Don’t bother saying that this issue comes up too often here. First, that’s a violation of the Roolz. Second, I can’t help myself: the genesis of this post was determined by the laws of physics.
And I want to ask one question, similar to one I asked before, but one that’s been reawakened by recent discussion.
Which do you think is more valuable to humanity?
a. Finding ways to tell humans that they have free will despite the incontrovertible fact that their actions are completely dictated by the laws of physics as instantiated in our bodies, brains and environments? That is, engaging in the honored philosophical practice of showing that our notion of “free will” can be compatible with determinism?
b. Telling people, based on our scientific knowledge of physics, neurology, and behavior, that our actions are predetermined rather than dictated by some ghost in our brains, and then sussing out the consequences of that conclusion and applying them to society?
Of course my answer is b).
I don’t really give a hoot about the varieties of compatibilism that have been offered by philosophers. They seem to me largely armchair exercises, and, in some cases, seem have been concocted to prevent society from the supposedly dire consequences of thinking that we don’t have libertarian free will. What has compatibilism done for us lately—or ever? Its only function seems to be to keep philosophers off the streets.
On the other hand, if we truly grasp determinism, then the consequences are profound—and largely good. We realize that nobody truly “chooses” to be good or bad, and that criminals who are judged simply as “bad people” have no more choice about their actions than those who are treated differently because they’re considered “insane” or “unable to know right from wrong.” That mandates big changes in our criminal justice system: a scientific approach about which punishments are best for deterrence, reform, and keeping criminals from relapsing into crime. It rules out retributive justice, which simply doesn’t make sense. It also makes us think hard about the notion of moral responsibility, which is connected with praise and punishment. In my view, determinism renders the notion of moral responsibility incoherent, but I suppose philosophers can rescue that one, too.
Now we can do both a) and b) if we want, but philosophers tend to concentrate on a) rather than b). Yet b) seems to me far more important. If the notion of determinism is so important, and compatibilism so trivial, why this disproportionality?