Clarification: Weinstein post

I wrote my post on Harvey Weinstein typing as fast as I could as we were getting ready to board our plane, and would have made it more concise (and hopefully more thoughtful) if I was able to brain faster.

The point I was trying to make was simply this: regardless of whether someone commits crimes because of their genes and environments, or because they have a “mental disorder”, both boil down to someone’s brain obeying the laws of physics and making them behave in a way they couldn’t have behaved otherwise. Thus, Bruni’s desperate attempt to draw a line between these two “causes” (and any line will be arbitrary) was misguided, ignoring what we know about physics and neuroscience. Yes, depending on what the causes were, the treatment and punishments may differ among offenders, but in neither case can you say that the miscreant could have behaved otherwise. I was in fact disturbed that a few commenters seemed to think that there is some libertarian form of agency that could ignore or override the laws of physics. We have no evidence for that, for such evidence would be identical to saying that some physical phenomena are independent of the laws of physics.

In fact, what I wanted to say, but couldn’t quite articulate, was stated by reader “sherfolder” in the comments (I’ve edited this a tiny bit for clarity):

You ask for the reason why Bruni insists on the distinction between psychopathology (formal diagnosis) and harmful predatory behavior – the answer is simple: Only the absence of a formal diagnosis allows him to express all his disgust and aversion to a person like HW is. You are not free to do in the same way to a person who is officially diagnosed with mental disorder.

I’m not sure whether sherfolder interprets this the way I do, but I see it as Bruni’s way to signal his own moral virtue—in a way that’s not helpful.

 

 

49 Comments

  1. KD33
    Posted October 25, 2017 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    I think sherfolder has it right. But I don’t think that Bruni’s “wanting” to be able to express his disgust without being reigned in by a diagnostic explanation of Weinstein’s behavior translates into virtue signaling. I did not get that message at all, just that he doesn’t want to let Harvey off the hook (though determinists would say he couldn’t help but be on it!). Another way to say itL the behavior was so universally appreciated as egregious that I doubt Bruni would think he’d get “points” for his view anyway.

    • Posted October 25, 2017 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

      just that he doesn’t want to let Harvey off the hook

      I think he feels that Weinstein needs to “pay” for his crimes. As soon as you admit that somebody you really want to see punished might be ill in some sense, your desire for extreme retribution begins to look wrong.

  2. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted October 25, 2017 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

    Well, I think you should never by governed by your aversion to someone’s behavior, or give in to feelings of personal vindictiveness.

    (It is a principle of Buddhism that anyone trying to correct an injustice who gets caught up in their personal aversion to that injustice is going to be less effective in rectifying it.)

    But since we have no clue as to what causes consciousness, I don’t think we can be certain whether free will exists or not.

    To a few philosophers (though notably not Paul Kurtz, founder of the Center for Inquiry), there is a difference between naturalism and materialism.
    The former rejects “supernatural” as a category, but the latter holds that all consciousness is a byproduct of matter. But one can be a naturalist without being a materialist.

    Naturally, no agency (if any) actually overrides laws of physics. I have no agency to jump higher than 2 feet in the air. Whether anyone has agency independent of the laws of physics is a separate question. I simply don’t know.

    But it seems rational to me to be more morally appalled by Richard III than by MacBeth (my example on the previous thread today).

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted October 25, 2017 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

      Were I pedantic about such things, I’d point out that the b in the middle of the Bard’s character’s name isn’t capitalized. (And I am, so I did.) 🙂

      • Posted October 26, 2017 at 4:21 am | Permalink

        🙂

      • David Harper
        Posted October 26, 2017 at 5:18 am | Permalink

        Were you a thespian, you’d refer to it as “The Scottish Play”, because to call it by the name of the villain is bad luck. Break a leg!

        • JonLynnHarvey
          Posted October 26, 2017 at 11:24 am | Permalink

          But do I have to refer to the character as the Scottish king??

  3. Posted October 25, 2017 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

    I do wonder about this .. I suspect the behaviour is a culturally justified one.. https://en.wikipedia.or/wiki/Droit_du_seigneur
    and I suspect it informs a lot of the older men in power relations with younger subordinate females (primarily).. I think that this was what got Rolf Harris undone – and he got scapegoated.. Now – we are more aware – and like most human activities, especially involving sex and power .. it is a messy scene .. and ever shall remain so.

