conspiring against me, but sometimes I wonder).

    • Dale
      Posted February 19, 2014 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

      Great story Andrikzen!

      • Andrikzen
        Posted February 19, 2014 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

        Twenty-two plus years in Vermont, I have many more. Forget about dark matter, I have plunged the mysteries of Black Ice.

  28. hazur
    Posted February 19, 2014 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

    Agreeing with TJR @ 20.
    Take the following definitions:
    1- voluntary choice or decision
    2- the power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate
    3- the ability to act at one’s own discretion.
    4- self-determination, freedom of choice, autonomy, liberty, independence
    5- free and independent choice
    6- the apparent human ability to make choices that are not externally determined

    Do anibody have a problem with those? It’s just a matter of defining the terms. You could argue that 2 implies libertarian FW, I would argue that 2 is talking of persons, not collection of atoms. People who is determinist and dualist are going to share terms that are going to sound the same but mean different things for them. Of course you will find also:
    7- freedom of humans to make choices that are not determined by prior causes or by divine intervention.
    The task it seems to me is to argue why 7 is wrong, not to change standard accepted meanings for words.

    • Kevin
      Posted February 19, 2014 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

      A good starting point: end dualism. In truth, that prerogative, it might be argued, stems directly from: end religion and the belief in a soul. If dualism were rejected by all humans, it would very nearly wipe out religion. I would have thought that dualism is a requirement for most religious folk. It would not, however, end compatibilism. But, that, as you infer, is a different matter.

  29. Posted February 19, 2014 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    Can someone explain to me why the distinction between “morally responsible” and “responsible” is anything more than semantics? We can’t possibly test whether someone “could have done otherwise” at a specific moment since we can’t put the Universe back into the specific state it was in at the time. Part of Dennett’s points that make since to me (though I find Sam Harris’ overall argument more coherent) is that we can show under largely similar circumstances that a person can act one way a certain percentage of the time and a different way other times. In that regard, the idea that a person “could have done otherwise” makes sense.

    This argument aside, we have solid behavioral science that shows how to modify behavior through reinforcement and that retributive punishment serves no purpose to that end. So, why not focus on this in order to improve society rather than the semantics or “morally responsible” versus “responsible?” If moral responsibility has no coherent meaning, do we just discard the phrase from the language altogether? Certainly, one can hold a deterministic view and still have a concept of morals. It’s not a ghost in the machine type of morality, but why can’t “morally responsible” be defined in context of what morality means under determinism?

    • Jesper Both Pedersen
      Posted February 19, 2014 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

      Personally it has to do with the notion of absolute morality.

      I have no quarrels with secular morality.

      But then again, agreeing on what precisely constitutes morality and how to objectively describe it, is a matter of case-to-case scenario imo.

      • Posted February 19, 2014 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

        I feel like the whole argument often borders on slipping into an infinite regress of antecedent causes. Sure, z caused z’, but y caused z, and x caused y, etc. In many situations, we’ll go as far as the immediate cause to assign responsibility. For example, an insurance company and court of law will blame a driver for running a red light and hitting a pedestrian. They will not blame the driver who 10 seconds earlier cut the offender off, causing him to slam on his breaks and then subsequently speed up; and, in a moment of temporary rage, blast through the light. How can we objectively say that one of these causes matters more than the other? As a society, we’ve determined that the driver shouldn’t run the red light and because it resulted in something bad, that person is responsible. We’ve also determined that drivers shouldn’t cut each other off, but in this example, nothing bad came of it, so it is ignored.

        Dennett, in his critique of Harris, speaks about how we can still assign responsibility without ultimate responsibility and at one point accuses Harris of being a compatibilist in everything but name. This is really a baseless accusation that could be turned around on Dennett and say he is really an incompatibilist in everything but name. But, this goes back to my original point. I feel like in this debate that the two sides often talk past each other and the baseless accusation above is certainly a semantic argument (they agree on many things but label them differently) with no practical implications. We know what methods work to modify behavior, we should focus on using them, not having what amounts at times to a meta-argument on the underlying causes. Perhaps this is my biggest turn off about this topic; the assertion that determinism necessarily has implications on morality that have not already been concluded via other methods.

        • Jesper Both Pedersen
          Posted February 19, 2014 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

          Any effects of widespread determinism remains to be seen.

          Some fear a pandemic of anarchy, others not so much.

          I only know how it works for me and thus far it haven’t lead to existentialist crisis or abandonment of morality.

          I think people can cope a lot more than we sometimes give ourselves credit for.

  30. Tim
    Posted February 19, 2014 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    I’d hazzard to guess that 90% of the world’s population have no idea what “deterministic” means, because they have no time to think about such things, and therefore they assume by default or by ignorance that they have dualistic free will. Sam is right. Dan is wrong.

    • Robin
      Posted February 20, 2014 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

      Words don’t have default meanings – there is no stone tablet of definitions.

      You can’t blame people for having different definitions of a word from you.

