Did Hitler have free will?

Ron Rosenbaum’s 1998 book, Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil, got a lot of critical approbation, much of it apparently for the author’s argument that many “Hitler studies” arrived at conclusions that were simply a projection of the authors’ preconceived biases onto the Hitler story. Here’s a bit of the original New York Times review by Michiko Kakutani:

. . . he shows how historians, philosophers and psychologists have projected their own agendas, preconceptions and yearnings for certainty onto their portraits of Hitler, and how their portraits in turn mirror broader cultural assumptions.

Unlike many intellectual histories, “Explaining Hitler” does not confine itself to simple textual analysis, but showcases Rosenbaum’s reportorial skills with acute, sometimes edgy interviews with such controversial thinkers as Claude Lanzmann, the creator of the movie “Shoah”; George Steiner, the critic and author of the much debated novel “The Portage to San Cristobal of A.H.,” and the Hitler apologist David Irving.

The resulting book, portions of which originally appeared in The New Yorker, is a lively, provocative work of cultural history that is as compelling as it is thoughtful, as readable as it is smart.

As Rosenbaum observes in this volume, “powerful tendencies in contemporary scholarship have cumulatively served to diminish the decisiveness and centrality of Hitler’s role.”

. . . In analyzing the consequences and implications of various efforts to explain Hitler, Rosenbaum himself has made an important contribution to our understanding not just of Hitler, but of the cultural processes by which we try to come to terms with history as well.

With “Explaining Hitler,” he has written a book that does for Hitler studies what David Lehman’s superb book “Signs of the Times” did for deconstruction: he has written an exciting, lucid book informed by two qualities in increasingly short supply in academic circles: old-fashioned moral rigor and plain old common sense.

Now, as explained by Laurie Winer at the Los Angeles Review of Books, Rosenbaum published an updated edition in 2014 that contained a new afterword.  The LARB has published that in full, and although I haven’t read the original book, the afterword is informative, breezy and amusing, including mentions of the “Downfall” parodies we’ve seen on the Internet as well as of “Godwin’s Law” (“As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Hitler approaches 1.”)—a law that’s increasingly being obeyed, and approaching the asymptote faster. If anyone has read Explaining Hitler, please weigh in below.

What I found interesting in Rosenbaum’s new afterword was what he said about free will. Rosenbaum appears to have striven mightily to show that Hitler was not just a product of the material forces of the environment—Hitler’s genes, environment, and so on—but made his decisions freely—decisions that produced great evil—as a result of free will. Rosenbaum appears to think that Hitler was somehow free of the laws of physics. But let me show you by giving a few quotes:

But something or some things made Hitler want to do what he did. It wasn’t a concatenation of impersonal, external forces, a kind of collective determinism. It required his impassioned personal desire for extermination, even at the potential cost of defeat for Germany. It required him to choose evil. It required free will.

. . . One of the fascinating things I discovered in the course of writing this book was the reluctance of scholars and savants to use the word “evil” in regard to Hitler. Some years after writing the book and studying the question of evil, on a fellowship at Cambridge where I got to converse with scientists and theologians on this tormentingly complex matter, I ended up writing a long essay I called “Rescuing Evil.” It was an attempt to find a rationale for rescuing the idea of freely chosen “wickedness” (the technical philosophical term) from the determinists and materialists who would instead explain away evil as the purely neurochemical, physiological product of the brain.

“Neuromitigation,” the great contrarian writer and physician Raymond Tallis called it in an essay in the London Times Literary Supplement, and alas that is the way “scientific” studies of evildoers are heading. Blame it all on a brain defect. Neuro­scientists would have a field day with their fMRI machines and Hitler’s brain. Sooner or later they’d claim to find some fragment of gray matter responsible for it all. Instead, we have a gray area, a fog, a Night and Fog, to cite Alain Resnais’s groundbreaking Holocaust movie, that we may never penetrate, and physics alone may never explain.

Of course physics may never explain this, for it requires knowledge that is either inaccessible or too complicated to apprehend, but surely physics underlies all of what Hitler did, and his actions were the result of and therefore compatible with the laws of physics. The question, though, is whether Hitler’s deeds were independent of the laws of physics, and that’s what Rosenbaum seems to think.

Now it’s not absolutely clear from these passages whether Rosenbaum is a dualist, but it sure seems that way. After all, even compatibilists, who are mostly of the “determinism rules; you-couldn’t-have-done-otherwise” stripe, would agree that all human behavior is “a concatenation of impersonal, external forces, a kind of collective determinism”; that Hitler’s deeds were “neurochemical, physiological product[s] of the brain”; and, I think, would “blame it on a brain defect,” or at least on the neurological wiring produced by Hitler’s genes and circumstances. Rosenbaum’s dissing of neuroscience is telling.

I suspect Rosenbaum really does think that Hitler could have “chosen” to do otherwise, and that gives him a reason to say that Hitler had “chosen wickedness”—in other words, Hitler was morally evil. As I’ve said before (and others have disagreed, most vociferously Dan Dennett), if our behaviors are determined, the word “moral choice” loses meaning—except in the sense of meaning “determinism led somebody to do something that society deems immoral”. As I’ve written before, at least one study shows that most folks feel that a fully deterministic view of human behavior means that “people would not be considered fully morally responsible for their actions”. For them, and for me, “moral responsibility” means “you had the possibility of making either a moral or immoral choice.”

Well, even without moral responsibility, we still bear responsibility for our actions, as we are the beings who committed them. Hitler, like every other evildoer, had to be punished for his injurious (murderous!) behavior—for reformation, to sequester him from society, and as a deterrent (deterrents are of course completely compatible with pure determinism). Reformation seems out of the question, and surely Hitler would have been hanged had he been caught, but he chose to kill himself. (I’m not a fan of capital punishment, and would have put him away for life.)

An interesting sidelight: Rosenbaum argues provocatively that the military defeat of Germany, as well as Hitler’s suicide, did not mean he lost the war, for Hitler conceived of the war not as a military exercise against the allies, but primarily as a way to dispose of the Jews, whom he saw as viruses. In that, says Rosenbaum, Hitler wound up winning, for he exterminated most of Europe’s Jews—and the population has never recovered.

117 Comments

  1. BobTerrace
    Posted August 14, 2017 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    Subscribe. A lot will be said here.

    • Tom
      Posted August 14, 2017 at 11:08 am | Permalink

      Second guessing Adolf Hitler is a waste of time.
      We all have our pet theories but Hitler is dead and neither his brain nor his conscience can be examined.
      One thing I do agree is that the the present portrait of Hitler is comletely, though unavoidably, confused.
      What we do have is a plethora of documentation and statements which together give a detailed history of what happened after 1918 but will always lack the WHY.

  2. Posted August 14, 2017 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    Re ” The question, though, is whether Hitler’s deeds were *independent* of the laws of physics” could not Hitler’s deeds be independent *through* the laws of physics? I think the problem here is similar to the complementarity principle in quantum mechanics. Somewhere between the collisions of atoms within and without a brain’s molecules and the emergent property of consciousness and intelligence, there is a boundary between in which the laws that govern one realm transition into the laws that govern the other.