    • Gabrielle
      Posted October 25, 2017 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

      I would agree with this, that we do have a cultural sentiment that high status men should have access to young women, whether the women are agreeable to this or not.

  4. shelleywatsonburch
    Posted October 25, 2017 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

    It is very interesting to consider all of these points. Also, while we consider determinism, how should we analyze the reactions of his victims? I will guess that there was a combination of shame, silence, payoffs, compliance to achieve a personal goal, etc. His victims acted in the only way they could, which is one of the awful puzzles in a situation like this, in which someone engages in predatory behavior for decades. As a woman who, like all women, has encountered attempts at pressure and power-for-sex, I could sit back and say, “But I never felt overpowered, I never went along with it.” That is why there is some pushback by people like Donna Karan, who initially said “they asked for it”. What a mistake. Those women had no choice about how they responded. I guess my point is that taking determinism into account could help to shape laws and policy and social etiquette. This is not a very well-written comment, sorry, but the thought came to me.

    • Posted October 25, 2017 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

      No, it’s a good point. And I think that’s why we shouldn’t be too hard on people like Karan. Yes, she put her foot in it, and going after her may change HER attitudes and/or statements, but that’s just a drop in a very big sea of sexual harassment. Far better to call out people like Weinstein, or those who knew of his behavior and remained silent, than to call out ancillary people who weren’t aware of it but excuse it post facto. It’s ok to say that people like Karan are wrong–so long as they don’t insist that Weinstein had a free choice–but it’s more efficacious to go after the system and those who prop it up than those people who misspeak. (And I think most of those people like Karan have apologized, rethought their views, or both.)

    • Posted October 25, 2017 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

      which is one of the awful puzzles in a situation like this

      I don’t think it is a puzzle at all. If you’re a young actress who has been sexually assaulted by a powerful Hollywood film producer, your reasoning probably goes like: if I blow the whistle, I have to be sure to destroy him, or my own career is over. When you factor in the shame (it’s an indictment of our society that the victim often feels shame when she reports a sexual assault), I find it completely understandable that many women kept silent in the Weinstein case.

      • Posted October 25, 2017 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

        Sorry, screwed up the closing italic tag after “victim”.

  5. Posted October 25, 2017 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

    One of the parts of the environment that determines whether other men will behave like Harvey Weinstein is people screaming “You behaved like a sh*t! You should have done differently!”

    Now, clearly HW couldn’t behave differently at the time, but various potential HW’s out there may be taught a little caution by outpourings like this. They may, therefore, behave better. I can’t get up set about this, technically incorrect though it may be. And frankly, I can’t get upset about it even if HW is (in some sense with a diagnosis in the DMS) mentally ill. He was wrong to do it, people shouldn’t do it, and if he can’t help it, he still doesn’t get pass. (As you said.)

  6. Gregory Kusnick
    Posted October 25, 2017 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

    both boil down to someone’s brain obeying the laws of physics and making them behave in a way they couldn’t have behaved otherwise.

    This is a concise statement of what I’ve long thought is one of the weakest points of your argument. The laws of physics say nothing specific about human behavior. What they seem to say about the behavior of particles is that they could in fact have behaved otherwise. It is (as far as we know) physically possible for a given microstate to yield more than one possible outcome. So the claim that he couldn’t have done otherwise is not grounded in physics as we currently understand it.

    To the extent that brains behave deterministically, it’s not because of some fundamental determinism in physics, but despite a fundamental indeterminism. It may well be that natural selection has engineered brains to be largely immune to physical indeterminism, but if so, that’s an empirical question, not a self-evident truth, and in such case we don’t get to claim that the laws of physics made him do it. Rather, the deterministic logic of his brain’s information processing made him do it (if indeed such logic is deterministic), and determinism or lack of it in the underlying physics is largely irrelevant.