      The word “deterministic” has traditionally meant “exactly one next state” and often in scientific and mathematical literature it still has the meaning – for example Ed Lorenz in his writing on Chaos defines it this way.

      But clearly the Universe and our minds are not this kind of a system, nor are they random and so “deterministic” is clearly being used in this sense and not in the previous.

      You can’t assume words have fixed meanings, you have to define your terms where there is a possibility of ambiguity.

  31. Posted February 19, 2014 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    What I think this study mostly shows is that the majority of people is not thinking clearly about these issues. Incompatibilists in general and compatibilists in the specifics, that is not an internally coherent position.

    So Nahmias et al write that one should carefully ask questions as to exclude one bias and Sarkissian et al write that one should carefully ask questions to exclude the other. The question is ultimately, should we care about what people believe when they do vague armchair reasoning or when they have to make an actual value judgement?

    It is all very nice if people claim to be incompatibilists in the abstract, but funnily when they were presented with a murder and an accident in a determinist universe they would still hold the perpetrator of the former morally responsible but not the perpetrator of the latter, showing that they are compatibilists when it matters. In addition, everybody accepts determinism in practice (even if they are unaware of it) because otherwise they could not anticipate others’ behaviour and reactions. Finally, this fits nicely with the observation by Sarkissian et al that people who think things through and realize that determinism must be correct generally adopt compatibilism.

    IMO, saying that we should accept people’s incompatibilist armchair reasoning over their compatibilist moral judgements in concrete cases is akin to naively accepting the hyperskepticism towards scientific knowledge of a postmodernist or believer… who still trusts physics enough to board an airplane. No, sometimes people are just incoherent and have failed to reconcile two contradicting beliefs. What we should ask us in those cases is this: do they put their money where their mouth is?

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted February 19, 2014 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

      I agree that this all seems entirely consistent with the compatibilist project of trying to fathom what people mean when they say the words “free will” in various contexts, and to salvage the sensible and useful meanings while jettisoning the dicey metaphysics.

      The real lesson, I think, is that there is indeed a baby in amongst all that bathwater, and we should try to get a firm grip on it before pulling the plug.

    • Vaal
      Posted February 19, 2014 at 11:43 pm | Permalink

      Well put Alex. I tried to say essentially the same thing.

      Vaal

  32. kelskye
    Posted February 19, 2014 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    If the average person thinks that evolution is that eyes spontaneously mutated in their current form, would you consider it grounds to dismiss evolution?

    • Posted February 19, 2014 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

      If a pair of eyes, suddenly sprouted on my buttocks, I would definitely cease to believe in evolution. But, I’m not sure average people believe that would be likely to happen.

  33. Vaal
    Posted February 19, 2014 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

    I think, as Jerry has noted, these studies highlight how tricky all these questions are to investigate, we humans being messy machines to begin with. Some folks take Philosophers to task for mincing words and concentrating too much on minor details or semantics, but then it turns out just these issues arise when you are trying to do good science on the issue: you have to notice how semantics and tiny alterations in how a question is asked, alters the concepts involved and get people talking about different things.

    It’s not surprising that tests will show people have a fairly incoherent mishmash of
    ideas about tricky subjects like determinism and freedom. It’s due to this that the whole problem arises in the first place. The problem of free will starts at least as the intuition that two other of our intuitions seem to clash: The intuition we use in understanding the rest of the world: 1. everything outcome has a cause, which determine that outcome and 2. It also feels to us like we have the choice to “do otherwise.” And these two intuitions “intuitively” clash *when we try to fit them together: IF everything has a cause that determine the outcome, and if we are part of this “everything” and caused as well, how is it we could actually have chosen otherwise like we normally think we can? (And from that…how is it we are the authors of our choices, and how can we be responsible for our actions, morally or otherwise…)?

    Most people, when they try to fit those two things together don’t do a good, coherent job of it. Those experiments, showing how people can seem to contradict themselves, seem to me to manifest just the type of thinking one might expect, in that regard.

    This is why I feel we have to make sure we do not conflate “explanations” with “that which is being explained.”
    The problem is that the concept of “free will” tends to comprise a fairly wide scope of issues: including the raw experience people have, and their attitudes and assumptions, during the moment of choice-making, as well as later philosophical reflections in trying to fit these into a larger “big picture” of the universe and human nature. So anyone trying to study “what people think free will is” is going to have a tough time untangling and clarifying
    these problems. It seems, unfortunately, that one has to do a lot of conceptual clarification *before* getting to the experimental stage.

    (And I don’t think this issue of “what people think about free will” is an obvious
    answer for either side, compatibilist or incompatibilist. It may work out ultimately in favor of one side’s explanation, but it’s not a clean and easy path either way).

    Vaal

    • Kevin
      Posted February 19, 2014 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

      And I think it is only becoming more specialized in some areas as well. We see a recent interest among physicists, not to mention biologists and neuro scientists, who are actually thinking about information in terms of being real, or what or how theory represents truth, or how predictions are related to reality, like wave functions, or how computers could have free will, I.e., Turing tests, etc. It is getting to the point that even classical definitions of determinism and compatibilism, and fatalism are all getting looked at by so many different parties that the background of what one actually means by free will is not easily defined without a comprehensive essay to write for each proposition uttered.

