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Ethics and politics without free will

with 127 comments

I have blogged on this before but since we lost all our comments from The Great Server Crash I thought it’d be worth having the debate again. Here is a link to the Centre for Naturalism’s Q&A site on the implications of philosophical naturalism. Naturalism, is as the site described it, ‘the understanding that there is a single, natural world as shown by science, and that we are completely included in it. Naturalism holds that everything we are and do is connected to the rest of the world and derived from conditions that precede us and surround us. Each of us is an unfolding natural process, and every aspect of that process is caused, and is a cause itself. So we are fully caused creatures’.

Of course this is just another way of saying naturalism implies determinism at some fundamental level even if we know that in practice we cannot (at least for now) have the ability to pull certain strings to make humans function like clockwork. I do consider myself a naturalist but a question that haunts (in my view unjustly) those of us who are simultaneously philosophical naturalists and politically libertarians is whether the two are reconcilable.

But it should be a no-brainer that libertarianism and naturalism-determinism are reconcilable because if they aren’t, then neither is philosophical naturalism reconcilable with anything but a very blind and aimless fatalism that, among other things eschews the need for law, rules and social order. Fortunately this is not what naturalism implies at all. The fallacy in this sort of thinking is to forget that the forces of law, custom and morality are also part of the very forces that shape and determine the conduct of the human being. Not coincidentally this way of thinking is also very consistent with how economists see the law, as just another set of (implicit) pricing signals that affect individual choices at the margin as much as the explicit pricing signals of the market. This is captured in the following Q&A on the naturalism site:

    Q. But doesn’t not having free will lead to all sorts of problems? What about morality and ethics? How can we hold people responsible without free will?
    A. This takes a bit of explaining, so hang in there. Even though we don’t have contra-causal free will (which is to say we are fully caused creatures) it’s still true that we very much want certain things to happen, and very much don’t want other things to happen. We very much want to live, and don’t want to die. We love our friends, children and our families (maybe even some of our neighbors), and we want them and our communities kept safe and secure. What this means is that even though we don’t have free will, we are still very strongly motivated to want certain outcomes in life, namely we want ourselves and our loved ones to flourish. And this means that we still will want to make sure that people, including ourselves, act in ways to ensure this flourishing, which generally means behaving morally: not stealing, cheating, lying, or murdering. So we don’t lose our moral compass in accepting naturalism.
    Now, since people are fully caused creatures, this means that they can be caused to behave morally and ethically. And one of the main ways we cause them to act ethically is by holding them responsible and accountable. You say to them, “If you act deliberately in such a way as to endanger my child, then we will take steps to lock you up. If you hurt my child, I will hold you responsible, so you better not.” People who are capable of being warned in this fashion, who are capable of having their behavior shaped by the prospect of being held responsible, are moral agents. (That includes just about every sane, mentally competent person over the age of 16 or so, although some kids grow up sooner than others.) So we don’t need to be uncaused or have contra-causal free will to be held responsible, or to be moral agents, or to have morality. In fact, these things would be impossible if people had the supernatural power to act independently of causes, since they could just ignore the prospect of being held responsible and do whatever they darn well pleased.

Now where does this pricing signal theory of the law break down? It breaks down in the case of the insane – those suffering from hallucinations, those judged to be sufficiently cognitively disabled and so on. And what do you know? We do hold such people less accountable for their actions and send them to an insane asylum and do not apply the usual ‘price signals’ e.g. normal terms of imprisonment to this subset of the population and we can justify it on the grounds that it simply wouldn’t be efficient or efficacious to do so since anyone falling into these categories is not going to get the ‘signal’ that deters on the margin the normal individual. Of course we’re still not going to get a crime free society even with the right signals aimed at the right people because as everyone knows, enforcement is imperfect and some people have higher risk preferences than others and different discount rates so though the vast majority of the population are deterred, others still self-select into crime once they have evaluated all other options.

And this brings us back to libertarianism. Libertarianism no more has to be based on some non-naturalistic view of humanity than any other political philosophy once you see political philosophy as essentially an argument about the best set of rules for ordering society, for want of a better term.

I am being deliberately vague here because for some the distinguishing feature of their political philosophy is that they do want to order society to a micromanaged level to the point where even particular individual ends i.e. preferences and the resulting choices that follow from attempts to satisfy those preferences are no longer determined by some semi-random evolutionary process of trial and error and selection within broad constraints; where perhaps such randomness is even stamped out as much as possible. The usual term for this is totalitarianism. But there need not be any appeal to the non-naturalistic to argue against such totalitarianism when there are a wealth of consequentualist arguments available which can appeal simply to the broadly shared interests of all to minimise hunger, oppression, abuse of power and the like.

Thus I contend that the metaphysical myth of some undetermined uncaused human agency is unnecessary to any discussion of political philosophy. Indeed it is precisely where we acknowledge a large degree of determinism that we find that economics can play an important role in evaluating political claims.

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Written by Admin

November 13, 2006 at 9:53 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

127 Responses

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  1. Life is just a bowl of All Bran
    You wake up every morning and it’s there.

    hc

    November 13, 2006 at 10:26 pm

  2. I’ve been intending to blog on the topic of free-will since I set up my blog. I think it is unlikely that we possess free-will. Free-will strikes me as a supernatural concept. If we have free-will then it must be a gift from the Gods. Without supernatural intervention we ought be subject to the same fixed rules that govern everything else in the world and which make science possible.

    “Of course we’re still not going to get a crime free society even with the right signals aimed at the right people because as everyone knows, enforcement is imperfect and some people have higher risk preferences than others and different discount rates so though the vast majority of the population are deterred, others still self-select into crime once they have evaluated all other options.”

    Oh dear. I think you need to round out your education with some lessons in sociology and psychology. You are taking this Homo economus subsp. rationalis concept of humanity way too far.

    melaleuca

    November 13, 2006 at 11:41 pm

  3. Why is are you implying that is incorrect, munn.

    Please explain yourself here. Jason has made what I think is a perfectly sensible statement.

    JC.

    November 14, 2006 at 12:05 am

  4. Jason:
    >Now, since people are fully caused creatures, this means that they can be caused to behave morally and ethically.

    Jase, are you talking about a full determinism here? (ie: “fully caused”, as opposed to “a large degree of determinism” you mention later) Then if so, one might as well be discussing the moral and ethical behaviour of the planets, or a chemical reaction. If there is no choice, there is no morality, surely?

    Daniel Barnes

    November 14, 2006 at 3:25 am

  5. Daniel
    I agree with the article that even if there was full determinism law and punishment would still make sense. I would also still agree with the sentence that people ‘can be caused to behave morally and ethically’ if all that means is consistent with whatever prevailing system of morality and ethics there is in that society. If you’re applying a broader understanding to the idea of ‘behaving morally’ then you’re right. But what difference does it make? If you behave morally because a large part of your actions has been determined by the social pressures placed on you then you are still behaving morally. You might think you ‘chose’ to behave morally but really all it meant is that some pressures had more effect than other pressures to deviate.

    I would contend that it doesn’t make sense to talk about some part of us that isn’t caused.

    Jason Soon

    November 14, 2006 at 7:26 am

  6. Doctor Johnson, answered all this naturalist rubbish, in the form put forward by Berkley, by kicking a stone. I do the same here. I just decided to type the word “fornicated” instead of another word to describe my contempt for this whole determinisrt rubbish.

    Calvin was determinist of the highest order and his Geneva was a dictatorship. Marx was a determinist too and look at the trouble his idiotic theories have caused. No we should give naturalism a wide berth. In fact all “isms” are bad news.

    Rococo Liberal

    November 14, 2006 at 7:56 am

  7. Come on, RL, you’re just being highly emotional.

    Jason Soon

    November 14, 2006 at 8:18 am

  8. RL, if I were you I would read a little more on Calvin.

    Geneva was a lot of things but dictatorship was not one of them.

    Bring Back CL's Blog

    November 14, 2006 at 8:24 am

  9. Jason:
    >You might think you ‘chose’ to behave morally but really all it meant is that some pressures had more effect than other pressures to deviate.

    I have considerable sympathies for the strict determinist argument of course. But the problem is that if you want to go determinist in this sense, you have to go all the way. For example, if strict determinism is true, then there is no essential difference between living and non-living matter (between humans and cars for example, as Frank Tipler famously argued. Richard Dawkins agreed, saying that cars had minds and souls). On the moral choice issue, Pinker makes a similar point as you do above. He makes the analogy between determined facts and a deck of cards; that we can use them to play different games with them – the ‘science’ game or the ‘morality’ game – but the cards remain the same. I see roughly what he means, but I don’t find this persuasive. It seems to dodge another basic difficulty, which is how you can say ‘choice’ is both vitally important (ie: be a libertarian) and an illusion at the same time. Call me old-fashioned – I probably am – but despite the compelling nature of deterministic arguments, and the semi-occult feeling of denying them, I still can’t…quite…go…there. I dont mind saying things are largely determined – maybe much more than we think. But that’s not going all the way by a long chalk. Certainly ‘social pressures’ aren’t really the problem in determinism – the problem is chemical and physical pressures, just like inside a car. That’s the real determinist position. And if you don’t go all the way, then you’re not really a determinist…;-)

    Daniel Barnes

    November 14, 2006 at 8:58 am

  10. RL:
    >Doctor Johnson, answered all this naturalist rubbish, in the form put forward by Berkley, by kicking a stone.

    The good doctor unfortunately refuted neither Berkeley nor determinism with this. But it was a nice try.

    Daniel Barnes

    November 14, 2006 at 9:03 am

  11. RL:

    “In fact all “isms” are bad news.”

    Capitalism?

    Anyhoo, determinism denies agency. We all KNOW we make choices. The fact that we can’t prove it logically shows a deficiency in our logic or our language, but nothing more. Counter-intuitive sophistry is a fun hobby, but doesn’t teach us much.

    I’m in the ‘largely determined’ camp. And I’m choosing to stay there.

    FDB

    November 14, 2006 at 9:17 am

  12. classic free will is an empty concept…try to define free will without determinism…you cant…you cant even conceive of free will…

    what would it mean that free will is not tied to natural determinism? lets imagine there is some type of supernatural soul, even if this thing exists, it must have some basis for making its “free” decisions, or it is random…theres no escaping this fact…

    the only two conceivable possibilities, even in a totally theoretical sense are determined events and spontaneously random ones.

    what we always meant by free will was the ability to look at a list of possibilities, run some algorithm and deterministically decide the goal maximising actions.

    freedom is related to the choices available and the brain processes undertaken and not to some other type of event which isn’t even conceivable.

    if someone was in an inpenetrable concrete box we would say he’s not free, because he has limited options…

    we might similarly say someone with some crippling brain condition does not have as much free will as normal.

    c8to

    November 14, 2006 at 9:22 am

  13. ‘what we always meant by free will was the ability to look at a list of possibilities, run some algorithm and deterministically decide the goal maximising actions”

    yep c8to that does it for me. I’m happy to believe in free will if that’s what you mean by it.