    “His brain made him do it” is, I hope, something that all naturalists can agree on and that our justice system should take into account. But naturalism does not entail determinism, and recognizing that the brain is a physical system that obeys physical law does not get us to “couldn’t have done otherwise”. So any theory of justice that depends crucially on “couldn’t have done otherwise” is on shaky ground, in my opinion, without some convincing empirical demonstration that the brain’s operation is in fact deterministic and not probabilistic.

    • Posted October 25, 2017 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

      I would add that “his brain made him do it” is not a helpful sentence anyway because his brain is he. As mentioned in earlier iterations of this discussion, the perspective expressed with such a sentence is equivalent to claiming that I do not eat a pizza because really it is my mouth that eats it. That’s not how language works.

    • Posted October 25, 2017 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

      By probabilistic, are you talking about quantum indeterminacy? For that is the only viable alternative to physical determinism. And, of course, quantum indeterminacy doesn’t give us any agency.

      The weakest part of YOUR argument is this statement:

      To the extent that brains behave deterministically, it’s not because of some fundamental determinism in physics, but despite a fundamental indeterminism. It may well be that natural selection has engineered brains to be largely immune to physical indeterminism, but if so, that’s an empirical question, not a self-evident truth, and in such case we don’t get to claim that the laws of physics made him do it.

      That makes no sense. What “fundamental indeterminism” are you talking about that is eliminated by the deterministic process of natural selection? That’s just totally oopaque.

      And if that’s what happened, once you explain what you’re talking about, it’s still the laws of physics operating through natural selection: the differential representation of entities based on their ability to replicate. So you gain nothing by saying that “his brain made him do it” is somehow superior to “the laws of physics made him do it”.

      Seriously, I don’t understand what you’ve said that’s different from what I said.

      • Posted October 25, 2017 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

        Well, suppose your computer locked your files and demanded money. You would say, and it would be useful to say it, that a computer virus called ransomware made the computer do it. It would not be useful to say the laws of physics made the computer do it. Everything and anything that happens must be consistent with the laws of physics, so saying “the laws of physics made it happen” conveys no information or explanation. Actually, saying his brain made him do it provides little more. A real explanation would require an analysis of his past and the environment in which he operated.

      • Gregory Kusnick
        Posted October 25, 2017 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

        I’ll try to make it clearer.

        Quantum events cause noise in computer circuits. Computer engineers work around this by building in redundancy and error correction to prevent the noise from disrupting calculations. The results are reliable not because the physics is deterministic (it isn’t, or at least not in the relevant sense), but because the logic of the calculation is deterministic, and the hardware has been designed to minimize the effects of physical indeterminism. 1 + 1 = 2 not because the laws of physics make it so, but because the laws of arithmetic make it so, and our computers are able to implement those arithmetic laws despite physical indeterminism.

        What I’m saying is that to the extent that brain function is deterministic, it’s because of the determinism of logic and arithmetic, not the (in)determinism of physics. Natural selection is the engineer in this case, but that needn’t imply that natural selection itself is deterministic, only that it’s capable of selecting for reliable systems that minimize noise.

        Where this differs from what you said is that you seem to be implying that physics guarantees deterministic outcomes (“couldn’t have done otherwise”). I’m saying it doesn’t; it take considerable engineering to extract deterministic outcomes from indeterministic physics. So we don’t get to assume that physics necessarily entails deterministic brain function; we have to show that the requisite engineering is in place to suppress indeterminism. That showing, in my opinion, has not been made.

        • Steve Gerrard
          Posted October 25, 2017 at 11:43 pm | Permalink

          Doesn’t that just go from strictly determined to statistically likely? So instead of certainty, you have a 99% chance he will do it? That he will on average “do otherwise” just one out of a hundred times? I suppose that is something, but it is still the gist of determinism.

          • Gregory Kusnick
            Posted October 26, 2017 at 1:55 am | Permalink

            I don’t insist on certainty or near-certainty, but Jerry seems to require it. Otherwise why the repeated emphasis on the claim that no other outcome was possible? Why does that even matter? It seems to me a stronger case could be made by saying simply that behavior is the result of natural (i.e. non-magical) brain processes, without getting embroiled in questions of whether those processes are deterministic or whether alternate outcomes are precluded.