  34. Steve Gerrard
    Posted February 19, 2014 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

    The interesting thing to me, as a materialist, is that the only possible way for an individual to have any say in what they do is through the biochemistry of their brain. Your brain is you, so you should want it to be the case that your brain biochemistry is what determines what you do – and you should hope that it is a sufficiently deterministic process that all of your decisions are a true reflection of what you actually want. Unless you are a dualist, there is no other way to be yourself!

    • Robin
      Posted February 20, 2014 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

      But surely even if you are a dualist you still want your actions to be determined by your intentions and for your intentions to be a true reflection of what you want and for this to reflect what sort of person you are.

      And surely even a dualist will believe that the sort of person they are was determined by their upbringing, friends, role models etc.

  35. Vaal
    Posted February 20, 2014 at 12:02 am | Permalink

    Oh…and another thank you to Jerry for posting about those studies. I really enjoyed reading your analysis.

    Vaal

  36. Posted February 20, 2014 at 12:32 am | Permalink

    God seems to be pro-choice, doesn’t he?

    • Matt D
      Posted February 20, 2014 at 10:37 am | Permalink

      Before or after murdering everything on Earth?

      • Posted February 20, 2014 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

        Well, that’s the kind of “freedom” we seem to get. I don’t think, God’s “freedom of choice” is any better or worse than you get from any other authority.

  37. Chris Vitek
    Posted February 20, 2014 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    In a full-on determistic universe, can creationists be held responsible for the beliefs? If someone can’t be morally held responsible for their actions because of a lack of free will, then presumably we can’t “fault” creationists (or apologists either) as being responsible for their beliefs.

  38. Posted February 20, 2014 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    “But philosophers seem to prefer arguing about semantics … than discussing the very real implications of accepting determinism. I’m beginning to think that such philosophers are deliberately removing themselves from the real world.”

    Is that not the problem with philosophers?

    • Robin
      Posted February 20, 2014 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

      But Professor Coyne’s approach to this is an entirely philosophical one and not even as rigorous as some of those, for example Broad’s essay on Libertarianism at least attempts rigorous definitions for the terms.

      In this subject Professor Coyne has left his scientist hat off and is among the wooliest of the philosophers.

      Dennett, Harris and Coyne would do well to walk the talk and put some real science into this subject.

  39. zenmooncow
    Posted February 20, 2014 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    It comes down to predictability , our universe at the level we live is unpredictable enough to make people doubt determinism. There is a level of complexity where prediction starts to break down but this does not equal indeterminism.

  40. Robin
    Posted February 20, 2014 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

    There appear to be different results from different surveys. What is needed is properly designed survey which does not push people one way or another and which has been designed with specific definitions in mind.

    We need to sort out exactly that the incompatiblists, the compatibilists and libertatirians are exactly claiming, which is not clear in any of those cases.

    We need to define exactly what is meant be “deterministic” Ed Lorenz defines this as “there is exactly one next state”. Clearly our universe is not deterministic in this sense, but neither is it random. The definitions have to be made more solid than they are now.

    And we need to be clear what sort of substitutability is entailed by moral responsiblility. Many people say “if I had it to do over again I would do it differently” but when you press them they really mean “If I had it to do all over again. knowing what I know now, I would do it differently”. Most people would acknowledge that if the situation was *exactly* the same and they only knew and felt what they knew and felt then that they would probably do the same thing.

    If fact if we might have taken a different decision in exactly the same circumstances that would be more like a lack of free will.

    In other words the current situation is that the debate on free will is hampered by a mushy semantic mess on all sides.

    • Robin
      Posted February 20, 2014 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

      But I would be interested in comments from those incompatibilists here, but to clarify the term for me.

      Do you think that all of your behaviour is determined by an unconscious mechanism?

      • Robin
        Posted February 20, 2014 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

        I mean “just to clarify the term for me”.

      • Steve Gerrard
        Posted February 20, 2014 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

        No. Rather that the conscious mechanism is a biochemical one, as is everything that goes on in the brain.

        • Robin
          Posted February 20, 2014 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

          Thanks, that helps. So in other words under incompatibilism it would be true to say that an action was the result of a conscious intention?

          • Robin
            Posted February 20, 2014 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

            Or rather that it would be true for voluntary actions.

  41. Richard Laing
    Posted February 24, 2014 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    “All theory is against the freedom of the will; all experience for it.”
    Samuel Johnson 1778

    So this is has been at issue at least since 1778!

  42. tos
    Posted March 4, 2014 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

    Excellent blog article.

    Here are two other articles that people may be interested in reading:

    1) “A FOOLISH CONSISTENCY: KEEPING DETERMINISM OUT OF THE CRIMINAL LAW” by Michelle Cotton

    2) “The Secret Politics of the Compatibilist Criminal Law” by Anders Kaye


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