    Jason Soon

    November 14, 2006 at 9:27 am

  14. Free will, if it’s the freedom to choose between available options, is not constrained *qualitatively* by the extent of those options, only quantitively.

    The concrete box guy is not terribly free to act (compared with me at least, but that doesn’t mean he has no freedom of choice. He can, with *some* degree of success, choose to think about one thing rather than another. He can count to ten, sing Mmm-bop, masturbate or scratch at the concrete with his fingernails.

    FDB

    November 14, 2006 at 11:52 am

  15. c8to:
    “…deterministically decide the goal maximising actions”

    “Deterministically decide” is an oxymoron. Because if determinism is true, you ‘decide’ nothing. A scientist with sufficient data should be able to exactly predict what your “algorithm” will do – and, like every other event, it will have been exactly predictable since the dawn of time. If you call that a decision you might as well say a planet ‘decides’ to circle the sun.

    Daniel Barnes

    November 14, 2006 at 12:57 pm

  16. ” scientist with sufficient data should be able to exactly predict what your “algorithm” will do ”

    But that’s the gist of it. No scientist will ever be able to. The information requirements are too great. What applies to central planning of economies applies even more to human beings. But does that mean our actions are not determined? There is a strong element of randomness in all this chain of causation that leads to our actions being determined and frustrates prediction. But do you wish to call this randomness free will? Similar randomness and chaotic patterns exist in the weather. Does that mean the weather has free will in your sense Daniel? Of course not.

    Jason Soon

    November 14, 2006 at 1:02 pm

  17. Jason:
    >But that’s the gist of it. No scientist will ever be able to.

    But that’s not the point, surely. Just because we don’t know the co-ordinates of a certain planet, or the final laws that govern its motion, doesn’t mean we say the planet ‘decides’ to circle the sun either. ‘Decides’ denotes a conscious, willed action – which is just an illusion under full determinism, just as illusory as a bent stick in the water. We don’t talk about the stick being bent now we understand the illusion, so why continue to talk about ‘decisions’ or ‘freedom’ likewise?

    >Does that mean the weather has free will in your sense Daniel?

    No, not at all. Like I said, I’m old fashioned. I believe in a ‘ghost in the machine’ that is neither random nor determined. Old skool, freaky-deaky ‘will’ squeaking between the massive grinding cogs of the universe and tweaking them occasionally…;-) Quaint but true. Of course as I said earlier, I respect the ever-growing armoury of determinist argument vs my clearly occult sentiments, but I just can’t quite go there…yet.

    Daniel Barnes

    November 14, 2006 at 1:45 pm

  18. FDB says:

    “We all KNOW we make choices.”

    Yes, but we are not exercising free will in doing so. We haven’t chosen any of those things that shape which option we choose out of the range of possibilities. That includes our genetics, childhood experiences, family dynamics, cultural milieu or the time and place we are born in.

    I repeat, free will is a supernatural concept.

    What determinism means to me is that we should have compassion for the sad,bad and mad. If we were born in their skin, we would be just like them. It is unreasonable to be obsessed with blame or to not help the hopeless because they are supposedly responsible for their own plight.

    Having said that, the “ideology of individual responsibility” is probably necessary for a society to function. This doesn’t contradict my original point because belief in individual responsibility is itself simply another factor that determines behaviour.

    melaleuca

    November 14, 2006 at 6:22 pm

  19. Damned, Steve. Why can’t you make sense like this all the time?

    I agree, the purpose of the individual responsibility ethic is to send the right signals to the vast majority of people who do have adequate signal-receptors. For those who persist in falling through the cracks, there will be the need for more intensive charity and welfare.

    Jason Soon

    November 14, 2006 at 6:27 pm

  20. Keep at him Jase. I did say he’s smarter than the average green head.

    Munn , you keep visiting this site and one day soon, you will like me leave that leftist religion in the dust.When you do, let me know an i’ll even shout you a beer. But don’t bother trying to get me to buy you a drink beforehand though.

    You still need to be sinbinned while you’re reaching to new heights as i am not sure you can make it, fella. Treat like a detox.

    Let us know if you need help. We’re always there for you. You know that Munn, don’t you?

    JC.

    November 14, 2006 at 6:48 pm

  21. Sorry, I was talking philosophy, not social studies.

    Of course we’re all subject to constraints on the options available to us, and of course the one we choose will be affected by a range of things beyond our control, and this will in turn affect…….

    Taken to its conclusion, though, [BTW I’m not arguing that anyone here is actually doing this]this line of reasoning leads to the sort of moral relativism I’m sure we all find repugnant.

    Where to draw the line is an interesting and important question.

    The precise philosophical definition of free will is much less interesting – as in much philosophy, the concepts are quickly reduced to arguments over definitions, and something is said to not exist primarily because it has been defined out of existence.

    If choosing whether to whistle the guitar solo from Can I Play With Madness or sing Mmm-bop is not free will, then only an act of pure and spontaneous creation from nothing is. Sure, that’s supernatural. Probably what people usually MEAN when they say ‘free will’ is somewhat less than the creation of the universe, though.

    FDB

    November 15, 2006 at 12:45 pm

  22. I’ve been thinking about this since it came up last time Jason particularly in relation to the essays of Czeslaw Milosz the Polish poet. In his essay “Speaking of a Mammal” Milosz refers to:

    … the confusion that has arisen over our concept of Man; deprived by scientific critique of its root in metaphysics, humanitarianism has become either shallow or ineffective. The mechanistic notion of the universe which was the basis of science simply did not square with the notion of individual choice which was the basis of moral philosophy

    Drawing on Simone Weil Milosz argued that the existensial situation of humanity is that altho’ we generally want the Good (life, country, heart etc) we are Nature’s creatures and Nature doesn’t give a fuck about our aspirations to the good.

    Weil who was a particularly idiosyncratic Christian in the end faced up to this evident indifference seemingly written into the Universe and also of the negation of the possibility of Free Will. Despite her convictions she was the opposite of a doctrinal thinker. She asserted the concept of Grace as a way of explaining the human aspiration to things higher.

    I am reminded of the Friar’s speech in Romeo and Juliet:

    Two such opposed kings encamp them still
    In man as well as herbs: grace and rude will;

    Not exactly scientific but science doesn’t seem to really answer the question. Perhaps we can think of what we’ve been calling ‘free will’ a dialectical product of this grace and ‘rude will’ roughly equivalent to Nietzsche’s will-to-power. Grace is a sublime concept and unpopular because it smacks of the supernatural but it doesn’t really need anything supernatural to sustain it. It merely needs the acknowledgment that it represents something not well understood and hard to define that is nevertheless apparent.

    In any event I find Weil and Milosz’s conclusion convincing. Between the free will apparent to us in life and the notion of determinism there is no reconciliation. It is contradictory and this contradiction is fundamental. It cannot be resolved at least by us now.

    So we write it of as a central paradox: a founding contradiction and head from there.

    Adrienswords

    July 7, 2008 at 1:08 pm

  23. What determinism means to me is that we should have compassion for the sad,bad and mad. If we were born in their skin, we would be just like them. It is unreasonable to be obsessed with blame or to not help the hopeless because they are supposedly responsible for their own plight.

    That is the whole point of the concept. Free Will is typically used as a moral hammer. YOu have free will, make the right choices! But if I have free will why *must* I make the right choices?

    The fact that something is “apparent” to us does not make it true. It is apparent to me that the earth is flat and not spinning but I know this is false. It is apparent to me that the moon is bigger on the horizon but I know this is my brain playing tricks on me. It is apparent to me that cats are cuddly but I still like kicking them.

    John Hasenkam

    July 8, 2008 at 6:01 am

  24. This is such a ridiculous argument. The concept of free will is not a moral hammer. Free will as FDB and Adrien have suggested simply postulates that human beings are able to make choices about what to do or think. If someone suggest you “must” do something you should simply retort, ‘I think or do what I please’.

    And please, the idea that our ability to make choices about what to do or think is only merely apparent is nonsense.

    dover_beach

    July 8, 2008 at 9:50 am

  25. “It is apparent to me that cats are cuddly but I still like kicking them.” Jeez JH, somebody needs to whack you with a moral hammer.

    The bad who are not mad deserve what they get. Even those people with a genetic prediliction for being bad still make choices. JH I think you read too much into the free will debate.

    pedro

    July 8, 2008 at 1:18 pm

  26. Free will is integral to our ethics and our legal system. It’s a moral hammer. What other use does it have?

    John Hasenkam

    July 8, 2008 at 6:00 pm

  27. Explaining human behaviour?

    Or failing that, fuelling interminable metaphysics stoushes on the intertubes.

    FDB

    July 8, 2008 at 6:26 pm

  28. It isn’t a moral hammer because without it you cannot have a moral world. Without it, ‘ought’, and ‘should’ are meaningless. Oh, you could probably add ‘could’ and ‘would’ to that as well. Without it the idea of choosing between alternative courses of actions or differences of opinion is meaningless. I could go on.

    dover_beach

    July 8, 2008 at 6:30 pm

  29. FDB<

    Provides no useful information about human behavior. Your second attempt is spot on though.

    DB:

    Make no sense.

    John Hasenkam

    July 8, 2008 at 6:44 pm

  30. How so, JohnH?

    dover_beach

    July 8, 2008 at 7:04 pm

  31. The fact that something is “apparent” to us does not make it true.

    This is true. However neither does that fact make it false. It is not true that the moon’s the biggest object we see in the night sky. But it’s the closest, this is another explanation of its apparent size. One we know well.

    YOu have free will, make the right choices! But if I have free will why *must* I make the right choices?

    The theological argument to this was God. As the sciences made our cosmos larger and ourselves smaller and decentral we began to doubt that God existed as hereto stated. So we ask the that question – why must I do the right thing? And what is it?

    If the creator of the universe did so out of some, ’til now, inexplicable exercise in moral dynamics we can be assured that there is authority at least in the Bible. However if that is just a story and the law is merely made by persons such as oneself – why be good? And how do you live in a cold universe where the Evil may triumph, and do, without some sacred comupance?

    The view of science was based on a mechanistic view. Perhaps this was due to early modern Europeans belief in a clear and present creator God and their invention of the clock. God as watchmaker. But the Cosmos is not a watch it is a series of concentric and policentric organizing systems. That includes the living and many aspects of our civilizations.

    Simone Weil was an anti- Soviet, anti-Capitalist, Marx-influenced anarcho-syndicalist who converted to Catholicism (she had been raised a secular Jew). She didn’t join parties did go off to fight in Spain (with the Trots) and wrote some of the best criticisms of Marx and Marxism ever.

    After she converted to Catholicism she did not reject science or rely on doctrine to resolve questions of moral ontology. She accepted that the doctrines of the Church had been hammered by Science including free will. She knew science well and di not challenge what it had proved.