        • Posted October 26, 2017 at 6:30 am | Permalink

          Sorry, but I don’t think your analogy works.You’re talking about natural selection here, which is a deterministic physical process that doesn’t obey rules of “logic” or “arithmetic”. Further, there is no evidence that natural selection has acted to minimize indeterminism, or even if it could.

          Finally, this is a distinction without a difference. It’s still complete physical and naturalistic processes that act, so that nobody has a choice based on free agency. As far as I can see, your argument obscures that important point. Remember that most people still believe in libertarian free will and that Weinstein through his own agency could have made other choices. I suspect you agree he couldn’t have (regardless of whether quantum processes, the only truly indeterministic ones, act. If under the same conditions he couldn’t have done otherwise, my point has been made, and your argument seems to say absolutely nothing about that.

          • Posted October 26, 2017 at 11:52 am | Permalink

            If quantum indeterminacy percolates up into behavior, then he might have done otherwise (and so could have done otherwise) under the same conditions, but not in a way that gives him more control or makes him more responsible than were determinism the case.

            Sean Carroll weighs in on determinism and free will at http://www.preposterousuniverse.com/blog/2011/12/05/on-determinism/

          • Gregory Kusnick
            Posted October 26, 2017 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

            I didn’t say that natural selection operates by logic; I said it’s capable of selecting for systems that operate by logic, i.e. reasoning brains.

            DNA repair is evidence that natural selection has acted to minimize indeterminism.

            Could Weinstein have chosen differently through his own agency? That depends entirely on what you mean by “choice” and “agency”, which is the whole point of the free will debate. I agree he couldn’t have done so by magic, but I don’t agree that agency must necessarily be magical to be worthy of the name. If natural selection can be a deterministic physical process, I don’t see why choice and agency can’t be as well.

    • BJ
      Posted October 25, 2017 at 10:39 pm | Permalink

      I understood your post and didn’t find it opaque. I’ve had many of the same thoughts, and I continue not understanding how anyone how be sure of determinism’s truth.

    • Martin X
      Posted October 26, 2017 at 1:39 am | Permalink

      without some convincing empirical demonstration that the brain’s operation is in fact deterministic and not probabilistic.

      This is irrelevant. Jerry’s point, I’m pretty sure, is that even if the brain is probabilistic, it’s still not being controlled by “you”.

      When he says “couldn’t have done otherwise”, he’s not saying that a quantum coin flip couldn’t have produced different behavior.

      • Gregory Kusnick
        Posted October 26, 2017 at 2:04 am | Permalink

        If that’s what he means, then he’s confusing the issue by explicitly invoking “the laws of physics” to justify it.

        I’d also argue that “he couldn’t have chosen otherwise” is question-begging, since it justifies the claim that we have no choice by assuming that what brains do isn’t “choice”.

        • Posted October 26, 2017 at 6:32 am | Permalink

          No, you’re confusing the issue by making an irrelevant argument that natural selection somehow minimizes indeterminism. And yes, brains are what enacts the choice, but there is no other choice because brains obey the laws of physics. To the extent that pure indeterminism doesn’t work, there is still no “agency” enacted by the brain.

  7. Posted October 25, 2017 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    regardless of whether someone commits crimes because of their genes and environments, or because they have a “mental disorder”, both boil down to someone’s brain obeying the laws of physics and making them behave in a way they couldn’t have behaved otherwise.

    Yes. Also, whether these bird species here speciated in sympatry or allopatry, both boil down to a bunch of molecules obeying the laws of physics and making the relevant lineages evolve in a way they couldn’t have evolved otherwise. So I guess the difference between allopatry and sympatry is irrelevant, and we shouldn’t discuss it?

    • Posted October 25, 2017 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

      I’m sorry, but this is just a snarky remark that has absolutely no value towards advancing the discussion. The discussion is about whether there’s a relevant difference between someone who’s “mentally ill” and someone who’s a “jerk”.

      The snark, which clearly comes because I work on speciation, is totally irrelevant; it’s a matter of empirical observation and argument about whether speciation can occur in the presence of gene flow. If there’s a connection between that and Weinstein’s behavior, it’s not clear to me.