    The problem with free will arguments is that the people engaging in them limit free will to *conscious* free will which is very confining. Much of our lives is determined by our subconscious minds and this would only violate free will if we considered our sub-/un-conscious processing of information to belong to someone other than “us.” If one includes the sub-/un-conscious processing of information in the discussion, we find that there is a different flavor to the discussion and there is a big hole in our understanding of who we are as we know very, very little about the subconscious mind.

    On Mon, Aug 14, 2017 at 10:15 AM, Why Evolution Is True wrote:

    > whyevolutionistrue posted: “Ron Rosenbaum’s 1998 book, Explaining Hitler: > The Search for the Origins of His Evil, got a lot of critical approbation, > much of it apparently for the author’s argument that many “Hitler studies” > arrived at conclusions that were simply a projection of the” >

    • eric
      Posted August 14, 2017 at 11:05 am | Permalink

      there is a boundary between in which the laws that govern one realm transition into the laws that govern the other.

      The problem with such thinking is the same laws govern both. The rules that govern neurons aren’t different or separate from physics rules; they’re just what physics rules look like when applied to a complex combination of CHON atoms. Same thing for chemistry: the room temperature and pressure isn’t some separate “realm” from molecular motions. They’re the same thing. Pressure is just what molecular motion looks like in the aggregate, when you have a lot of molecules.

      And yes, that’s even true for QM. QM doesn’t stop operating at large scales or for neurons. It’s still there, working. Classical dynamics is just what QM looks like when its applied to a complex interacting set of atoms.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted August 14, 2017 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

        QM doesn’t stop operating at large scales or for neurons. It’s still there, working.

        Which is why school children can, with pretty modest equipment (darkroom, basic passive electronics ; decent quality ammeter, eyeball) perform experiments that prove spooky action at a distance.

  3. Posted August 14, 2017 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    Interesting, but getting rid of the idea of morality existing in some way outside of human thought, gets rid of the problem.

  4. Liz
    Posted August 14, 2017 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    My view of free will is in line with hard determinism. The compatiblist view is inherently inconsistent. We’re fermions and bosons all the way up. I believe that’s something I heard Alex Rosenberg say in a conference video.

    It’s possible that Hitler could have had moral responsibility without implying that he had free will.

    This is more important than the issue of whether anyone, including Hitler, has free will or not:

    “Well, even without moral responsibility, we still be responsibility for our actions, as we are the beings who committed them.”

    Being responsible for our actions is what matters even if we don’t necessarily “choose” them. The fact that we don’t have free will doesn’t excuse Hitler or anyone from anything so horrific.

    • Posted August 14, 2017 at 10:57 am | Permalink

      “It’s possible that Hitler could have had moral responsibility without implying that he had free will” – yes, because societies decide what things are acceptable or expedient.

    • Posted August 14, 2017 at 11:02 am | Permalink

      The compatiblist view is inherently inconsistent.

      In what way?

      • Craw
        Posted August 14, 2017 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

        In exactly the same way that saying we have thoughts is inherently inconsistent. We are, after all, fermions and bosons all the way up. We cannot have levels of discourse at which “decision” is a meaningful concept for the same reason cannot we have “thoughts”, “fear”, “desires” as meaningful concepts. All we can have, ever, is a wave equation. Liz will show us Hitler’s I’m sure.

      • Liz
        Posted August 14, 2017 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

        Many-Worlds and Hidden variables give deterministic outcomes. For free will to be truly compatible with outcomes, the Dynamical collapse approach would have to be correct. It is indeterministic.

        • Craw
          Posted August 14, 2017 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

          ‘Free will’ has nothing to do with physical determinism. That is a mistaken understanding of what the phrase actually refers to. It comes from a different domain of discourse. There is no reason to adopt a category error of the theologians.

          rickflick has a one line summary on this thread. https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2017/08/14/did-hitler-have-free-will/#comment-1516324

          • Liz
            Posted August 14, 2017 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

            Yes it does have to do with physical determinism. It is not a mistaken understanding of what the phrase refers to. In what way does it come from a different domain of discourse? Can you please define a category error of the theologians and give a specific example? Thank you for the link. It is referencing an interpretation of free will. It does not necessarily mean that it is the only way to think about free will. Thanks so much.

    • DiscoveredJoys
      Posted August 14, 2017 at 11:13 am | Permalink

      Agreed. Except that we are not responsible for our actions – we are held responsible for our actions by others. No free will is necessary for this to ‘work’ for a society.

      • Gregory Kusnick
        Posted August 14, 2017 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

        I’d say it slightly differently: nothing supernatural is necessary for this to work.

        But the distinction between actions for which society can usefully hold us responsible, and those for which it can’t, is what people mean when they talk about free will. People may disagree or be confused about how this so-called free will works, i.e. whether its underlying mechanism is natural or supernatural. But that’s largely irrelevant to our ability to recognize morally competent actors.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted August 14, 2017 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

      If, in fact, our actions are wholly predetermined, some of them take place at a different level of abstraction than others, farting or hiccuping being at least apparently less voluntary than deciding to cancel a trip to the beach. We at least sense a deeper level of agency behind the latter- this is what drives compatibilism.

      The most convincing arguments for actual free will are speculative and based on quantum physics. Spooky action at a distance, the no-cloning theorem “it is impossible to create an identical copy of an arbitrary unknown quantum state” and other aspects of quantum physics been appealed to in order to justify belief in free will.
      It’s a free will of the gaps, but the gaps are genuine.
      I myself that IF free will does actually exist, it is still arguable that some conscious entities (including a spectrum of people) are more capable of self-modifying behavior (less “sphexish” to use Douglas Hofstadters term) than others.

    • Vaal
      Posted August 14, 2017 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

      The compatiblist view is inherently inconsistent. We’re fermions and bosons all the way up.

      I’d echo Coel and ask that you explain this purported inconstancy. What you wrote above seems to be a non-sequiter.

      (Given compatibilism accepts the physicalist picture of human beings just like incompatibiism).

      You may as well have written “The compatibilist view is inherently inconstant. We are all homo sapiens.

      • Liz
        Posted August 14, 2017 at 9:52 pm | Permalink

        Inherently was probably not the best word choice. I responded to him above. Thanks.

        • Vaal
          Posted August 15, 2017 at 12:09 am | Permalink

          Liz I saw you wrote responses…I just don’t see any actual argument in support of, or clarifying, your claim.