    However she likewise doubted the notion of determinism.

    St Augustine assumes free will because we can make moral choices. That we have will, he says, is undeniable. And so it is. But a scientist will retort that tho’ have will it is the result of natural conditions. ‘Our’ will is sent in motion by animal desires.

    Augustine would retort that we have a choice – to be good or not. We can control ourselves. This is possibly built on the thinking of Epictitus who justified the concept of free will on the same basis. Tho’ he better articulated that we cannot control much. But ourselves he says – yeah.

    Altho’ this will win guffaws of laughter from the science minded whose single word rebuttal – hunger – appears to smash this illusion Epictitus is right. There are many accounts of choices made that are contradictory both to animal will, to the mores of society and to reason. Why we do what we do might have mysterious aspects. But not even scientists would go so far as to believe that we are mere clockwork.

    To solve this problem Weil discards free will and introduces the sublime concept Grace. Grace is an ethereal, mystical product of artistic imagination. Hence ‘not real’ in the scientific lexicon. Let me remind Science that Literature is not real; that doesn’t mean it’s worthless.

    To Weil: Grace is a better answer to the free will dilemna. And instead of ‘determinism’ she substitutes ‘necessity’. It is necessary that we eat to stay hunger and continue living but many have chosen not to – Bobby Sands for example.

    It’s inaccurate really to use the word determine too much anyway. The vicissitudes of chance in the physical Universe remain mysterious to us. We are not sure to what extent our decisions are ‘determined’ so to speak of determinism in discussions of morality has limited utility.

    ‘Grace’ neither claims ‘will’ as a concept of moral philosophy nor does it tangle itself in the endless labyrinth of epistemology – it is a concept which is sublime and very likely artificial. Perhaps one can say it’s therefore useless. But we have other concepts – like the Good.

    It doesn’t need to be useful except in considering the nuances of moral philosophy. That we can make decisions and can be held responsible for them is apparent. Law courts are crammed with feverish arguments about what decisions are made and whether so and so was reponsible.

    It might be a ‘moral hammer’ but without it everything falls to bits. Maybe it ain’t just a hammer. Perhaps it’s a bunch of nuts n’ bolts too.

    Adrienswords

    July 8, 2008 at 8:36 pm

  32. Yes Adrien, that is why I have previously argued that lack of Free Will does not equal determinism.

    No need for a moral hammer. People who do not believe in Free Will are not demonstrably evil or misguided. Behavior is directed by a great many forces, something Milgram pointed out all too scarily. His experiments, and others, have demonstrated that you get human beings to do things that go completely against their sense of right or wrong. So much for moral agency. There are also experiments demonstrating that our beliefs can be determined by our behavior. For most people this is arse about face, we typically think our thinking determines our behavior, yet the opposite is also often true.

    For me there is no Free Will dilemma. That dilemma arises from a poor framing of the issue. I don’t need Free Will to behave responsibly. As for the idea that we can “control ourselves”, in these days I am not sure anything can be said to exercise self control. That makes no sense to me.

    John Hasenkam

    July 8, 2008 at 8:52 pm

  33. The crux of the matter here is that most of us are defining free will as merely the absence of total determinism.

    FDB

    July 8, 2008 at 9:06 pm

  34. His experiments, and others, have demonstrated that you get human beings to do things that go completely against their sense of right or wrong.

    His experiments demonstrated that we’re primates hard-wired to accept authority. Morality and authority tend to go together. However they don’t always so…

    I don’t need Free Will to behave responsibly.

    Really? What do you need? If nothing exercises self-control how can anything be held accountable?

    Adrienswords

    July 8, 2008 at 9:29 pm

  35. One of the best conversations I’ve ever had with my brother was on this topic (as an offshoot of our regular discussions about my libertarianism and his socialism), and when this thread popped up on the Recently Commented On list, I pointed it out to him as an indication of vaguely where I stand on the subject. His response I have put below, and would welcome Catallaxians’ thoughts on his critique. Especially Jason and Adrien.

    It’s a really big topic, so maybe we can bite little pieces off it. Let me start with a couple of objections, which might also be requests for clarification. In the link to the link, which defines “philosophical naturalism”, they write:

    “Connection: …Each of us is an unfolding, natural process, and every aspect of that process is caused, and is a cause itself.

    Compassion: Seeing that we are fully caused creatures – not self-caused – we can no longer take or assign ultimate credit or blame for what we do. This leads to an ethics of compassion and understanding, both toward ourselves and others…”

    The bolded sections seem to me to point to an ambiguity hiding a contradiction. Proposition 1) says everything, including ourselves, is caused and is itself a cause of other processes. However, there is also Proposition 2, the human self is not a cause. It is fully caused by what precedes and surrounds it (glossed, in the familiar and false way, as “genes and environment”).

    So: why deny the human self the capacity to cause effects? The probable answer is that this attempt to construct an image of the world without free will is forced to do away with the human “self” completely. It doesn’t cause ergo it doesn’t exist. If this is not a correct surmise, then I would like to hear more about this self that exists but which is not capable of independently, autonomously, ie, freely, generating, causal effects in the world. In that case it would paradoxically be an exception to the general ontology: the sole existing entity which doesn’t cause anything!

    However, if the surmise is correct (i.e., that this anti-free-will doctrine also jettisons the self) , it seems highly implausible. It would also be impossible to sustain without performative contradiction (i.e, affirmative use of references to “I”, “us”, “ourselves”, etc, as part of any argued defence of the position). In addition, it would (and evidently does) arise from a psuedo-naturalistic world-picture which is ignorant of the importance of self-structures to at least the organic world (where active discrimination between “self” and “not-self” is elementary), and probably to pre-biotic chemico-physical structures as well (see for eg., Erich Jantsch, The Self-Organizing Universe, or Lee Smolin, The Life of the Cosmos).

    Once we start taking account of self-structures in our picture of the pre-human universe, we have to take account of intentionality, meaning, purpose, intelligence, reasoning, etc, within nature… as a result it becomes easier to avoid the kind of abstract opposition between “cause” and “free-will” which structures this kind of “naturalism”. It also becomes possible to avoid a merely negative (“super-natural”, “a-causal”, “impossible”) image of human freedom…

    This, by the way, might be the central paradox and weakness of the libertarian position (in the form we discuss it here): its central category is freedom, and it holds that, actually, freedom doesn’t exist.

    fatfingers

    July 8, 2008 at 10:03 pm

  36. If nothing exercises self-control how can anything be held accountable?

    A river does not control itself. The water follows the course of the banks.

    Yet a dam will change the flow of the river.

    Similarly, if (as I do) you believe free will is an illusion, then you do not consider the (say) sadistic murderer to be in control of himself when he kills.

    Either nature or nurture is the explanation of his behaviour, over neither of which does he have control.

    Yet the murderer bad acts can nonetheless be stopped (dammed like the river), in that he will be imprisoned with his punishment serving as both a specific and general deterrent.

    Further, the murderer can be held to account – morally judged – for his bad acts.

    The language of morality can be usefully used in condemning the killer (“he is evil!”) – that language is “useful” insofar as the moral language has a pedagogic purpose and thus increases the effectiveness of the general deterrent element of his punishment.

    In sum, you can believe in absolute determinism yet still believe in accountability, morality, good, evil and moral judgment.

    Tillman

    July 8, 2008 at 10:12 pm

  37. Really? What do you need? If nothing exercises self-control how can anything be held accountable?

    Firstly, answer this: why is this so important to people like yourself and DB? To me it is predominantly pissing in the wind, a type of scholasticism.

    “Accountability” is not the issue, the issue is the regulation of human behavior so as to minimise harm. To that end one can and should use ethical imperatives. Whether or not these imperatives are based on truth is irrelevant, what matters is whether or not the imperatives work. They work, so ethics will always have its place.

    Human agency has real effects, where we disagree is as to the actual cause of human agency. You ascribe this to the self, I ascribe this to multiple factors. Forget about Bundle Theory, when Hume first came to this conclusion he became profoundly depresssed. Thomas Nagel has stated that the human psyche is highly antagonistic to the idea of bundle theory(no self). So don’t worry about it. I previously warned you that it can take a long time to think through this but you ignored that advice. What I have stated here I have stated before, so clearly you are not taking my comments on board.

    John Hasenkam

    July 8, 2008 at 10:58 pm

  38. “It is apparent to me that cats are cuddly but I still like kicking them.” Jeez JH, somebody needs to whack you with a moral hammer.

    Someone should smack you with a smart stick. Cats can cause schizophrenia, are vectors for a parasite that lodges in the human brain, can reactivate and cause encephalitis. Don’t tell Rudd, he’ll order a nation wide cat extermination.

    http://www.schizophrenia.com/prevention/catpreg.html#action
    http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/EID/vol9no11/03-0098.htm

    John Hasenkam

    July 9, 2008 at 8:12 am

  39. Cats can cause schizophrenia, are vectors for a parasite that lodges in the human brain, can reactivate and cause encephalitis.

    Yes indeed.

    It’s all about panspermia. Cats and moose were at war on Explodia while it circled Mars, and now their little spermies have chased each other to Earth to continue their eternal war. Humans are innocent bystanders.

    Just ask Bird.

    Or look it up in the Kabbalah. It’s all there.

    Tillman

    July 9, 2008 at 8:44 am

  40. Tillman
    John is telling the truth there but I think exaggerating. I understand cats have parasites which may lead to personality changes in some humans which they latch on to but it’s all still a bit iffy. I think those who get the schizophrenia are just predisposed to it anyway. But even if true it sounds pretty non malignant to me for the majority of infected people.

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/health/article1161725.ece

    http://www.futurepundit.com/archives/001675.html

    Jason Soon

    July 9, 2008 at 8:56 am

  41. No quantification on my part Jason so I cannot be exaggerating.

    What is it with this obsession with Bird? You must all be cats.

    John Hasenkam

    July 9, 2008 at 9:16 am

  42. Cats may indeed (involuntarily) carry various diseases, but that offers no explanation for JH’s stated predilection for kicking them.

    Tillman

    July 9, 2008 at 9:42 am

  43. Any responses to #35?

    fatfingers

    July 9, 2008 at 9:59 am

  44. Cats may indeed (involuntarily) carry various diseases, but that offers no explanation for JH’s stated predilection for kicking them.

    I willfully choose to kick cats because I have Free Will which means I can bloody well choose to do anything I bloody well please.

    John Hasenkam

    July 9, 2008 at 10:15 am

  45. I willfully choose to kick cats because I have Free Will which means I can bloody well choose to do anything I bloody well please.

    Really?

    You suggested earlier that you like to kick cats.

    Someone asked why.

    You said (or strongly implied) that it was because they carried disease.

    Now that you have been challenged on that rationale, you say it is just because it pleases you.