      Further, did I say we shouldn’t discuss Bruni’s argument? I DISCUSSED IT for crying out loud.

      • Posted October 26, 2017 at 3:50 am | Permalink

        I am sorry if it came across as snark, but it is simply the same argument that Vaal made at greater length in the previous Bruni-related post, i.e. that “couldn’t have done otherwise” is completely irrelevant to anything important, ever. We never gain anything useful from stating that observation because it is trivial.

        We do not analyse any other kind of scientific data by dismissing them as “eh, there was only ever one possible outcome, so this shows nothing”, instead we analyse them on the lines of hypotheticals, e.g. what would have happened if there had not been a geographic barrier.

        I genuinely, honestly, desperately do not understand why out of all of observable reality you single out the question of human decision making for dismissal as “eh, there was only ever one possible outcome, so this shows nothing”, instead of analysing it on the lines of what would have happened if the agent had had different desires or greater mental capabilities. The compatibilist stance is merely taking the exact same approach to human decision-making as we do to literally everything else.

        Further, did I say we shouldn’t discuss Bruni’s argument? I DISCUSSED IT for crying out loud.

        This referred to the distinction made by Bruni, that you argue is irrelevant and unworthy of being made.

        • Posted October 26, 2017 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

          “…that ‘couldn’t have done otherwise’ is completely irrelevant to anything important, ever. We never gain anything useful from stating that observation because it is trivial.”

          It’s important to state this since many folks are under the false, contra-causal and non-trivial impression that we *could* have done otherwise in actual situations in a way that gives us more control and makes us more responsible than were determinism the case. This is what compatibilists routinely ignore or downplay in their analyses of human agency, and what Jerry is rightly bringing to the fore in his response to Bruni.

          • Posted October 26, 2017 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

            Absolutely. I fail to understand how people can dismiss the “could have done otherwise” argument as irrelevant. It’s the very basis of many people’s morality and religious faith. And most people, as surveys show, really do believe in this kind of contracausal free will. To dismiss it as “irrelevant” is a stand that baffles me.

          • Gregory Kusnick
            Posted October 26, 2017 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

            Count me as baffled too, but for the opposite reason. If you agree that there’s a sense in which he could have done otherwise, but that this doesn’t really matter to the question of control and responsibility, then how is that different from saying that “could have done otherwise” is irrelevant?

          • Posted October 26, 2017 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

            There is a difference between telling people who are actually confused about cause and effect that they are mistaken on the one side and telling people who are not confused in that way that they should stop using several useful terms in their established meanings, and claiming that plainly observable and useful distinctions do not in fact mean anything, on the other.

            But yes, I also think that the relevance of convincing people of determinism is overestimated, to put it mildly.

            First, nobody actually behaves like they believe in libertarian free will IRL; everybody tries to anticipate other people’s behaviour based on their characters, past behaviour, and reasonable assumptions about general human nature, which only works if determinism is accepted. (Also, by the way, nobody behaves as if they are incompatibilists IRL either.) Second, at the level where people discuss such matters in theory without realising what they actually believe in practice, it turns out that determinism is the basis of many people’s morality and religious faith, as they believe that their god is omniscient and has predetermined everything that will ever happen. Third, coming back to practice, the penal laws in most developed nations are based on a mixture of deterrence, protection of the public and rehabilitation of criminals although (!) people in those nations use the terminology of decision-making and free will. The singular US practice of the death penalty will need a different explanation.

          • Vaal
            Posted October 26, 2017 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

            Tom & Jerry,

            (Sorry, couldn’t resist that opportunity…:-))

            Far from “routinely ignoring” the claim that most people assume contra-causal or magic in their “free willed” decision making, compatibilists have continually addressed that claim. I’ve been a total pest about it, continually arguing why this does not seem to be totally accurate and over-states the nature of how people think when making decisions, and how “freedom” is normally used when people talk about having decisions.

            And there is the additional argument often made that even IF most people mistake magic as the cause, we can have better explanations for free will, that make sense of preserving the phrase.

            I just can’t see how you can plausibly claim compatisbilists “routinely ignore” this, given the evidence of all the previous threads.

            More to Jerry’s point:

            We understand that you hold “could not have done otherwise” in some contra-causal sense to be relevant to many people’s conception of free will.