          • Liz
            Posted August 15, 2017 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

            If determinism is based on the laws of physics and free will is the ability to choose between different outcomes, compatibilism has a few weaknesses. Compatibilists might say that the language of free will or choice is useful, but maintain that we are still governed by deterministic laws. In other words, we are governed by deterministic laws in which we don’t have a choice according to the laws of physics, but free will is helpful vocabulary for us to use because it feels like we make choices all of the time. That does not convince me that we actually have free will even though it feels like we do. It seems more like a comforting way for us to reconcile the fact that we intuitively feel like we make real choices with the fact that the laws of physics tell us that we don’t. The second problem with compatibilism is that the argument does not go into detail about how it gets from the fundamental laws of physics, in which determinism does not allow for individual choice, to the emergent levels of human beings thinking about and making choices. Moving from particles to temperature is less complicated than moving from particles to choice and will. Everything is already determined even if it feels like we are making choices. That is what determinism tells us. I don’t see a strong enough argument for compatibilism to override the disconnect between determinism and free will. The disconnect is that if everything is governed by deterministic laws, choice does not exist according to those same laws. Underlying laws tell us that there is no choice. Determinism and free will are not truly compatible. It may feel like a choice, but it is genuinely not. For free will to be truly compatible with the underlying laws of physics, the dynamical collapse interpretations of quantum mechanics would have to be correct. They are indeterministic rather than the deterministic Many-Worlds or Hidden variables interpretations. If deterministic laws govern everything, free will is not useful vocabulary to use. Instead, we should be talking about the perceptions of “choice” from a neurological perspective to more accurately address the topic. I hope this clarifies a bit.

            • Vaal
              Posted August 15, 2017 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

              Liz,

              Your reply pretty much just makes all the assumptions that are at debate between compatibilists and incompatiblists.

              You load this into what you call a “real choice.” But compatibilists point out that what you call a “real choice” is going to be:

              1. Incoherent to begin with (e.g you seem to assume for a choice to be ‘real’ it would have to be some magical/contra-causal event independent of physics).

              2. Does not comport well, or make sense of, how humans use the language and concepts of “choice” to begin with.

              If I say “I had a choice to go in to work today or stay home sick” I’m not making a regular every day claim that does not rely on being an “illusion” or some comforting cover for a falsehood. It’s a coherent claim about reality. (Presuming I’m not too sick) It’s a claim that I’m capable of working, or capable of staying home. Capable of doing them both at the exact same time, the universe frozen in the same causal state? No. Of course not. Why would I even be referencing such a strange and useless idea? It means simply that I have capabilities I infer from previous experience over time. And this is real, empirically useful information that helps me (or anyone else) predict what I “can” do in various circumstances.
              It’s the same if I said “I stayed home today but I COULD HAVE gone in to work.” Is this a magical contra-causal claim about physics? Of course not. If it was actually a claim about impossible things…then it would always be false and hence always be non-informative, and never useful to predict future events of behavior. But, we do indeed use the concepts/language of “choice” and “could do” and “could have done” all the time to convey real information, which allow real predictions (e.g if I say I cooked a steak tonight but could have cooked salmon, it predicts rightly that if you ask me to cook salmon I will be able to do so for you).

              If what you and I were actually referring to via the language of “choice” and “could/could have” was untrue, an illusion, then this manner of discourse would be useless and uninformative. But it isn’t, and thus your appeal to choice being an “illusion” must be based on some wrong assumption about what we usually describe with such terms.

              It is this lack of coherence, so often unrecognized it seems by incompatiblists, that makes it hard for me to accept arguments for incompatibilism.

              Compatibilism is simply about recognizing that the normal ways we use terms and concepts like “choice” and “could have” and “freedom” are not dependent upon magic or contra-causality. The reason those words are fruitfully used to pass information to one another is because even GRANTING we live in a deterministic world, they would HAVE to refer to information compatible with determinism to even do the work they do for us. (And that’s why it’s ALWAYS wrong when incompatibilists want to say compatibilism is “re-defining” terms when it’s completely the opposite: the compabitilists are noting that compatibilist concepts of choice and freedom are already ingrained in the way we use such terms; it’s the incompatibilist who want to re-define terms like “choice” to become illusions, which they are not).

              • Vaal
                Posted August 15, 2017 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

                Sorry:

                If I say “I had a choice to go in to work today or stay home sick” I’m not making a regular every day claim…

                Take out the word “not,” it was meant to be:

                If I say “I had a choice to go in to work today or stay home sick” I’m making a regular every day claim…”

              • Posted August 15, 2017 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

                Agreed.

            • Gregory Kusnick
              Posted August 15, 2017 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

              To compatibilists, “choice” means calculation. Nobody would claim that “real” calculation is precluded by the laws of arithmetic; on the contrary, those laws are what make calculation possible. In the same way, real choice (the kind that actually exists) is the process of narrowing down a range of behavioral competences to a single course of action, and determinism is no threat to that.

            • Stephen Barnard
              Posted August 15, 2017 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

              You’ve summed up the deterministic and the compatibilist positions, and their incompatibility (I couldn’t resist) well, I think. Compatibilism eludes my understanding.

              I for one find it curious that some hard-core determinists, whom I presume are skeptics, find it hard to believe that we don’t know the last word about how the universe works.

            • Liz
              Posted August 15, 2017 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

              Just to clarify, this was mainly in response to @ rickflick’s post regarding Sean Carroll’s approach to free will pointed out to me by @ craw. I’m not extremely familiar with all views of compatibilism.

  5. Posted August 14, 2017 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    This relates to Charlottesville (see the America First pics) as well as the late Mr Hitler –
    https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/01/when-dr-seuss-took-on-adolf-hitler/267151/

  6. Posted August 14, 2017 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    On this topic, I am confident of at least these three things.

    1) Hitler was not exempt from the laws of physics.

    2) If the words “morally responsible” have any meaning at all in human language, then Hitler was morally responsible.

    3) Hitler’s persecution and pathological hatred of jews was entirely rational because it furthered his goals in a country where hatred of jews was widespread.

    • eric
      Posted August 14, 2017 at 11:07 am | Permalink

      Yeah this seems like a no-brainer: whatever philosophical opinion one might hold about the existence of free will (pro- or con- or other), the concept applies to Hitler no differently than anyone else.

  7. R.H. Ptacek
    Posted August 14, 2017 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    I recommend Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich by Norman Ohler.

    • Tom
      Posted August 14, 2017 at 11:59 am | Permalink

      Agreed, a journalistic account but contains enough solid evidence for an accredited historian or better still a University to delve further
      Confusing eukodal with the non existent enkodal in 1945 alone warrants reexamination of Morells notes.
      Mr Ohler has done a fine job

  8. Stephen Barnard
    Posted August 14, 2017 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    Rosenbaum is writing as a dualist. His argument certainly asserts free will and is dualist in tone. This isn’t surprising because we’re all dualists when thinking about or discussing human motivations, even the most ardent free-will deniers. You can’t make sense of the topic by treating people as assemblages of molecules obeying the laws of physics.

    • Jenny Haniver
      Posted August 14, 2017 at 11:57 am | Permalink

      “This isn’t surprising because we’re all dualists when thinking about or discussing human motivations, even the most ardent free-will deniers.”

      Is this conundrum solveable? Or is the conundrum yet another example of no free will — we have no other way to express ourselves on such topics, even though we would do otherwise if we did have free will? Or am I just hopelessly dense confused?

      • Stephen Barnard
        Posted August 14, 2017 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

        Treating human motivations as the result of the laws of physics is the mother of all category errors.

    • D.H.
      Posted August 14, 2017 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

      > You can’t make sense of the topic by treating people as assemblages of molecules obeying the laws of physics.