    Sounds to me like you don’t understand the source of the impulse that leads you to enjoy kicking cats.

    So is Hasenkam exercising free will when he kicks cats?

    Or is he just a robot gone haywire?

    Jury’s out on that one.

    Tillman

    July 9, 2008 at 10:22 am

  46. “I willfully choose to kick cats because I have Free Will which means I can bloody well choose to do anything I bloody well please.”

    I know this is a joke, but you’re not still running the line that free will must mean onmipotence and complete lack of boundaries or restraint are you?

    FDB

    July 9, 2008 at 10:24 am

  47. I have never run that line. What is important is to understand the causes of human behavior, not these arguments about mysterious entities. That is the real challenge, once you admit to limited freedom the whole question becomes meaningless because the right question then is what can be attributed to Free Will and what cannot. This is great fatal flaw in those who assert the need for Free Will but also acknowledge its limitations. If you can’t determine what is “freely chosen” and what is not, what’s the fucking point?

    John Hasenkam

    July 9, 2008 at 10:37 am

  48. “what’s the fucking point”

    And when both sides of a debate can end their critique of the other with this little gem, I believe we may safely declare a stalemate.

    FDB

    July 9, 2008 at 10:39 am

  49. Exactly FDB. The whole problem with this debate can be summed up thusly: wrong questions, wrong aspirations.

    John Hasenkam

    July 9, 2008 at 10:41 am

  50. I have never run that line. What is important is to understand the causes of human behavior, not these arguments about mysterious entities. That is the real challenge, once you admit to limited freedom the whole question becomes meaningless because the right question then is what can be attributed to Free Will and what cannot. This is great fatal flaw in those who assert the need for Free Will but also acknowledge its limitations. If you can’t determine what is “freely chosen” and what is not, what’s the fucking point?

    ***DOES NOT COMPUTE***

    ***DOES NOT COMPUTE***

    ***SELF-DESTRUCT***

    ***SELF-DESTRUCT***

    Tillman

    July 9, 2008 at 10:42 am

  51. No Tillman, more like TS Eliot: The World does end with a bang but with a whimper.

    John Hasenkam

    July 9, 2008 at 10:46 am

  52. “Someone should smack you with a smart stick.”

    Charming comment. Real highbrow that one.

    pedro

    July 9, 2008 at 11:08 am

  53. Charming comment. Real highbrow that one.

    That’s great coming from someone who lied to me.

    John Hasenkam

    July 9, 2008 at 11:14 am

  54. That’s great coming from someone who lied to me.

    He’s got free will. He’s allowed to do whatever his instincts compel him to do. That’s freedom.

    Tillman

    July 9, 2008 at 11:27 am

  55. JH, what did I lie to you about?

    pedro

    July 9, 2008 at 12:04 pm

  56. “He’s got free will. He’s allowed to do whatever his instincts compel him to do. That’s freedom.”

    Oh noes, it’s the lolocaust!

    FDB

    July 9, 2008 at 12:14 pm

  57. “Behavior is directed by a great many forces, something Milgram pointed out all too scarily. His experiments, and others, have demonstrated that you get human beings to do things that go completely against their sense of right or wrong. So much for moral agency.”

    This is just silly. The mere fact that people can be made to act against there sense of right or wrong is neither here nor there. Do you really think the fact people can be manipulated vitiates moral agency? Moral agency has never meant that people are morally perfect; it simply means that we can behave morally, not that we always do. What ‘forces’ played upon those who sheltered Jews during WW2 at potential great cost to themselves and their families? What ‘forces’ played upon Father Kolbe who took the place of a Jew selected for extermination at Auschwitz? How do you even imagine that a physical explanation can adequately explain Kolbe’s actions in Auschwitz?

    “What is important is to understand the causes of human behavior, not these arguments about mysterious entities. That is the real challenge, once you admit to limited freedom the whole question becomes meaningless because the right question then is what can be attributed to Free Will and what cannot. This is great fatal flaw in those who assert the need for Free Will but also acknowledge its limitations. If you can’t determine what is “freely chosen” and what is not, what’s the fucking point?”

    Do you ever pause for a moment and imagine that you have ill-posed this problem? Have you ever come across the reasons vs causes debate? Free will is not a mysterious entity. If you happen to observe the great variety of human behaviour around you you will observe free will; agents choosing to do this or that according to an understood situation. A man drops a 20 dollar note from his pocket, you might pick it up and return it to him, or you might wait for him to leave and keep it for yourself, etc. Your choice is informed not determined by your morality. The idea that morality determines behaviour is absurd. I have nevered argued this and everything I’ve said has suggested otherwise. The idea that morality determines behaviour would be contrary to the idea of moral agency itself. And your last point is ridiculous. Firstly, I have no idea what you mean by “freely chosen” if it is something other than the choice to do either this or that in an understood situation. Secondly, if it is a problem for someone postulating free will, why is it not also a problem for a determinist?

    “This is great fatal flaw in those who assert the need for Free Will [determinism] but also acknowledge its limitations. If you can’t determine what is “determined” and what is not, what’s the fucking point?”

    Quite.

    I’ll add, there is no ‘need’ for free will. As stated before, it is obviously a postulate of human conduct. You cannot make sense of human conduct without it.

    dover_beach

    July 9, 2008 at 1:26 pm

  58. DB I think there is a “need” for free will in the sense that you cannot really have a moral order without one. But free will does not have to be assumed because it is obvious that the vast majority of the population is able to make undetermined choices. The fact that people have impulses and tendancies is irrelevant because we are able to overcome them.

    pedro

    July 9, 2008 at 3:15 pm

  59. Pedro, what you say is essentially the point I make in the sentences that follow that remark.

    Part of the problem in this discussion is the failure to appreciate the difference between a reason and a cause. There is a palpable difference between saying, “Person A had a reason B to do act X” in contrast to “Act X was caused by cause C”. Its amazing that in trying to explain the conduct of person A, A as a term disappears in the second statement. That is instructive.

    dover_beach

    July 9, 2008 at 3:58 pm

  60. Agree DB.

    pedro

    July 9, 2008 at 4:31 pm

  61. Calling Jason and Adrien (and anyone who wants to help) – please read #35. I have to respond to my brother soon, and would appreciate your input.

    fatfingers

    July 9, 2008 at 8:27 pm

  62. FF’s brother –

    You make the error of assuming that because we are fully caused we do not in turn cause and that that’s what Jason’s saying. I don’t think it is. We, individually, are caused essentially because our parents had a bonk. Forgive me my vulgarity but I think the crux of the problem lies in this very act.

    Whilst we exercise no small amount of choice viz our sexual partners there are studies both respectable and otherwise that show that many of our attractions are actually caused by base animal necessity in the context of the long hunter-gatherer history of our species and those that preceded it.

    This process is complicated in a manner alluded to by Freud. As science of course Freud is nonsense but as a literary essayist, a speculator, he has a certain utility. His books Totem and Taboo and Civilization and its Discontents lend two, I think, useful notions.

    In the first book Freud speculates upon the customs of Australian aboriginal people who were studied as part of the growing enthusiasm for anthropology from the latter decades of the 19th century. Freud, like most Europeans of the century, had a picture in his mind of civil progress with Europeans at the apex. The Aboriginies were at the very bottom; the most archaic of peoples.

    He postulated that morally they should be the most lax of people. But observations proved the contrary. Their taboos against incest (such taboos are almost universal and the basis of sexual morality) extended far beyond those of the civilized world. Far from the Protestant v Catholic arguments re marrying one’s cousin Aborigines were organized into groups that prevent one mating with anyone remotely kin to them.

    The second book’s hypothesis is Freud’s most valuable. In it he speculates that as humans formed larger and more complex societies many of the instincts given relatively free reign in hunter-gatherer groups were required to be leashed. Given the close proximity of so many people of different creeds living together; given also the emergence in the modern world of the nuclear family living behind closed doors, there arose needs over certain millenia to instill rules of behaviour that were internalized by individuals.

    If one think of the Abrahamic idea of God one realizes that Westerners were instilled for a long while with the concept that their lives were to be judged after they were over by a being that was all-powerful and omniscient.

    God sees and knows everything. You can’t hide.

    Therefore Christianity thru its technique of confession causes people to reveal their nefarious activities and even their immoral feelings. They are held accountable for desires that are not under their control. After all if one sees a pretty girl one may choose how to act around her but can one choose whether one is attracted to her?

    Christianity says: Yes! The Christian idea of Free Will is based on the notion that in us is a struggle between the Base and the Spirit. The Spirit is willing but the Flesh is weak, said Jesus. Free Will is the exercise of the Spirit to defeat weak Flesh.

    The Spirit is both supernatural and the cause of reason. We can control our thoughts and feelings says the Church. Now this might be dismissed as hocus pocus or repression but I see a new vangard in the cultivation of Self. An extension of our capacity to control ourselves.

    In modern society the Church, the State, the media the medical professions, the law all contribute to this examination of Self. This explosion of laws and mores policing what one feels and thinks leads, says Freud, to neurosis. We can’t cope with the Byzantine nature of the Civilized Mind and as a result are all a little weird.

    How these ideas relate to Free Will is this –

    There are practical reasons for spiritually attributable rules – both taboo and commandment. Incest is a pollution in the gene pool which would become apparent after a few generations. Perhaps apparent only to certain cluey people. Obviously the solution is to institute rules to counter this. But in the absence of science what basis do you give?

    Answer: you evoke Heaven.

    Oedipus was guilty of a great crime for offending the gods with his incest. He didn’t know and he was fated but nevertheless calamity comes to him and to Thebes. Nowhere are genetic arguments mentioned however the utility of laws against incest is the same no matter the cause.

    In challenging the needs of the body, in expecting individuals to repress their desires (and if they do not, to do it for them) cultivates the capacity to defy natural causality. I feel the urge but I will not. I won’t give in.

    The Abrahamic faiths have gone further than any other religious movement here. They locate sexuality as the battlefield between cosmic Good and Evil. In an Aboriginal tribe one simply obeys the Law. One doesn’t have the time or energy to spend hours contemplating the Self. In Christendom one must examine one’s desires. One must fight them if they are undesirable. (And they almost all are.) What happens here is the opening of a new frontier in the construction of the Self.

    Jason’s argument is that Free Will doesn’t exist and that we should regard Culture’s contributions as feedback loops. My difference of opinion with him is largely semantic. I understand ‘free will’ differently. But I think he would agree with my belief that cultural practices and economic prosperity create the Self? That we as individuals and various groups and institutions cultivate Selves; that our powers over the environment give us more options. More room to move.

    The Self is, mostly, a construct.

    True there is an obvious difference between ‘me’ and ‘you’. If you get slapped I won’t feel it. But different cultures assign different importance to this phenomena.

    Many hunter-gatherer tribes assign totemic identities to individuals. “You are The Platypus old bean”, and that’s who you are.