            But our responses address your arguments, which share features of the libertarian rejection of compatibilism.

            Both you and libertarian-free-willers are incompatibilists – you don’t believe free will is compatible with determinism. And for roughly the same reasons. So we see many of the same arguments coming from you as from Libertarian free willers: IF you take X, Y and Z as facts that determine a choice…how is THAT free???

            So it’s not the “common man’s” basis of rejecting free will that we tend to argue about here, but rather your own (and other incompatibilists) arguments for rejecting “freedom” in the context of determinism.
            And we find you seem to keep rejecting the notion of freedom-of-will/choice in the way libertarians do: rejecting the notion of “free choice” and “could have done otherwise” by appealing to a special-pleading exception in how you evaluate human choice, vs how you do everything else in science. Only in the case of human choice-making do you reject it
            on the basis “if it couldn’t have been different given the exact same state of the universe, then it’s not ‘real.'”

          • Posted October 26, 2017 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

            But contra-causal “free will” wouldn’t be worthy of the name free will, because it *wouldn’t* give us any more control, and *wouldn’t* make us any more responsible. See my third paragraph here. The only thing the concept is good for is getting God off the hook for human misbehavior (if you consider that important; obviously many theologians do).

            However many people have bought into that idea, I don’t think it belongs to the core concept of free will. Contra-causality is a confused add-on, either from a simple confusion between unpredictability and indeterminism, or from a theological con job, or both.

            Jerry likes to point out (and I agree) that randomness doesn’t make you free. Well, like randomness, contra-causal events don’t come from the *you* that you know and love. Note that randomness, at least of a chaotic sort, is empirically indistinguishable from contra-causal events. Neither randomness nor contra-causality can be “owned” by the person prospectively deciding on an action, because they don’t come *from* his beliefs, desires, values, or character.

            • Vaal
              Posted October 26, 2017 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

              paultorek,

              Yes, that is something incompatibilists (no free will) and compatibilists agreed on. Contra-causality or randomness doesn’t get you a freedom worth calling “free.”

              So we are stuck arguing whether something worth calling “freedom” is compatible with accepting determinism. Incompatibilists like Jerry tend to side with the Libertarian free willers that the answer is “no” and for many of the same reasons.

  8. Jake Sevins
    Posted October 25, 2017 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

    Here’s a dizzying thought: does advancing the idea that “one has no choice in choosing one’s actions” influence how people will behave once they believe this?

    In other words, might someone use “I have no choice but to do X” as a way to excuse bad behavior?

    If so, then perhaps the illusion of free will provides a useful framework for promoting moral behavior? (Although the same illusion helps justify abhorrent practices like retributive punishment and vengeance.)

    • BJ
      Posted October 25, 2017 at 10:38 pm | Permalink

      “Here’s a dizzying thought: does advancing the idea that “one has no choice in choosing one’s actions” influence how people will behave once they believe this?”

      Yes, it does, and I’ve argued it could be damaging to many people, especially if one believes determinism to be correct.

  9. Posted October 25, 2017 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

    I’m not so sure that everything is deterministic (with which I agree) captures the situation fully. We do not “blame” children for behavior that is inappropriate (to us) if they do not know any better at that age. Later, we might very well ascribe “blame” for the same behavior. Applying that to Weinstein, behaving as he did while he knew or ought to know that the behavior was inappropriate, hurtful, and perhaps criminal seems more reprehensible than someone (e.g., with a psychopathology, due to upbringing) who did not know that the behavior was any of those things. Reprehensible might be used here to indicate that in one case the flaw in the person is more egregious than in the other case. That is, doing something you know is wrong versus doing something without knowing that it is wrong.

  10. Dale Franzwa
    Posted October 26, 2017 at 1:11 am | Permalink

    One of the best discussions I’ve seen on this topic. The problem here is how should we, collectively (as a society), deal with the likes of someone such as a Weinstein? The laws of physics (everything is determined) provide no clue as to how we should deal with this man. They tell us he had no choice and whatever we do to him is also a matter of no choice on our part. That leaves us in limbo.