      That is obviously true, but what has it to do with dualism?

      • Stephen Barnard
        Posted August 14, 2017 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

        It’s because the justification for the “no free will” position, which I take as pretty much equivalent to non-dualism, is fundamental physics, modeling people as assemblages of molecules, whose behavior is caused according to initial conditions and the laws of physics and nothing else. That this model adds absolutely no understanding with respect of human motivations forces everyone who isn’t a robot or a sociopath to think and act like a dualist in their everyday lives.

    • Posted August 15, 2017 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

      we’re all dualists when thinking about or discussing human motivations

      I’m not. Only incompatibilists have that problem.

      • Posted August 15, 2017 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

        Being a compatibilist can be defined as not having that problem.

        • Stephen Barnard
          Posted August 15, 2017 at 11:04 pm | Permalink

          +1

  9. boggy
    Posted August 14, 2017 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    Slightly off-topic but can anyone state whether Hitler was an atheist or as some say, a devout Catholic who believed he was carrying out god’s will?

    • Posted August 14, 2017 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

      It’s not a simple, either-or proposition. Certainly Hitler was a product of a culture in which religion (Catholicism, in his case) was accepted without question. It is a fact that his SS required its members to be Christians. The Nazis’ Gott mit uns belt buckles are well known. He exhorted his followers in the name of religion, and even likened himself to Jesus as a selfless savior of his people in speeches and his writings. Certainly, no matter what his personal views were, he promoted religion and denigrated atheism in public to the end.

      But there is a widespread belief that Hitler became an atheist later in life. I think this assertion is based mostly if not entirely on remarks attributed to him in the book Hitler’s Table-Talk, which is supposedly an anthology of his casual remarks at the dinner table. However, historian Richard Carrier has done some great work on uncovering the murky history of this material. A recent piece sums up his peer-reviewed work and some more recent discoveries. The passages in Hitler’s Table-Talk that portray Hitler as an atheist now need to be considered inaccurate and possibly fraudulent. It turns out that the Hitler’s Table-Talk we’ve been reading all these years is an English translation of a highly slanted French translation from a German typescript, and even the original material was not a faithful dictation of Hitler’s own words, but rather it reflects the biases and possible propagandistic purposes of its authors.

      So we really don’t know, and we probably never will.

      • Posted August 14, 2017 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

        Kind of like the New Testament.

      • Bethlenfalvy
        Posted August 15, 2017 at 9:49 am | Permalink

        “It is a fact that his SS required its members to be Christians. The Nazis’ Gott mit uns belt buckles are well known.”

        Utter nonsense.

        Fanatic SS members were rather “gottgläubig” than Christian (21.9% vs. 3.5% of the overall population in 1939). High-ranking SS leaders regularly denounced Christianity as a religion tainted by Judaism.

        https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gottgl%C3%A4ubig

        The Gott-mit-uns-buckle belt stems from the Kingdom of Prussia to which the Nazis gladly referred for propaganda purposes. (Btw, it had also been in use in the Republic.)

        Pavelic’s Croatia, Tiso’s Slovakia, Franco’s Spain, Salazar’s Portugal and Schuschnigg’s Austria were (also) based on a clerical ideology, Hitler’s Germany was not.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted August 14, 2017 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

      Hitler seems for at least part of his life to have believed in an eccentric version of Christianity called “positive Christianity” and many Nazis believed in an “Aryan Christianity” according to which Jesus was not Jewish.

      Multiple confidantes of Hitler, Albert Speer, Martin Borman, and Joseph Goebbels recall him making strong anti-clerical statements, JG in his diaries writes, “The Führer is deeply religious, though completely anti-Christian”

    • W.Benson
      Posted August 14, 2017 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

      Hitler believed in a supreme being that created Aryans, who in his view were both the only creative people and superior to other races (which he seemed to use in the sense of “species” in a non-biological way). Rather than getting it second-hand, I suggest you download a searchable pdf of Mein Kampf (preferably James Murphy’s ‘authorized’ translation) and do word searches for ‘Creator’, ‘Author’, spiritual, moral, faith, religion, Jew, etc. You will get your answer (and fill) quickly.

    • W.Benson
      Posted August 14, 2017 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

      Also, shortly after Hitler came to power in January, 1933, he banned the German Freethinkers League and seized their assets.
      Wikipedia informs that the Deutscher Freidenkerbund was founded in 1881 — partly inspired by Darwin — and by the time Hitler came to power had half a million members. The Nazis awarded the Freethinkers main offices and meeting hall in Berlin to the German Evangelical (Lutheran) Church. They became church administration offices. In the fall of 1933, Hitler gave a speech bragging that he had rid Germany of atheism. The Nazis also enacted a special tax specifically aimed at funding churches. A few churches were outlawed, like Jehovah’s Witnesses, not because of dogma, but because they refused to abandon pacifism. The German Adventists recanted their pacifistic teachings to avoid banning.

  10. rickflick
    Posted August 14, 2017 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    I tend to think of Sean Carroll’s approach to free will. If I remember correctly, he suggests that terms such as morality, and evil, etc, can be used unambiguously within the particular domain where they fit properly. Hitler was completely subject to the laws of physics, however, if we are discussing his behavior in the context of crime and punishment, good or evil, and wickedness, we should be able to do so using well understood definitions. To “Rescuing Evil” you shouldn’t have to accept dualism or some independent entity. You shouldn’t have to “rescue” anything, simply apply language as if it operated at different levels of meaning. This reminds me of Russell’s paradox and his resolution of it.

  11. Posted August 14, 2017 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    Why did Hitler act the way he did? Let’s consider two kinds of explanations:

    1) Because of the way the natural laws of the cosmos influenced the particles making up Hitler’s brain

    2) Because he hated Jews, considered them subhuman and wanted to exterminate them

    In my view, both of these explanations are valid and both can be true at the same time (they just make sense on different levels of complexity). To say that only explanation 1 is the REAL explanation is, I’d say, an example of bad reductionism.

    Is Hitler, then, morally responsible for his actions? In my view he is, in so far as his actions reflect his (more of less) conscious desires, preferences and personal character. This is what counts, not the fact that absolute free will (being able to suspend the natural laws by random, uncaused and uninfluenced, choices) is an illusion.

    • Stephen Barnard
      Posted August 14, 2017 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

      I more-or-less agree, but there’s a major difference between the explanations. Explanation (1) adds nothing meaningful, while explanation (2) adds a great deal.

      • Posted August 15, 2017 at 4:46 am | Permalink

        I tend to agree with you about that

  12. Posted August 14, 2017 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    First about free will, then about Hitler.

    Everything happens because of chance and necessity. But people are responsible for their choices. In philosophy of science we can think about this on three levels:

    12. The mundane fact is only things resulting from chance and laws of nature can be studied. If a god can change the laws at will, it’s goodbye to all method.

    11. On a deeper, quantum, level it’s not possible to predict every single occurrence, even in principle, but for a fairly 🙂 complex system probabilities apply.