    In agricultural civilizations one generally does what one’s parents did. The novel Sky Burial illustrates this. In it, a Tibetan princess falls in love with a commoner. He doesn’t have a name. His name is his job, same as his father. Only the nobility have names. She’s visited China and so names him: ‘Tianneman’.

    You may dismiss this as fiction but it was based on an actual interview. Very interesting book. Anyway…

    Westerners, Asian friends’ve told me, are selfish. This is true in good ways and bad. The Personality is a Western invention (Greco-Roman) and this Apollonian thing is, in combination with Abrahamic reflection, what has created the modern Self. This cultivation continues apace alongside modern development. Modern society requires that we check our Selves. That we care for these Selves. And provides many means of cultivating these Selves and expanding them: learn a language, wear black leather, travel, study, play the piano. The Self is something that can be renovated and added on to.

    Jason’s concept of feedback loops is viable. The ‘free will’ comes into it as far as I can tell because we, collectively and individually, make choices about how we create that feedback. We have our fingers on the dials.

    At heart is a contradiction born of our lack of understanding. To what extent are we actually free? And to what extent are we simply puppets on a string? We don’t know.

    The difference I believe between myself and Jason and John H etc is that between the Scientist and the Artist. The Scientist considers real strictly only that which can be demonstrated an entity. The Artist lives in La La Land and thereby regards Falstaff and Lord Goring as more real than the shabby creatures waiting nearby on the platform.

    Well Goring isn’t real yet the tub of guts shouting insidious banalities into a cellphone is. Likewise most of the content of the spiritual imagination is fancy in aid of relieving oneself of reality’s beige commonplaces (and making these naughty, sexy moneys behave themselves). Empirically it’s hokum. If Thebes is wracked with disease it ain’t ’cause Oedipus bonks his mother. It’s hooey, bollocks, twaddle.

    But consider the utility of this hooey; its positive effect on the health of the gene pool. Consider even the capacity of Wildean masculinity to inspire (some) men to to more than Homer Simpson can you say this illusion is something we’d be better off without?

    Adrienswords

    July 9, 2008 at 8:50 pm

  63. What ‘forces’ played upon those who sheltered Jews during WW2 at potential great cost to themselves and their families? What ‘forces’ played upon Father Kolbe who took the place of a Jew selected for extermination at Auschwitz? How do you even imagine that a physical explanation can adequately explain Kolbe’s actions in Auschwitz?

    Absolutely useless, what is the point of invoking some entity that offers no insight into why people make moral decisions? Use concepts that provide insight, your concept is a dead duck.

    You cannot make sense of human conduct without it.

    No-one can at present make sense of human conduct, the causes of human behavior remain largely a mystery, though you seem to think you know better than most professionals in the field. You need to heed the advice of Nancy Andreasen, former Prof of Psych at Harvard.

    344

    “We simply lack the knowledge to cure society as well as individuals.

    Confronting this fact seems especially imperative at this time. Psychiatrists are frequently called on to prescribe quick treatments for a variety of social ills, such as the rising rates of crime and violence. Instead of appealing to the speciality of psychiatry to “fix” violence or reduce general unhappiness, all of us, as members of the human community, need to recognize that the sense of “self” in our post-turn-of-the-century worlds may be in need of repair. There has been a widespread move toward materialism, quick fixes, instant gratification, and a superficial sense of success, which is reinforced by the fast-paced cyberworld that we live in. The answer to our many current social problems must come from individual people, who must reappraise their sense of “self” and reach an appropriate perspective on what constitutes a sound moral compass and meaning in life. The need to search for a personal moral compass to guide our individual lives in the twenty-first century is a need that transcends medical intervention, but which has a very real impact on how we choose to employ medical science and what we expect from it. In the era of the genome, fraught as it is with a variety of crucial moral questions, we must all make an agonizing reappraisal of who we are, what life is, what life means, what we must do to help the other human beings who share our world with us, and what we can do to make it a brave new world.”

    Brave new world requires a brave new understanding of human behavior, you’re stuck in the conceptual quagmires of the past. Sure, go to a conference and assert “Free Will can explain human behavior”. The statement is so close to a tautology as to be absurd.

    The Scientist considers real strictly only that which can be demonstrated an entity.

    No Adrien, the scientist confines logic by relying on concepts that provide insight. An idea may be just a fancy but that’s no real matter, the real matter is whether or not that idea is fertile, can lead to other ideas or practical outcomes. For example, a long held theory in immunology was the self-nonself recognition theory. It is wrong but it is still very useful for understanding adaptive immune responses. The self-nonself paradigm is a flawed but useful concept.

    John Hasenkam

    July 10, 2008 at 12:01 am

  64. Nature must have caused me to believe in free will.

    TerjeP (say tay-a)

    July 10, 2008 at 12:34 am

  65. No, culture has.

    John Hasenkam

    July 10, 2008 at 1:20 am

  66. “Absolutely useless, what is the point of invoking some entity that offers no insight into why people make moral decisions? Use concepts that provide insight, your concept is a dead duck.”

    FFS, John, free will is a capability like rationality. The reasons, not causes, of why people make moral decisions are moral reasons. The moral reasons they may provide are what gives insight. Are you incapable of recognising this? If professionals in the field cannot recognise this then they are useless and their explanations irrelevant.

    “No-one can at present make sense of human conduct, the causes of human behavior remain largely a mystery,”

    Yes, more of this irrelevant reference to ’causes’; those interested in understanding human conduct are concerned with reasons.

    “Free Will can explain human behavior”

    Free will does not explain human behaviour, no one here has said it does, at least not me; free will is a postulate of human behaviour. Reasons explain human behaviour.

    “Nature must have caused me to believe in free will.”

    “No, culture has.”

    This is the absurdity of your position. What then causes culture? What gives rise to scientific theories? You seem locked in the belief that even our acceptance or rejection of a theory is caused by physical reactions in the brain, rather than being the result of our accepting or rejecting the reasons provided by the theorist.

    dover_beach

    July 10, 2008 at 9:25 am

  67. In 1895 Freud wrote, “A Project for the Scientific Psychology”. This was a reasonable attempt at designing a research program but at that time, and to this day, we still lack the tools for the job. So Freud, along with a great many others, went off to fairy land to explain human behavior.

    How far have we come? In 2002 Kandel et al received the Nobel Prize for their work in understanding precisely the gill flap response of the aplysia(giant Californian sea slug). That’s it, the reductivist program in understanding human behavior, at this point in time at least, is a work in progress but may also be fatally flawed. As Pinker points out, understanding behavior requires the appropriate level of analysis and he repudiates those in AI who think that we must understand the fine details of neural architecture in order to understand behavior. I have some sympathy with Pinker’s view but as so often happens in this realm, for me at least, I must constantly suspend drawing conclusions. We simply don’t know enough. At present we can look to the behavorists with their concepts of reinforcement schedules, extinction, operant conditioning, etc, the cog sci. people with their ideas about executive function, inhibition of return etc., the neurbiologists with Hebb and feedback loops and entrainment etc, but bringing all these together into a coherent whole remains very problematic.

    At one extreme we have the radical behaviorists asserting all is behavior, even physiology. This struck me as strange until several months ago I was digging around on the placebo effect and found the most remarkable thing. Through a very simple classical conditioning paradigm one can adjust the immune response in remarkable ways. I remain completely perplexed as to the physiological underpinnings of this. It also suggests that we have greatly under estimated the utility of the placebo effect. Beecher must be turning over in his grave at this unfortunate neglect. That so called autonomic processes can be subject to modification by such a simple means raises profound questions about neural architecture and function.

    When I put this up on a forum a mathematician pointed me a paper on modelling neural processes that argued for a strong stochastic component to learning processes and all neurological processes – although one could argue that at some level all neurologic processes are learning processes. So I repudiate the idea that we can ever say humans are robots because robots act via set rules, whereas this stochastic element introduces an unpredictability into behavior which makes a central concept Asmiov’s foundation series laughable.

    Concepts like free will, self, rationality, emotions, morals, while have utility in everyday life and are required for everyday life, are not sufficient to explain human behavior. All disciplines require a nomenclature and conceptual structure specifically designed to address the subject matter. These folk psychology concepts will never be sufficient, these concepts have been around for hundreds of years and led us into hundreds of dead ends. Throw them down.

    John Hasenkam

    July 10, 2008 at 1:30 pm

  68. You want to throw down concepts you patently don’t understand. Talk about dead ends.

    dover_beach

    July 10, 2008 at 1:38 pm

  69. Clutching at straws DB and you know it. Stay in that cul de sac of useless concepts because you clearly have no interest in expanding your realm of analysis so as to open up new possibilities of investigation.

    John Hasenkam

    July 10, 2008 at 1:50 pm

  70. You fail to appreciate the difference between reasons and causes and I’m the one you think is stuck in cul de sac, give me a break.

    And make up your mind, the concept is either useful or useless, it can’t be both. It either has a place in a certain type of explanation or it doesn’t.

    As I’ve said repeatedly, its not a question of expanding the analysis (blesses word), its about recognising that the inquiry you’re engaged in is in fact two different inquires were the concepts found in either are irrelevant to the other. Your inquiry cannot provide an explanation of human conduct because conduct is not caused it is reasoned (either well or poorly). I frankly have no idea what your level of inquiry proposes to explain.

    dover_beach

    July 10, 2008 at 2:09 pm

  71. No inquiry can explain human conduct. None, zilch, zot, zero, that is exactly my point. We need a whole new way of understanding human conduct, that is exactly what Andreasen is driving at.

    John Hasenkam

    July 10, 2008 at 2:38 pm

  72. You simply cannot grasp my point. The sort of inquiry Andreasen is engaged in is irrelevant to understanding human conduct. It is not merely an inquiry of another sort, it is also concerned with human behaviour understood in a certain way, where a human being is an object, not a subject of inquiry.

    As I’ve stated before, what or who, if you’re correct, is actually engaging in this inquiry? Now that truely is a mysterious entity.

    dover_beach

    July 10, 2008 at 3:07 pm

  73. So now you’re telling me that professionals in mental health and human behavior are not actually interested in their own field of enquiry, that we should rely on concepts arising in the middle ages to understand human conduct. No thanks, been there, done that, don’t work.

    John Hasenkam

    July 10, 2008 at 3:32 pm

  74. No, I’m saying that the questions they’re interested in are not explanations of human conduct. Neither am I saying that those in the sciences should be relying on these concepts since they are concepts that are irrelevant to the inquires they’re undertaking. Similarly, the concepts and the explanations your inquiry provides is irrelevant to our understanding human conduct.

    BTW, the concepts of free will, emotions, rationality, etc. did not arise in the middle ages but in antiquity. You, on the other hand, should step away from the scientism of the 19th Century. It was still-born then and now the corpse is badly reeking.