    But, we live in societies which have rules. If individuals abide by these rules, then society functions properly. If individuals disregard the rules, then society becomes dis-functional. To keep society together, rule-breakers are condemned or punished with certain exceptions, e.g., the rule-breaker did not know the difference between right and wrong, was too young to be punished as an adult, was mentally incompetent, etc. (science can be quite helpful here).

    Societies impose responsibility on their members through laws, rules, and expectations, whether members like it or not. Members can change the rules (usually over time). But they cannot flaunt these rules and expect to escape responsibility and possible punishment or exculpation (only in certain well-defined situations). The laws of physics don’t rule us, the laws of societies do.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted October 26, 2017 at 8:01 am | Permalink

      To comment further on your statement – We know that sexual harassment is an enormous problem in American society and probably others. Most of our current attempts to do anything about this problem simply do not work. So then we concentrate on the perpetrator after the fact. That still does nothing toward eliminating or containing the problem. I know of one good program within the larger institution or firm that does work. It also give all people, particularly women a specific action that will cut this off in it’s tracks and that is the important issue, is it not? So why don’t more companies use this proven program?

      You start with a small highly trained group who are trained in sexual harassment and the investigation of sexual harassment charges. These people generally are within the personnel or human resources unit or the legal department. The rules within the firm are very simple. Any complaint of sexual harassment that is reported to any supervisor or manager within the firm must then be reported directly to the sexual harassment unit within two hours. Failure to report will generally result in dismissal. The expert unit then does their investigation to determine if true and appropriate action taken. I can tell you this system works and until someone comes up with something better, I would stand by it.

  11. Rosmarie Maran
    Posted October 26, 2017 at 1:14 am | Permalink

    I am quite d’accord with G. Kusnick’s views here. And I find his explanations exceptionally clear.
    Just by substituting “conditioned to do something” for “determined to do something” would ease a lot of strain in this discussions about free will.

  12. Posted October 26, 2017 at 6:58 am | Permalink

    “I see it as Bruni’s way to signal his own moral virtue”

    It is exactly what I meant.

    “in a way that’s not helpful.”

    Well, at least for Bruni it is helpful, he can activate his reward system with his publicly expressed outrage and everyone who agrees to him will have the same advantages.

  13. Liz
    Posted October 26, 2017 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    “…but in neither case can you say that the miscreant could have behaved otherwise.”

    Yes. We have a perception of choice, though. Why we perceive thoughts and actions the way we do without knowing everything that will happen isn’t explained yet by neuroscience. Without that information, we are left to perceive and experience as if choices and actions were not already determined even though they are. Technically, it is correct to say that he couldn’t have behaved otherwise according to the laws of physics, but to base his punishment on the deterministic, underlying laws of physics while ignoring our own ignorance that gives rise to this erroneous perception of choice is too abstract or too far removed from how we perceive. I’m a bit unclear if basing his punishment on this also is what you’re saying or if it’s just that he couldn’t have behaved otherwise.

  14. FB
    Posted October 26, 2017 at 10:09 pm | Permalink

    What’s missing, IMO, is that Weinstein is commiting maybe one his biggest crimes when he denies “unequivocally” allegations of nonconsesnsual sex. That’s not illegal but it probably causes more suffering to people (especially his victims) than, for example, when he grabbed Erika Rosebaum by the neck and masturbated in front of a mirror. I don’t think Bruni is signaling his moral virtue but rather that he intuits that to mitigate the collective suffering Weinstein should be punished. If there is no free will the concept of “justice” makes no sense to me. Nothing can be just or unjust. The aim of the legal system shouldn’t be to provide justice but to mitigate suffering, and, in the case of Weinstein, the only way to do that is through some punishment that can be interpreted as such by our brains that evolved to compute reciprocity. It wouldn’t make any sense to inflict suffering (without being cruel) to someone if is not to alleviate a bigger suffering.

    • Posted October 26, 2017 at 10:34 pm | Permalink

      I agree. I do not see why the desire for retribution by the victims of a villain should count for nothing, even in a deterministic universe. If an aged Nazi war criminal who can now do no more harm is caught, why should his victims be denied their satisfaction because “he could not have done otherwise” but murder millions?


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