    13. On the superficial :), that is to say moral, level: people, like any decision makers, have to make choices. This is as free as it gets. In this sense most adults are free, but sometimes courts of law have to make decisions (are free to make decisions?) of an individual’s competence.

    No one put a gun to my head and told me to write this comment, but it’s still a result of someone developing human language and inventing the Web and so on.

    Now, about Hitler and the Nazis.

    21. The Nazi government was elected at least as democratically as the Cameron government in the UK. I’m sure most NSDAP voters in 1932–33 didn’t realise they were enabling a World War and a mass murder of millions, including some of their friends. This, although Mein Kampf was there for anyone to read.

    22. What did “Hitler” do? There’s no document signed by him ordering the murder of millions. He certainly didn’t ride around Europe shooting, hanging and gassing people himself.

    23. So the most important question remains: Did anyone else in Germany have free will? Where’s the difference between following orders or implied orders and making genuine decisions?

    • Posted August 15, 2017 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

      Just to clarify: inventing the Web is a result of someone developing human language, which is a result of evolving vertebrae, which is a result of bacteria fusing into archaea… you get the point.

  13. Posted August 14, 2017 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    22. What did “Hitler” do? There’s no document signed by him ordering the murder of millions. He certainly didn’t ride around Europe shooting, hanging and gassing people himself.

    No document exists. That does not mean one wasn’t signed. Hitler destroyed most of his documents and the Nazi leadership did the same. In documents that do exist, there is no doubt Hitler expressed his desire to exterminate the jews to the highest levels of the Nazi command, for example at the Reich Chancellery meeting of December 1941 and the later Wannsee Conference.

    From the surviving Goebbels diary entry on the Reich Chancellery meeting:

    “Regarding the Jewish Question, the Führer has decided to make a clean sweep. He prophesied to the Jews that, if they yet again brought about a world war, they would experience their own annihilation. That was not just a phrase. The world war is here, and the annihilation of the Jews must be the necessary consequence.”

    No signed document is needed to infer that the Holocaust was Hitler’s express request.

    • Posted August 14, 2017 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

      Meant as a comment on @jpvuroela

      • Posted August 14, 2017 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

        So it is, of course. I can only repeat my point 23. Note the words “implied order”.

        The one’s doing the actual shooting and gassing never saw anything signed by Der Führer.

        • Posted August 14, 2017 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

          Correcting the typo: The ones doing the actual shooting…

  14. Stephen Barnard
    Posted August 14, 2017 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

    I want to suggest a corollary to the determinist position. It seems obvious to me, but maybe I’m missing something. It is

    No conscious experience can have any causal effect on the outcome of future events. It’s a pure epiphenomenon.

    This raises the question of: What is it for? Or more generally, why does it even exist?

    • Posted August 15, 2017 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

      If conscious experience is itself a constellation of physical events – which it is – then it has effects on the outcome of future events.

      • Posted August 15, 2017 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

        Exactly.

      • Stephen Barnard
        Posted August 15, 2017 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

        I’m speaking to the incompatibilist position, which is the only one I understand. It holds that we are powerless to do anything other than what we actually do (philosophical fatalism). Clearly, in this view, conscious experience cannot influence the deterministic unfolding of the future, directing it along one path rather than another. That would be free will.

        • Gregory Kusnick
          Posted August 15, 2017 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

          On that view, physics itself would be equally powerless to influence the deterministic unfolding of the future, directing it along one path rather than another. But it would be a mistake to conclude that physics has no causal effects or is pure epiphenomenon.

          • Stephen Barnard
            Posted August 15, 2017 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

            I’m getting a little tired of saying this, but the sole justification for determinism is fundamental physics, and that’s what I’m taking seriously. The physics is all that there is, and it’s deterministic. Things happen in one way and only one way. “Constellations of physical events” leading to consciousness is entirely beside the point, and they can’t cause an otherwise deterministic universe to branch in a new direction. That would be free will.

      • Gregory Kusnick
        Posted August 15, 2017 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

        Moreover, conversations about conscious experience are self-evidently among the causal effects of having conscious experience. Claims of epiphenomenalism are therefore self-refuting, since our language would lack the necessary concepts to express them if consciousness had no causal effects.

        • Posted August 16, 2017 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

          Thanks Gregory (and others)! I’m glad my comment provoked so much interest. And I really like your additional point.

        • Stephen Barnard
          Posted August 16, 2017 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

          I’m assuming you’re coming from a compatibilist position. (Please forgive me if I’m wrong.)

          This is what I don’t get about compatibilism. If you think that conscious experience can affect the future you may be right, and I have sympathy for that view, and I’d like it to be true, but you aren’t a determinist (that the future is determined), and you believe in free will.

          • Gregory Kusnick
            Posted August 16, 2017 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

            I think we’re talking at cross purposes in terms of what it means to affect the future. You said elsewhere in the thread that initial conditions determine the outcome. That’s fine, so long as we realize there’s nothing special about initial conditions. They’re just the state of the system at a given point in time, and there’s no reason to single out t=0 as privileged. It’s equally true that the state of the system at some arbitrary time t determines the future state of the system.

            Mental states — thoughts, decisions, and conscious experience — are part of the state of the system, and as such have just as much power to determine subsequent events as “initial conditions”. This is what it means to say that our thoughts have causal power: the causal chain runs through them from initial to final conditions, and every event in that chain is both determined (by previous states) and determining (of subsequent states); that’s how causality works.

            Your claim that determinism necessarily entails that conscious experience is somehow out of the loop (if I’m understanding you right) is therefore mistaken. Nothing is out of the loop; all physical events participate in the causal chain, and therefore have causal consequences — they “affect the future” by being the vehicle of causality, not by defying it.

            • Stephen Barnard
              Posted August 16, 2017 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

              “Your claim that determinism necessarily entails that conscious experience is somehow out of the loop (if I’m understanding you right) is therefore mistaken. Nothing is out of the loop; all physical events participate in the causal chain, and therefore have causal consequences — they “affect the future” by being the vehicle of causality, not by defying it.”

              That is my claim and I’m standing by it.

              Determinism means the future is determined. No conscious thought or intention can change it. That would be free will. Consciousness, in this view, is an impotent, ineffectual bystander to events playing out according to fundamental physical laws, but nonetheless real. I don’t like that, but that’s where it stands.

              By the way, I don’t take T=0 as privileged. Conditions at any time will do. Physics can extrapolate backward as well as forward.

              • Gregory Kusnick
                Posted August 16, 2017 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

                If conditions at any time will do, let’s take a time at which I’m thinking “I feel like eating a pizza.” Later it turns out that I actually do eat a pizza, and we can (let’s suppose) trace a direct causal chain from my thought to my action. How is it reasonable to conclude that my conscious thought was causally ineffectual? What caused me to eat that pizza, if not my thought?

              • Stephen Barnard
                Posted August 16, 2017 at 8:39 pm | Permalink

                If you considered eating the pizza, and if you had a choice about whether to eat it or not, and if you chose one outcome over the other, and if this so-called choice were not the outcome determined by physical laws, then you believe in free will.