    Still waiting for an answer, though, as to “what or who, if you’re correct, is actually engaging in this inquiry?

    dover_beach

    July 10, 2008 at 3:51 pm

  75. What are the explanations of human conduct?

    John Hasenkam

    July 10, 2008 at 4:11 pm

  76. “whereas this stochastic element introduces an unpredictability into behavior which makes a central concept Asmiov’s foundation series laughable”

    But individual behavious is like the weather, and unpredictable, whereas group behaviour is like the climate and quite capable of being accurately modelled and predicted. 🙂

    Some human conduct is easily explicable – hunger leads to eating for example, but it is certainly true that many human actions are motivated at the individual level and so human behaviour can never be predicted. One period will pocket the $20 you drop and the next will chase you down the street to return it.

    pedro

    July 10, 2008 at 4:31 pm

  77. In order to get a better grip upon what this inquiry entails, the reasons vs causes debate in the philosophy of action/ social sciences would be a good start. Oakeshott’s first essay in On Human Conduct is another. At the least you might come to understand my point and see that it is not antithetical to your own undertaking. They are neither competing nor complementary inquiries; they are just different and mutually irrelevant inquiries.

    dover_beach

    July 10, 2008 at 4:43 pm

  78. Have a look here as well. He works in the field and is an expert on Oakeshott among other things as well.

    http://manwithoutqualities.wordpress.com/

    dover_beach

    July 10, 2008 at 5:01 pm

  79. But you said my whole approach was based on scientism and doomed to fail. Now you have changed your mind. Oh well, I’ve just got back from walking the dog and feeding the sick cat, so I’ll ignore that.

    I have no problem with multiple levels of enquiry, I touched on that with my levels of analysis comment. I do not believe that a detailed understanding of brain function alone will ever be sufficient, trying to understand brain function without reference to the environment is like trying to study aerodynamics on the moon.

    I repeat, folk psychology concepts have their use in everyday speak but these are never explanations of human conduct, these are methods for dealing with other human beings and until such time as we find better means to deal with other human beings we are going to be beset with all the problems encountered therein.

    I repudiate naturalism and determinism because these are attempts to turn science into philosophy. Science is the investigation of relationships between discrete things, I am yet to be convinced it will ever be an adequate explanation of the whole. Your charge of scientism is misplaced and I suspect a cheap and ill-aimed shot.

    What you need to explain is why the enterprise you label as scientism has done more to deepen our understanding of human behavior in the last 50 years than the rest has done in 50,000 years. We now have much deeper insight into the causes of behavior and “reason” is a minor player in that.

    John Hasenkam

    July 10, 2008 at 5:13 pm

  80. John, I did not say your inquiry amounted to scientism, but your attitude does. This paragraph is a case in point:

    “I repeat, folk psychology concepts have their use in everyday speak but these are never explanations of human conduct, these are methods for dealing with other human beings and until such time as we find better means to deal with other human beings we are going to be beset with all the problems encountered therein.”

    Firstly, your habit of imagining that I’m engaging in folk pyschology or that philosophical concepts are every-day concepts is cute but wrong. Secondly, I don’t propose that we ‘deal’ with other people, ‘dealing’ whatever that means is not an explanation.

    I repudiate attempts to turn all modes of inquiry into a science because human beings are not merely discrete objects. My charge of scientism is thus on point, and not a cheap and ill-aimed shot. Further, you ought to refrain from making repeated exaggerated claims like the following:

    “What you need to explain is why the enterprise you label as scientism has done more to deepen our understanding of human behavior in the last 50 years than the rest has done in 50,000 years. We now have much deeper insight into the causes of behavior and “reason” is a minor player in that.”

    You place ‘reason’ in scare quotes apparently oblivious to the fact that whatever it is you claim has deepened understanding must itself be a type of rationality. I think you should come to grips with the limitations of your own field of inquiry before you start casting aspersions on the inquiries of others.

    And I’m still waiting for an answer to the following: “what or who, if you’re correct, is actually engaging in this inquiry?

    dover_beach

    July 10, 2008 at 5:56 pm

  81. I put reason into quotes but I’ve never seen an adequate definition of the same. As to your question, just what inquiry are you referring too?

    There was no exaggeration in my claim. We now have a much deeper understanding of dealing with other human beings, of human motivation, and how to treat mental illness. It has been a wondrous advance but the question now is how far can this enterprise go. After all, we are dealing with the most known complex things in the universe, expecting that endeavour to be resolved in 100 years is just dreaming. It could take thousands.

    John Hasenkam

    July 10, 2008 at 6:20 pm

  82. Let me add a thirdly to my third paragraph and as a response to the following:

    “I repeat, folk psychology concepts have their use in everyday speak but these are never explanations of human conduct…”

    Again, an exaggerated and unqualified statement. Fr Kolbe’s conduct in Auschwitz cannot be explain by references to his brain function and enviroment but simply by the reasons he provided for acting as he did. Nothing more, nothing less. He took the place of a Jew alloted for execution simply because the Jew was both a father and husband where he thought his life was the lesser sacrifice. Of course, there will be a context to this decision but they are again reasons not causes that arise from his understanding of the situation he thought himself in. The same goes for the pickpocket, the shoemaker, whoever.

    dover_beach

    July 10, 2008 at 6:21 pm

  83. Well, that is because there are different varieties of rationality, but to say that you’ve yet to find a definition to your liking is sort of evading my point.

    With regard to my question, I simply asked, if you’re correct, What or who is actually engaged in this inquiry? And, How can you explain an inquiry in terms of causes?

    “We now have a much deeper understanding of dealing with other human beings, of human motivation,”

    That is an exaggerated claim. However, I do think that our understanding of mental illness is greatly improved but that is precisely because there is a difference between it and “dealing with other humans” or “human motivation”.

    dover_beach

    July 10, 2008 at 6:39 pm

  84. You have never specified which type of rationality you are referring too so how can I be evading something so ill defined?

    John Hasenkam

    July 10, 2008 at 6:52 pm

  85. I didn’t have to, I was referring to the rationality postulated by your own type of inquiry. Your evasion involved the juxtiposition between it and ‘reason’ in scare quotes.

    Still waiting for an answer to either or both: What or who is actually engaged in this inquiry? And/ or, How can you explain an inquiry in terms of causes?

    dover_beach

    July 10, 2008 at 7:14 pm

  86. dover
    Science is interested in ultimate causes. You and John are talking past each other. Ultimately what John is saying is that the concept of free will has no epistemological significance for scientific inquiry. It has about as much epistemological value as the idea of God. I agree.

    What you are talking about is something different. There can be different levels of explanation. A social scientific explanation may for instance explain the rise of Nazism in terms of prevailing attitudes of anti semitism, feelings of betrayal after WW1 etc. Fair enough because that sort of humanistic discourse presupposes some sort of intentionality of the actors.

    But the point that John is making and this is one which I agree with is that science which pierces right down to the fundamental reality would not find any evidence of free will. Surely you don’t deny that humans are walking bundles of cells and bacteria at the same time as they are collections of beliefs in an apparently unified self. But science isn’t about what is apparent. Obviously explaining Nazism in terms of the walking bundles of cells and bacteria that comprised the German population is some sort of category mistake. Nonetheless that is what they are too and that is how science which pierces the apparent would reduce the human down to and John’s point is that when a similar investigation is conducted into the neural processes within each human there is no call for or evidence of a ghost in the machine which transcends the collection of physical cause and effect underlying their brains.

    Now you can go on and say that this ‘scientistic’ worldview is just privileged and sound like a postmodernist or you can accept that this is how it is. You can argue over whether the humanistic narrative is closer to the ‘truth’ than the reductionistic scientiifc narrative. I am perfectly able to hold both narratives in mind at the same time. I still think that the introspective humanistic narrative is more a form of poetry than the scientific one preferred by John.

    Jason Soon

    July 10, 2008 at 7:23 pm

  87. Jase what was that all about? Don’t we have a observation/belief overlap all the time in science? You lost me at…

    “…concept of free will has no epistemological significance for scientific inquiry”

    Just to put the final nail in the coffin you closed with..
    “the introspective humanistic narrative is more a form of poetry than the scientific one”

    What do you mean?

    Nanuestalker

    July 10, 2008 at 8:23 pm

  88. How many times do I have to say that free will is a postulate of human conduct, and not an explanation of human conduct?

    “Ultimately what John is saying is that the concept of free will has no epistemological significance for scientific inquiry.”

    I agree. The reason being you cannot explain contingent beliefs or actions on the basis of ultimate causes. That is why I’ve repeated argued that what John is engaged in it is not explaining human conduct.

    “A social scientific explanation may for instance explain the rise of Nazism in terms of prevailing attitudes of anti semitism, feelings of betrayal after WW1 etc.”

    No social scientific explanations are pseudo-scientific explanations that are a product of the scientism of the 19th century. History is not a social science, it is a type of intelligent inquiry all on its own.

    “But the point that John is making and this is one which I agree with is that science which pierces right down to the fundamental reality would not find any evidence of free will.”

    This is just rubbish. The only thing that scientific explanation can pierce is what is quantifiable, and nothing more. Of course I don’t deny that human beings are material and mortal but they’re not merely bundles of material. My point has been to say that explaining human conduct in terms of material causes is not to explain human conduct at all.

    Again, I’ve never suggested free will is a ghost in a machine. I really don’t know how many more times I have to say this.

    Each type of inquiry has its own idea of factuality, truth and reality. Think of those you apply in economics. I don’t think science is privileged or reductionist so long as it claims do not exceed its own domain.

    Jason, you might care to answer the following question: How can you explain an inquiry in terms of causes?

    dover_beach

    July 10, 2008 at 8:32 pm

  89. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 72, No. 5, 1095-1100, November 2000
    © 2000 American Society for Clinical Nutrition (http://www.ajcn.org/misc/terms.shtml)

    Original Research Communication
    HDL-cholesterol-raising effect of orange juice in subjects with hypercholesterolemia

    Background: Orange juice—a rich source of vitamin C, folate, and flavonoids such as hesperidin—induces hypocholesterolemic responses in animals.
    Objective: We determined whether orange juice beneficially altered blood lipids in subjects with moderate hypercholesterolemia.
    Design: The sample consisted of 16 healthy men and 9 healthy women with elevated plasma total and LDL-cholesterol and normal plasma triacylglycerol concentrations. Participants incorporated 1, 2, or 3 cups (250 mL each) of orange juice sequentially into their diets, each dose over a period of 4 wk. This was followed by a 5-wk washout period. Plasma lipid, folate, homocyst(e)ine, and vitamin C (a compliance marker) concentrations were measured at baseline, after each treatment, and after the washout period.
    Results: Consumption of 750 mL but not of 250 or 500 mL orange juice daily increased HDL-cholesterol concentrations by 21% (P < 0.001), triacylglycerol concentrations by 30% (from 1.56 ± 0.72 to 2.03 ± 0.91 mmol/L; P < 0.02), and folate concentrations by 18% (P < 0.01); decreased the LDL-HDL cholesterol ratio by 16% (P < 0.005); and did not affect homocyst(e)ine concentrations. Plasma vitamin C concentrations increased significantly during each dietary period (2.1, 3.1, and 3.8 times, respectively).
    Conclusions: Orange juice (750 mL/d) improved blood lipid profiles in hypercholesterolemic subjects, confirming recommendations to consume 5–10 servings of fruit and vegetables daily.