              • Gregory Kusnick
                Posted August 16, 2017 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

                Suppose it is the outcome determined by physical laws. I’m trying to get a picture of how you think that determined outcome came about, if my thoughts about eating pizza aren’t part of the causal equation. Is it just coincidence then that I both thought about eating pizza and actually did eat it? Do you think determinism entails that we dismiss all such correlations between thought and action as mere coincidence?

              • Stephen Barnard
                Posted August 16, 2017 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

                I believe you’re throwing “causal” around in cavalier way. Determinism means to me, simply, that the future is determined by the past. That’s it. That’s all there is to it. I don’t like it, but there it is. Take it or leave it.

              • Gregory Kusnick
                Posted August 16, 2017 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

                I guess we’ll have to leave it, then, because I don’t see how you can talk coherently about determinism without some theory of causality that links events to their consequences.

              • Stephen Barnard
                Posted August 16, 2017 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

                I’m fine with attaching events to their consequences. In the deterministic view the consequences are determined. I see no space for any conscious decisions affecting outcomes.

      • Stephen Barnard
        Posted August 15, 2017 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

        From a purely physical point of view, what would happen if all the wave functions of all the particles in the universe, including those involved in the “constellation of physical events” leading to consciousness, went their merry, deterministic way without in fact producing this ineffable effect? According to physics, EXACTLY THE SAME THING would happen. (Pardon the caps.) That’s why, in the the hard physical determinist view, consciousness must be an epiphenomenon.

        • Vaal
          Posted August 15, 2017 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

          Stephen,

          Try as I might, I can not see your point.

          When you wrote that the incompatibilist position “holds that we are powerless to do anything other than what we actually do (philosophical fatalism). Clearly, in this view, conscious experience cannot influence the deterministic unfolding of the future, directing it along one path rather than another.”

          You seem to be producing a non-sequitur.

          Why can’t consciousness be a physical state of a brain, which would of course by virtue of being physical, interact with and alter local parts of the physical universe????

          As Gregory already wrote, the very fact we are discussing “consciousness” implies this!
          We seem to be discussing consciousness as if it exists – surely it must to make sense of this conversation – and the fact it exists has caused us to think it exists, leading to our physically discussing consciousness!

          Why would we even think to wonder about consciousness in the first place if it didn’t exist, and if it couldn’t cause anything, what could sensibly cause us to be referring to it in the first place?

          • Stephen Barnard
            Posted August 15, 2017 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

            I’m not saying consciousness doesn’t exist. That would be ridiculous.

            I’m saying only that the deterministic argument against free will, based solely on fundamental physics as far as I can tell, implies that consciousness is an epiphenomenon, and that it cannot influence the future, which is determined. We may (delusionally) think we make conscious choices, but we don’t, according to this argument.

            By the way, the position that we are powerless to do anything other than what we actually do is held by Professor Ceiling Cat among others.

            • Vaal
              Posted August 15, 2017 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

              I’m saying only that the deterministic argument against free will, based solely on fundamental physics as far as I can tell, implies that consciousness is an epiphenomenon, and that it cannot influence the future, which is determined.

              Yes, you are repeating the same thing you said before, without clarifying, or producing any real argument for it. And your reply doesn’t answer the questions I posed at all, so I guess I’ll just have to leave it there.
              Maybe Gregory can get something more from your position than I can.

              • Stephen Barnard
                Posted August 15, 2017 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

                I get the feeling that you haven’t come to grips with determinism. It’s very simple and very stark. Things happen in one way and in one way only. There aren’t any discretionary branching points. There aren’t any choices. That’s the physics.

                If one makes the argument against free will based on physical determinism, then one has to accept the implications of physical determinism, one of which is that consciousness is an entirely ineffectual epiphenomenon that has no power to change the determined future.

              • Gregory Kusnick
                Posted August 15, 2017 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

                But again, you might as well say that chemistry, biology, and indeed everything above the level of quarks are entirely ineffectual epiphenomena with no power to change the determined future. Why single out consciousness? It’s as real, and as effectual, as natural selection.

                I don’t see why coming to grips with determinism requires us to abandon our causal theories of higher-level phenomena.

              • Vaal
                Posted August 15, 2017 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

                Stephen,

                You know that if you start of with a dubious assumption, whatever you reason from that assumption is likely to be flawed, right?

                You seem to be starting with dubious assumptions. Or, at least, ones that need to be argued for.

                So, first of all, when you say “the physics” entail “there aren’t any choices” then we need to know what you’ve assumed by the word “choice.”

                So, what do you mean by the word “choice?”

              • Stephen Barnard
                Posted August 15, 2017 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

                To choose is to decide on a course of action, typically after rejecting alternatives, something that is impossible under determinism because there is only one course of action — the determined one.

                You may be under the misapprehension that I’m arguing for the determinist position and all its stark consequences. I’m not.

              • Gregory Kusnick
                Posted August 15, 2017 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

                How do you imagine the determined course of action gets determined, if not by brains weighing alternatives and making decisions? Are you suggesting that under determinism, all brain activity is epiphenomenal and without causal effect, because physics does all the work? What are brains for, then?

              • Stephen Barnard
                Posted August 15, 2017 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

                “How do you imagine the determined course of action gets determined, if not by brains weighing alternatives and making decisions?”

                The determined course of action is determined by the initial conditions. At least, that’s the physical view as currently understood.

              • Stephen Barnard
                Posted August 15, 2017 at 10:49 pm | Permalink

                “Are you suggesting that under determinism, all brain activity is epiphenomenal and without causal effect, because physics does all the work?”

                According to the physical determinism used to justify “no free will”, physics does all the work. There’s nothing but physics.

                “What are brains for, then?”

                Good question. Under determinism brains appear to be extraordinary complex clockworks built of cells, not fundamentally different from kidneys or livers. A better question is, “What is consciousness for?” From a deterministic stance I can think of no good answer, or any answer at all.

              • rickflick
                Posted August 15, 2017 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

                It seems to me you think an epiphenomenon can’t be involved in a causal chain. Consciousness can certainly be a result and a cause. Why not? The doorbell rings and I answer it. I open the door and say hello. The doorbell triggered conscious reflection, and my conscious reflection triggered my opening the door.

              • Vaal
                Posted August 15, 2017 at 10:38 pm | Permalink

                To choose is to decide on a course of action, typically after rejecting alternatives, something that is impossible under determinism because there is only one course of action — the determined one.

                But our language is rife with the terms of “alternatives,” “possibilities” and other language with those implications, and we use this language to convey truth, to convey information. How can that be, if “alternatives/possibilities” are falsehoods under determinism?

                For instance, when Apple comes out with a new iPhone/software and they hold a presentation telling us of all the “possible things” you can do with the phone “You can do this with it, alternatively you can do this…”

                Is all that talk completely illusory and hence not true? Because your dismissal of the role of “possibility” and “alternative” in the case of what brains can do seem to be headed in this incoherent direction.

              • Stephen Barnard
                Posted August 15, 2017 at 10:56 pm | Permalink

                You should realize that I’m investigating the implications of determinism, not endorsing it.

                I don’t deny that we have consciousness, that we use language rife with dualist concepts all the time, and that we feel deeply that our thoughts are important and direct our actions.