    Key Words: Orange juice • hypercholesterolemia • lipoproteins • HDL cholesterol • folate • flavonoids • vitamin C • homocyst(e)ine

    John Hasenkam

    July 10, 2008 at 8:45 pm

  90. Thanks John, now I’m really lost! 😉

    Nanuestalker

    July 10, 2008 at 8:49 pm

  91. John H –

    No Adrien, the scientist confines logic by relying on concepts that provide insight.

    So all the insight provided by literature, art, theology et al is scientific then? Or perhaps it’s not insight. And if not, why not? On what basis do you exclude it?

    Science relies on methods which test hypotheses empirically. Citing an hypothesis that proved wrong but had utility nevertheless does not refute what I’m saying. It does not even address it.

    For you ‘free will’ is a nonsense because it can’t be demonstrated false or true according to these sorts of tests. Nevertheless the idea is central to our notions of justice and responsibility. Just because we might no longer believe that free will is part of what Epictitus called the ‘sacred fire within’ does not mean we cannot choose. It’s this capacity that those who support the concept of ‘free will’ are relying on.

    Thus far you are unable or unwilling to explain even the simplest behaviour in terms of an absence of a Self capable of agency with a degree of autonomy that can be characterized as ‘free will’. I’m not certain which criteria scientists use to define free will when they look for it but my evidence is the everyday reality of being able to make decisions. Perhaps this is ‘folk psychology’. But if you want to demonstrate the irrellevence of this you’d do well to demonstrate the determining factors sans ego that ’cause’ me to choose a long machiatto over a cappuccino.

    Adrienswords

    July 10, 2008 at 8:59 pm

  92. Sorry Nanu, I’m currently trying to figure out why my HDL is so high. 3.1 Brilliant! Pasted to wrong place.

    What Jason means Nanu is that since Galileo there has been a revolution in the way we approach our understanding of the world and that revolution has brought about massive increases in our understanding of the world and ourselves. In relation to this specific thread, which is now tiresome beyond belief, there has always been a deeply rooted antagonism towards any attempt to try and understand human behavior via the same methods. Even Freud was essentially a mentalist, he knew better but could not help himself. That is not so surprising, it takes a lot of hard work to overcome that internal resistance. Since the 1950’s, or perhaps the 30’s with Watson, there has been an ever increasing trend to apply scientific methods of inquiry into human behavior. This has revolutionised our understanding, at least for those who have bothered to investigate such matters. The program is still in its infancy. What DB says may be true, it may turn out we cannot sufficiently explain human behavior by this program. Where I differ with DB is my willingness to be patient and see where all this will lead. I won’t live long enough to know the answer to that so for all intents and purposes I am better off accepting it as a valid research program that will bear more fruit than all that has gone before it; it has already done the latter.

    John Hasenkam

    July 10, 2008 at 9:00 pm

  93. Adrien,

    You have not understood, I am not compelled to provide answers regarding human behavior. I am compelled to find better ways to provide answers to human behavior. You are satisfied with your answers, when it comes to human behavior, so much of it remains a mystery to me that I prefer to remain ignorant because I consider the intellectual challenge insurmountable by myself. Sorry for being so stupid.

    John Hasenkam

    July 10, 2008 at 9:26 pm

  94. Sorry for being so stupid.

    Apology accepted. 🙂

    I’m not ‘satisfied with my answers’ John. I’m not satisfied with yours. I also emphasize that ‘insight’ is not the sole province of Science (altho’ reliable information is). One can get insight from poetry. ‘Free will’, the ‘Self’ etc might be synthetic but they are useful.

    Adrienswords

    July 10, 2008 at 9:36 pm

  95. I did not say insight is the sole province of Science, I acknowledge that we have learned a great deal from other sources of information; even poetry can be informative. It is not a matter about the sole route to understanding, but the numbers of routes. The poet and the humanist have had their run for hundreds of years, give this current research programme a chance. As Andrew Schmookler notes in Parable of the Tribes: “Wisdom is not so much a matter of choosing a single perspective but of using a number of perspectives in a balanced way.” (Close to that, couldn’t be bothered checking my archives.)

    John Hasenkam

    July 10, 2008 at 9:40 pm

  96. Have you seen Orlando. There’s an 18th century bit where the poets are dumping on the scientist:

    I grant you, Sir, your general rule
    That ev’ry poet is a fool
    But you yourself may serve to show’t
    That every fool is not a poet.

    Always wanted to use that one on Graeme.

    As Andrew Schmookler notes in Parable of the Tribes: “Wisdom is not so much a matter of choosing a single perspective but of using a number of perspectives in a balanced way.”

    I pretty much thought that was what I was doing yesterday. But I guess I wasn’t. Time for me to apologize for my stupidity.

    Adrienswords

    July 10, 2008 at 9:46 pm

  97. “grant you, Sir, your general rule
    That ev’ry poet is a fool
    But you yourself may serve to show’t
    That every fool is not a poet.”

    Very good Adrien!

    Nanuestalker

    July 10, 2008 at 9:52 pm

  98. Ain’t mine Stalker.

    Adrienswords

    July 10, 2008 at 9:52 pm

  99. I see that one of my questions, “How can you explain an inquiry in terms of causes?”, remains unanswered. Let me slightly rephrase it so as to explain the category mistake I think John and Jason are committing.

    How can you explain an intelligent inquiry in terms of an unintelligent process?

    Intelligent as a qualifier of inquiry is in fact redundant (an inquiry cannot be other than intelligent) but I use it simply to spell the problem out.

    Now, if you can’t see why a scientific explanation of human conduct is not an explanation of human conduct at all then I don’t now what more I can say. Certainly, science may be able to describe human behaviour (unintelligent processes), but it cannot describe human conduct (intelligent action or utterance).

    I mean, you must at least see that any inquiry engaged in is not an unintelligent process. If it is not, how can you explain it in terms of unintelligent processes?

    dover_beach

    July 11, 2008 at 10:51 am

  100. Dover
    Why do you monotonously keep bringing up this trivial question?

    Go and re-read my comment where I talk about how if someone wants an explanation of the rise of Nazism in sociological terms, talking about Germans as bundles of cells is a category error. if someone speaks to you in French you try to answer back in French.

    THIS IS A TRIVIAL POINT

    But it in no way nullifies the fact that Germans and other humans are bundles of cells and bacteria.

    Why do you assume description of human conduct is the be all and end all of understanding?

    And how does not being able to describe human conduct in your poetic terms mean that the *explanation* of human conduct is wrong?

    Jason Soon

    July 11, 2008 at 10:57 am

  101. Dover
    There are hierarchies of reductionism. You’re not saying anything particularly profound here. They even occur in the non-human sciences.

    Zoologists may not be interested in what is going on at the chemical level of the animals they’re studying.

    Chemists may not be interested in the quantum mechanical processes of the transformations they’re studying but only at what’s going on at the molecular level.

    Each discipline is concerned with its own aggregates But at the end of the day that doesn’t mean that what they’re studying can’t be reduced to what is studied at the quantum mechanical level.

    Jason Soon

    July 11, 2008 at 11:03 am

  102. Free Willy!

    FDB

    July 11, 2008 at 12:33 pm

  103. This is not a trivial question, it cuts to the heart of the matter in hand. What is trivial is your continued reference to bundles of cells which has never been denied by anyone on this thread.

    “Why do you assume description of human conduct is the be all and end all of understanding?”

    I do not assume that description of human conduct is the be all and end of understanding, I have simply and repeatedly stated it is the only manner in which we can understand human conduct. There is plainly a difference.

    “And how does not being able to describe human conduct in your poetic terms mean that the *explanation* of human conduct is wrong?”

    I am not describing human conduct in poetic terms. Considering the reasons Fr Kolbe had for taking the place of a Jew alloted for extermination is not engaging in poetry and an explanation of his reasons that describes them as the epiphenomenon of an unintelligent processes is not an explanation at all, whether it purports to be psychological or sociological.

    “There are hierarchies of reductionism. You’re not saying anything particularly profound here. They even occur in the non-human sciences.
    Zoologists may not be interested in what is going on at the chemical level of the animals they’re studying. Each discipline is concerned with its own aggregates But at the end of the day that doesn’t mean that what they’re studying can’t be reduced to what is studied at the quantum mechanical level.”

    This illustrates your mistake clearly. There are clearly hierarchies of reductionism within the sciences because they are all fundamental concerned with unintelligent processes. But there is a fundamental difference between this and studies of human conduct because the latter are studies of intelligent actions and utterances. Can’t you see the problem with explaining intelligent actions and utterances by means of unintelligent processes. FFS, your essentially arguing that all inquires, even those that you yourself are undertaking, are at bottom unintelligent processes. That is just ridiculous and a category mistake of monumental proportions.

    dover_beach

    July 11, 2008 at 12:36 pm

  104. “FFS, your essentially arguing that all inquires, even those that you yourself are undertaking, are at bottom unintelligent processes”

    Sorry dover can’t help you there but that’s what the science tell us. Yes I am the result of an unintelligent but ordered process. There is no Intelligent Design whether in heaven or within us.

    To assert the truth of this is not to deny that when someone speaks to you in French/humanitese you try and speak back in the same language.

    Jason Soon

    July 11, 2008 at 12:51 pm

  105. “an explanation of his reasons that describes them as the epiphenomenon of an unintelligent processes is not an explanation at all”

    Again with the trivial point. Yes explaining history in terms of the biology of Fr Kolbe doesn’t make much sense. Similarly, answering a question about the price of gold by a lengthy discussion of the chemistry of gold atoms also doesn’t make much sense because the questioner is at that particular moment only interested in the epophenomenon of the formation of the price of gold.

    Where did I disagree? That doesn’t mean that the theory that Fr Kolbe and his personality is ultimately the result of an unintelligent process is wrong.

    Jason Soon

    July 11, 2008 at 12:55 pm

  106. “Sorry dover can’t help you there but that’s what the science tell us. Yes I am the result of an unintelligent but ordered process. There is no Intelligent Design whether in heaven or within us.”

    Your thoughts, Jason, your thoughts cannot be the result of an unintelligent though ordered process. That is the point.

    “Similarly, answering a question about the price of gold by a lengthy discussion of the chemistry of gold atoms also doesn’t make much sense because the questioner is at that particular moment only interested in the epophenomenon of the formation of the price of gold.”