                I’m claiming that under the physical assumptions of determinism these things are illusory and entirely ineffectual.

              • Vaal
                Posted August 15, 2017 at 11:11 pm | Permalink

                You should realize that I’m investigating the implications of determinism, not endorsing it.

                Yes I know, but obviously I’m rejecting your analysis.

                I don’t deny that we have consciousness, that we use language rife with dualist concepts all the time, and that we feel deeply that our thoughts are important and direct our actions.

                What I’ve been getting at is that the concepts of “possibility, alternative, choices” etc are not inherently dualist concepts, and hence even if determinism is true, they do not disappear with determinism.
                Your analysis assumes they do, but I think it’s based on some wrong assumptions about why people use those words and concepts.

                I’m claiming that under the physical assumptions of determinism these things are illusory and entirely ineffectual.

                I know. I don’t think you’ve provided any reason to justify that claim, though.

                And while you may not be endorsing determinism, do you acknowledge that determinism may be true? If you do, then you still would have to explain the things I’ve brought up (e.g. if consciousness can not affect us physically, what could cause us to even talk about it? And if “possibility, choice, alternatives” become falsehoods under determinism, how is it those concepts are used to convey apparent truth, such that they allow for predictions?)

              • Stephen Barnard
                Posted August 15, 2017 at 11:17 pm | Permalink

                Apparently, you aren’t a determinist. Maybe that’s why you’re having so much trouble with my argument. My position on determinism is skepticism. It seems reasonable given our present physical knowledge, but it seems unreasonable given what we feel viscerally and how we act and talk.

              • Vaal
                Posted August 16, 2017 at 1:08 am | Permalink

                Apparently, you aren’t a determinist.

                I am a compatibilist, so I’m fine with determinism. (Some level of determinism, e.g. at the level humans operate, would seem if anything necessary for rationality, consciousness, free will etc, on the compatibilist account. Though this does not entail some commitment to the idea determinism is settled at the most fundamental level of physics. Either way, compatibilism is, as the name implies, compatible with determinism and generally speaking, both compatibilists and incompatibilists are determinists).

                Maybe that’s why you’re having so much trouble with my argument.

                No I’m having trouble because I believe you aren’t making sense. As I said, I think this is due to assumptions underlying your argument you don’t seem to be aware of, or at least haven’t thought through.

                I keep trying to get you to directly address these assumptions (which is why I keep asking about what it is you think our talk of alternatives, possibilities etc actually convey), but it seems it won’t happen.

            • Posted August 16, 2017 at 2:57 am | Permalink

              What makes anyone think of determining the future and influencing the future as somehow opposites?

              Your concept of “determinism” sounds more like teleological determinism than the familiar causal determinism.

        • Gregory Kusnick
          Posted August 15, 2017 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

          Stephen, I don’t understand how it could be possible that (a) consciousness is a constellation of physical events, (b) all the physics unfolds in exactly the same way, and yet (c) consciousness is somehow absent from the result. It’s like saying everything unfolds in exactly the same way, except there’s no baseball.

          Your question seems to presuppose that consciousness is necessarily unphysical. I don’t see why you think that supposition is implied by incompatibilism.

          • Stephen Barnard
            Posted August 15, 2017 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

            I’m not saying that consciousness is unphysical. Maybe it’s physical. I believe it is, though it doesn’t seem to fit comfortably into any of the physics I know, and I know a fair bit. That’s what make me skeptical that our present knowledge of fundamental physics is leading to the right answer vis-a-vis consciousness and free will.

        • Stephen Barnard
          Posted August 15, 2017 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

          Rickflick, the definition of an epiphenomenon is a secondary effect or byproduct that arises from but does not causally influence a process.

          • rickflick
            Posted August 16, 2017 at 4:52 am | Permalink

            I’d have to say that conscious experience is the epiphenomenon that does not influence anything. The process is the functioning of the brain. The brain is responsible for my answering the doorbell. My conscious experience is a fantasy.

            • Vaal
              Posted August 16, 2017 at 11:05 am | Permalink

              rickflick,

              “My conscious experience is a fantasy.”

              That strikes me as incoherent.

              Why would we even have the idea we have a conscious experience, if we didn’t have conscious experience?

              And how is it you can dismiss anything as a “fantasy”…that you have no conscious awareness of?

              If your conscious experience is a fantasy…what is it you are referring to by “conscious experience” in the first place?
              If you say “You know…that feeling we have of X” then you are obviously referring to something that exists. (Keep in mind, “consciousness” as it is usually understood is different from the thing “one is conscious of.” In other words, if I think I’m “conscious of” a layer of water on the hot road up ahead, I may well be referring to something that doesn’t exist – the water may not exist, it may be a mirage. But it’s an entirely different ballgame to deny the fact I had the experience to begin with, to say “I am not conscious of anything.” That’s why Sam Harris points out that consciousness is just about the only thing we CAN be certain about)

              Perhaps what you mean to say is that consciousness *involves* some level of illusion – e.g. the illusion of a central, organized single agent. That is a coherent claim to make.

              • rickflick
                Posted August 16, 2017 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

                Correct. Your last paragraph captures my meaning quite well. The illusion is that the conscious “I” is somehow not part of the brain but something outside our physical meat calculator.

    • Stephen Barnard
      Posted August 15, 2017 at 11:57 pm | Permalink

      I’ll put this as simply as I can: If you believe that conscious thoughts and decisions can affect the outcome of future events, then you believe in free will.

      • Gregory Kusnick
        Posted August 16, 2017 at 12:16 am | Permalink

        I don’t disagree with that, but I’d qualify it by saying that belief in the causal efficacy of thoughts and decisions doesn’t imply belief in the supernatural or in the ability to defy the laws of physics. Our thoughts and decisions are causally effective because of the laws of physics, not despite them. They’re the conduit through which the initial conditions exert their causal influence on the outcome.

      • rickflick
        Posted August 16, 2017 at 5:12 am | Permalink

        This is confusing. Stating what you do here seems to show you have the idea that conscious thoughts are not brain function. They exist independently of brain function. I don’t think that’s the case. Our sense of awareness of self gives us the feeling that conscious thought is an independent process, but I think it’s simply an illusion. It’s really just neurons interacting.
        Let’s illustrate: You’re watching Leave it to Beaver on TV and you hear the doorbell ring. First, think of yourself as a zombie who responds to aural inputs by answering the door. See that wasn’t to complicated. The brain does everything necessary. Like billiard balls ricocheting on the billiard table. Now let’s view the scene again knowing that you are a self aware, conscious being. The doorbell rings and your brain still does all the work, only this time “you” watch “yourself” going through the motions. You report when asked that you “decided” to answer the door. But who is the “you” here? Is it an outside observer, not a part of the brain? No. It is the brain itself massaging your experience through additional brain circuits that give you a sense of agency. That sense of agency is what you might call the conscious “self”, but it’s still just neurons firing – not an independent entity. Make sense?