    The fact that the questioner is uninterested at the particular moment in the chemical composition of gold is not what makes an answer that refers to its chemical composition nonsensical, it is that the chemical composition of gold has no bearing on the question s/he asked, which was an inquiry about its value. It is not merely irrelevant at that moment it is always irrelevant. That is why an answer in that vein is a category mistake.

    “Where did I disagree? That doesn’t mean that the theory that Fr Kolbe and his personality is ultimately the result of an unintelligent process is wrong.”

    Actually it does. I can’t believe you cannot recognise this.

    dover_beach

    July 11, 2008 at 2:00 pm

  107. “Your thoughts, Jason, your thoughts cannot be the result of an unintelligent though ordered process”

    What’s the evidence dover? Show us the evidence as our dearly departed Bird would say.

    Argument from incredulity is not an argument. You keep saying it’s self evidently wrong that our brains are not the result of an unintellignet process. as if thoughts are primary. This is an almost Platonic view of the world you are proposing. I have seen no evidence for the existence of these Platonic entities so far.

    Actually it’s not even a theory you’re proposing. You’re just ruling it out completely by assumption simply because you think not ruling it out means we can’t use the assumption to frame our thougts about humans when we think about them as epiphenomoneal macro-entities. But we can and we have.

    Jason Soon

    July 11, 2008 at 2:06 pm

  108. I do not need to show you ‘the evidence’ because the problem is not empirical but conceptual.

    You’re essentially saying that the answers you give to questions are unintelligent processes. How does an unintelligent process recognise a question? How does it understand the sort of inquiry required in order to give the appropriate answer? How does it recognise evidence pertinent to the question and inquiry? How does it acknowledge these and more in an answer?

    “You keep saying it’s self evidently wrong that our brains are not the result of an unintellignet process”

    Of course, our brains are the result of unintelligent processes. But since I’m saying nothing about the brain, this does not concern me; I’m talking about our thoughts. Again there is a difference.

    “Actually it’s not even a theory you’re proposing. You’re just ruling it out completely by assumption simply because you think not ruling it out means we can’t use the assumption to frame our thougts about humans when we think about them as epiphenomoneal macro-entities. But we can and we have.”

    I’m not ruling ‘it’ out, whatever ‘it’ is, by assumption. I’m suggesting that whatever ‘it’ is, it will not be an explanation of human conduct; it will be the explanaton of something other than human conduct. You see, if you frame your thoughts such that human beings as ‘ephiphenomonal macro-entities’ that is what you will get. Those explanations will not, as I’ve suggested, be explanations of human conduct. That is my point.

    dover_beach

    July 11, 2008 at 2:45 pm

  109. “Of course, our brains are the result of unintelligent processes. But since I’m saying nothing about the brain, this does not concern me; I’m talking about our thoughts. Again there is a difference.”

    Look, as you know I’m on your side on this question DB, but in the terms Jason is discussing it, that is pure question-begging. Jason would have it that thoughts are nothing more than the consequences of brains, which are in turn constituted via unintelligent processes.

    I disagree, but I’ve basically given up trying to explain why. I know I’m talking to intelligent people, but my explanations seem to leave them as unsatisfied as theirs leave me, so what’s the point?

    I’ll briefly return to the version of my position that nobody’s ever seemed to refute very well:

    Free will is the ability to make arbitrary decisions, albeit from alternatives over which we have no control (other than that which flows from our previous arbitrary decisions).

    The fact that these decisions are truly arbitrary is evidenced by our decisions often being wrong. This is not characteristic of natural, inevitable, “fully caused” events – these tend to follow patterns, or fluctuate randomly, not simply fuck up.

    We fuck up, therefore we are making arbitrary decisions. This is free will.

    FDB

    July 11, 2008 at 4:32 pm

  110. “But since I’m saying nothing about the brain, this does not concern me; I’m talking about our thoughts. Again there is a difference.”

    Huh? Thinking is the primary function of the brain in the same way that pumping blood around the blood is the primary function of the heart. Do you also think the heart makes free choices? What about the liver and kidneys?

    Every thought, emotion etc is merely cause and effect unless you have what Soony called an “unmoved mover”. You haven’t as yet raised a single plausible argument to support the argument that human thought, contrary to everything else in the known universe, is free from the chain of causation.

    Sorry DB but Soony has run circles around your rather limp and vacuous bleating.

    melaleuca

    July 11, 2008 at 4:34 pm

  111. FDB
    It’s far far easier to build a robot that makes mistakes than one that doesn’t. I don’t see what that has to do with free will.

    Jason Soon

    July 11, 2008 at 4:39 pm

  112. “Look, as you know I’m on your side on this question DB …”

    Well of course you disagree; the notion that we lack free will is profoundly unsettling to most people, including me. Most people will always settle for a beautiful lie when the truth is ugly.

    I actually found the notion that we lack free will very depressing and preferred not to think about it initially, but is an inescapable conclusion for a sober mind.

    melaleuca

    July 11, 2008 at 4:42 pm

  113. Jason – I’m sure you can see the folly in pointing to a counterexample that is designed by rational agents making arbitrary decisions, in order to refute my argument about those very same rational actors making arbitrary decisions.

    The mistakes you point to are those of the programmer.

    FDB

    July 11, 2008 at 4:54 pm

  114. Mel – the contributions of sober minds are grossly overvalued. 😉

    Your position is, as I’m sure you know, completely unfalsifyable. Any thought or act can simply be called “determined” and there can be no proper response but “well maybe it could be, I guess”. I could go on a killing spree to prove that I have free will, but unless I made it as far as you, John H and Jason, there’d still be someone standing there saying “you were always going to do that, you didn’t have a choice”.

    At least my argument could in theory be disproven by a more complete understanding of the mechanics of learning, cognition, motivation etc.

    FDB

    July 11, 2008 at 5:00 pm

  115. Mel, you are an idiot and your thoughts are obviously an example of an unintelligent process. Thinking is not the primary function of the brain, action is. Thought is something that you learn to do, it is an acheivement, it is what has been described as our second nature, or what is otherwise called culture; it does not come naturally as you so painfully instance. Thought is not free from the chain of causation (are we being poetic?); it is its own chain of causation). Why are you planting trees this year, cretin, do you have reasons for doing so or are you the helpless victim of unintelligent processes beyond your understanding? Fear not, I already know.

    FDB, our decisions are not arbitrary, if they were they would not have reasons that accompany them.

    dover_beach

    July 11, 2008 at 5:03 pm

  116. DB – I only refer to arbitrary decisions because they are the most reduced form of decision-making, where the anti-free-will argument that “outside factors are processed and turned into reasons which compel our thoughts” will not apply.

    FDB

    July 11, 2008 at 5:14 pm

  117. I am so confused by this discussion. I don’t know what freewill is anymore or whether or not I have it.

    Isn’t freewill simply the ability to make a decision with the knowledge that a decision is being made regardless of whether or not there is a physical, moral, compulsive or other influence on the decision?

    “do I turn left or right /do I have to turn left or right” as opposed to “oh shit I fell over”.

    Just asking… ?1?!

    Nanuestalker

    July 11, 2008 at 5:16 pm

  118. “Sorry DB but Soony has run circles around your rather limp and vacuous bleating.”

    Commiserations, Jason. You must feel like me that one time Homer agreed with me.

    dover_beach

    July 11, 2008 at 5:17 pm

  119. Last time Mel agreed with Jason he didn’t post for hours…very traumatic for the chap.

    Nanuestalker

    July 11, 2008 at 5:20 pm

  120. “the anti-free-will argument that “outside factors are processed and turned into reasons which compel our thoughts”

    But that is precisely the problem. Whatever this ‘process’ is, its more likely a proceduure, it is intelligent, it is not unintelligent. And reasons do not compel thoughts, they are thoughts.

    dover_beach

    July 11, 2008 at 5:58 pm

  121. Preaching to the choir DB.

    What I was trying to do is bypass those arguments to remove their force (think aikido) rather than swing roundhouse kicks at the tarbaby.

    FDB

    July 11, 2008 at 6:10 pm

  122. I’m not sure what you’re getting that DB.
    The point of my robot example was simply to make the obvious point that a robot that for instance has imperfect depth perception and overreaches a target is analogous to a human making a mistake. How do our mistakes give us more free will? They may simply reflect imperfect processing of perceptions required to attain whatever ends or objectives have formed in the mind.

    Jason Soon

    July 11, 2008 at 6:13 pm

  123. sorry, my last comment was addressed to FDB not DB

    Jason Soon

    July 11, 2008 at 6:15 pm

  124. FDB, I practice kendo. Here the emphasis is always on attack even in defence. You parry and cut all in the one movement. Or at least you try to do so in one movement.

    But, yes, aikido is very civilised and quite impressive to watch. The economy of movement is breathtaking.

    dover_beach

    July 11, 2008 at 6:19 pm

  125. Thought is not free from the chain of causation (are we being poetic?); it is its own chain of causation).

    DB,

    Look up Walter Freeman, “circular causality”, he has some interesting ideas along your line of thinking.

    John Hasenkam

    July 11, 2008 at 7:11 pm

  126. I should like some epiphenomoneal macro-entities for breakfast, appoached with some smoked salmon and cafe au lait on the side.

    I don’t think that Dover’s question re explaining enquiry in terms of causes is actually all that trivial and just because other animals are capable of investigation and reasoning doesn’t mean we aren’t does it?

    The vogue for applying various, still archaic, observations about the electro-chemical workings of our brains to metaphysical doctrine is prone to trip up. It doesn’t rule out our experiences of wandering about on the Earth as we will. Indeed animals generally have this capacity hence the name.

    We humans have certain natural capacities to make choices, to record our decisions, to consider what has happened as a consequence and to evaluate that decision. A cat that makes a leap for a poolside bird and ends in the drink learns the same lesson. We’re just much better at it.

    But if the concept that we can do these things is not under dispute, then what is exactly.

    When we enquire, especially to th extent that we do, we are probably ’caused’ by inspiration or necessity to make that inquiry. But those inquiries aren’t tied directly to instinct. There aren’t many dogs sittin’ about this minute discussing to what extent we are masters of our fate are there?

    Simone Weil says:

    The essential contradiction in human life is Man, having as his very being a striving toward the Good, at the same time is submitted in all his being, in his thought as well as his body, to a blind force, to a necessity that is absolutelty indifferent to the Good. This is the way things are; and this is why no human thinking can escape from the contradiction.

    Now this is a modern articulation of something the ancients knew well. Read Oedipus Rex. If the gods wanna fuck you good intentions only get you to Hell faster. Science can explain how, but what it means…..

    Dunno ’bout that. 🙂

    Adrienswords

    July 12, 2008 at 6:48 pm

  127. Oh, for breakfast I much prefer Descartes pancakes with crispy bacon & maple syrup, flavour dualism at its best.

    I spam therefore I am! 🙂

    Nanuestalker

    July 12, 2008 at 8:40 pm


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