  15. Posted August 14, 2017 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

    I think Christianity and, specifically, the Catholic Church bears major responsibility for Hitler’s, and Christendom’s, anti-Jewish sentiment. It has festered for centuries. Jews were purportedly Christ-killers. I guess Jesus lost his status as a Jew when he became the Son of God, and his fellow-countrymen didn’t acknowledge the change. In the middle ages anti-Jewish sentiment developed further when they took on the role of bankers/usurers. This was one of the few jobs permitted to Jews. They were permitted to loan money and collect interest as it was not permitted to good Catholics. Some Jews became wealthy, and therefore further hated. Jews were scapegoats then and now. Add to this, the terrible financial situation Germany was in after WWI which further exacerbated hatred of Jews in the role of bankers. Jews, were then and are now, significantly represented among intelligentsia, scientists, artists, teachers, etc. I wonder to what extent envy has had a role in treatment of the Jews.

  16. Ken
    Posted August 14, 2017 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

    sub

  17. Gregory Kusnick
    Posted August 14, 2017 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

    My reading of Rosenbaum is not that he’s making a case for supernaturalism, but rather that he’s making a case against reductionism. He’s saying (as others here have said) that talking about evil in terms of physics or neurology is a category error. We have to grapple with Hitler’s crimes in terms of his motives for committing them, and recognize that people are capable of being fervently committed to such motives for ideological reasons that don’t show up on an fMRI scan.

  18. Posted August 15, 2017 at 4:15 am | Permalink

    I’m currently reading ‘Fatherland’ by Robert Harris in which Hitler is quoted as once saying “I go the way that Providence dictates with the assurance of a sleepwalker”. Unsure if it is a historical quote or part of the fiction.

  19. Posted August 15, 2017 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    In college, I was obliged to read a few psychological biographies of Hitler. I found them not terribly illuminating. At least one was hardcore Freudian. Still, it’s no reach to conclude that Hitler was a narcissistic sociopath.

    I’ve read several other Hitler bios, and must agree that most are projections of the author.

    The one I found most helpful was Lothar Machtan’s The Hidden Hitler. Machtan proposes (based on compelling evidence) that Hitler was a closeted homosexual, and interprets many of his patterns of behavior in that light. The book received heavy criticism from people who mistakenly presumed Machtan was saying Hitler did evil things because he was gay.

  20. Posted August 15, 2017 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    even compatibilists, who are mostly of the “determinism rules; you-couldn’t-have-done-otherwise” stripe

    Actually, most compatibilists are of the “determinism rules; you still could have done otherwise” stripe. Dennett, for example. And Carl Hoefer, who really nails it.

  21. Diane G.
    Posted August 15, 2017 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

    sub

    (I know I’m gonna regret this…)

    • Vaal
      Posted August 15, 2017 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

      “(I know I’m gonna regret this…)”

      Not if you are an incompatibilist 😉

      • Diane G.
        Posted August 15, 2017 at 11:21 pm | Permalink

        😀

  22. Posted August 16, 2017 at 5:35 am | Permalink

    Laplace wasn’t aware of the irreducible element of chance on the quantum level; or of the asymmetric thermodynamic arrow of time; or of evolution through natural selection.

    For a long time now, we have used the word “determinism” taking account of all these things. Maybe it’s confusing to some, and possible something like “irreversible causality” might be a better term.

    More compatible 🙂 if you will.

    Still, I can’t understand why anyone would equate all emergent phenomena with epiphenomena.

  23. Stephen Barnard
    Posted August 16, 2017 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

    I have the trump card in this argument about free will and determinism, and here it is.

    Determinism means one simple thing. The future is determined by the past. There’s no wiggle room. That’s the way it is. Thoughts and desires have no efficacy. What will happen is determined. You can’t change it, no matter how hard you think about it or hope for it. That would be free will.

    • Vaal
      Posted August 16, 2017 at 10:08 pm | Permalink

      Determinism means one simple thing. The future is determined by the past. There’s no wiggle room. That’s the way it is.

      Which is accepted by compatibilists. You’d want this trajectory of determination to even have your thoughts determine your actions.

      Thoughts and desires have no efficacy.

      Again with this non-sequitur. You keep saying this, but I’ve yet to see the actual argument for it.

      Brains are physical; brains thinking is a physical process so thinking thoughts must have a physical influence. How would you explain how human beings managed to get robots to mars, if thinking “has no efficacy?”

      Your strange hypothesis seems to simply ignore our brains in the causal chain of our actions and for no reason I can divine from your posts.

      You can’t change it, no matter how hard you think about it or hope for it. That would be free will.

      Have you paid much attention, I wonder, to the debates between compatibilists and incompatibilists? Because you’ve just begged the entire question of the debate. Neither side thinks contra-causality results in free will, so the debate is over the concept of free will. Is the concept inherently magical and contra-causal, or does a compatibilist conception capture the essential nature of free will?

      You’ve simply declared an incompatibilist concept of free will to be the case…which begs the question.

    • Posted August 17, 2017 at 6:21 pm | Permalink

      Well, you can’t *change* the future, because it hasn’t happened yet! But you can definitely *affect* the future.

      The future isn’t determined by the past without first going through the present. And you are part of the present, every bit as real as the rest of it. Parts of the future are crucially dependent on your actions.

      There is wiggle room, because the whole of history is contingent. And parts of it, even parts of the past, are contingent on *you*. As you yourself pointed out, “Physics can extrapolate backward as well as forward.” You are part of physics, and part of the basis for any such extrapolation. From a scientific point of view, T=0 is not privileged. From a practical point of view, T=immediately IS privileged. Start there, and let the rest of it work out.

      • Stephen Barnard
        Posted August 17, 2017 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

        From what source does this ability to affect the future spring? By “affect the future” I mean to make future events unfold is a different way than their DETERMINED path. (I’m assuming determinism.) There’s certainly nothing in known fundamental physical law that would allow it. You appear to be a dualist.

        T = NOW is NOT privileged in physical law. There is no concept of the present in physical law.

      • Stephen Barnard
        Posted August 17, 2017 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

        If you don’t accept determinism (at least for the sake of argument) then I have nothing more to say to you, because I’m writing about determinism. Here’s the first definition of determinism according to Merriam-Webster: a theory or doctrine that acts of the will, occurrences in nature, or social or psychological phenomena are causally determined by preceding events or natural laws.

        Nothing is contingent in determinism. The past uniquely determines the future. Full stop.

        • Posted August 18, 2017 at 10:09 pm | Permalink

          Natural laws say “*if* X, *then* Y”. The laws often state necessary relations, but you can’t derive a result from laws alone, without boundary conditions. So, impose a boundary condition at the present, and let the past and future follow from that.

          On the macroscopic level, facts about the past generally don’t correspond to what we’re doing now – so we think of the past as “fixed”. This is an over-generalization. At the level of greatest detail, the past is not fixed. That doesn’t mean you “cause” the past; “cause” may suggest something about entropy which doesn’t hold here. It does mean that part of the past depends, as a matter of natural law, on what you do now. The fundamental laws of nature “bind” the past every bit as much as they “bind” the future – which is not much, since it’s all relational, and none of it absolute.


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