Does a belief in free-will scepticism entail negative social consequences?

Does the belief that we do not have free-will have negative social consequences? A quick argument against this intuition. In fact, disregarding our belief in free-will may be beneficial, according to Caruso. I still haven’t made up my mind regarding the issue at this point about if free-will scepticism is true, whether this truth should be embraced or hidden.

Update: I have now included a draft copy of the paper related to this presentation: http://philpapers.org/archive/CARFWS-2.pdf. This is also the presentation that Caruso delivered at Aberdeen University when I attended a few months ago.

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33 thoughts on “Does a belief in free-will scepticism entail negative social consequences?

  1. I’d really like to see that Journal of Psychological Sciences article Caruso mentions to get a better idea of what they are actually measuring.

    People who believe in free will also believe in cause and effect. We’ve had sociology courses in college so we know that “it takes a village to raise a child”. We’re familiar with the influence of gang subcultures. Some neighborhoods, often led by their local churches in cooperation with law enforcement, have taken back their streets from drug dealers. And my father once ran a Boys Club for the Salvation Army in a poor, black neighborhood.

    The idea that we must sacrifice the concept of free will in order to attend to social conditions is a bit irrational. You actually need both.

    The concept of free will and personal responsibility is essential to rehabilitation. If the person is to be once again free in society, they must be equipped to make better decisions about their behavior. And they must be provided real options: like GEDs, skills training, and jobs.

    The idea of free will and personal responsibility is to have persons capable of managing themselves. Without them, someone has to follow them around making their decisions for them.

    I appreciate the attempt to draw attention to the other causes, especially the community environment in which a child is raised.

    And I would appreciate if more attention could be spent making sure offenders have post-release follow-up to avoid recidivism. (My ex-wife’s sister worked with an organization called “Offender Aid and Restoration” (OAR).

    But attacking free will is really the wrong way to go. Ultimately, a person should learn to be a freely functioning individual making appropriate choices for his or her life.

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    1. Although I’m not sure I agree with your conclusion here, I don’t disagree either, I think its a good post since you’ve argued for your position with interesting examples. I think its only fair that I give credit to you when I am often critical.

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  2. I was on jury duty in the case of a woman caught on video shoplifting and posted this in another discussion this morning:

    When I use the term “free will” I’m talking about the individual’s own role in the decision making process. It is certainly a deterministic process, but that is not the most important fact about it. For example, the inevitability of the woman’s choice to steal several items at the store is not something that we can take steps to correct in the court case. We can’t fix her personal history or her thinking prior to her bad decision. All we can do in the penalty is to hope to have some effect upon her future choices.

    If she is to be allowed to go shopping by herself in the future without a police escort, then something new needs to happen to her to [deterministically] produce a change in her present and future thinking.

    To do that she must be “held responsible” for what she did. She needs to realize that the “blame” for what she did is her own decision to steal and the “blame” for what society must now do also falls on that decision.

    To stress the “inevitability” of her act over her “responsibility” for the act would water down her sense of responsibility for her FUTURE acts. After all, “deterministic inevitability” will always apply to everything she does for the rest of her life. So if we stress inevitability we will likely be counter productive.

    On the other hand, we don’t want to produce someone incapacitated by feelings of guilt either. If she needs counseling to explore why she made her bad choice and how to make better choices, then her prior influences should be explored while at the same time strengthening her sense of self-control over her future options.

    What she “deserves” due to her behavior is a “just” penalty, one that repairs the harm (returns the stolen goods), corrects the offender’s future behavior, protects other stores from her further thefts, and does no more than is reasonably needed to accomplish that.

    Part of a just penalty may be punitive, in the form of prison time, or minimally some form of public service (cleaning up litter would be a good penalty for littering). The punitive part conveys our disapproval of the behavior and that it will not be tolerated in the future. It is important to convey that bad behavior might have bad consequences.

    What I hear from some who advocate “free will skepticism” is the removal of moral concepts of “responsibility”, “just deserts”, and “punishment”. All of these concepts, including “free will”, have operational implications to how we deal with bad behavior.

    And the studies reported by Dr. Nahmias indicate that attacking the idea of “free will” lowers people’s sense of responsibility (or expectation of being held responsible) for their own bad actions, which increases the likelihood of more bad behavior in society.

    Free will, for pretty much everyone, regardless of their metaphysics, means one thing: being responsible for making your own choices (and being held responsible for bad ones).

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  3. I have partial disagreements with the last part obviously “Free will, for pretty much everyone, regardless of their metaphysics, means one thing: being responsible for making your own choices (and being held responsible for bad ones).”

    All pretty standard stuff except for: “To stress the “inevitability” of her act over her “responsibility” for the act would water down her sense of responsibility for her FUTURE acts. After all, “deterministic inevitability” will always apply to everything she does for the rest of her life. So if we stress inevitability we will likely be counter productive.” which leads onto “What I hear from some who advocate “free will skepticism” is the removal of moral concepts of “responsibility”, “just deserts”, and “punishment”. All of these concepts, including “free will”, have operational implications to how we deal with bad behavior.” is an interesting point.

    Although the free-will skeptic has nothing to fear here: in the quarantine scenario (discussed in the comments section of Nietzsche) where rehabilitating a person after, say, shoplifting takes place would include the subject improving the moral formation of her character until she was ready to be released into society.

    The free-will skeptic would rather do away with compatibilist free-will for the reasons mentioned in the above TED talk.

    By the way I will post a link to the Gregg Caruso paper in a few days, so you and others can take a look

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  4. Looking forward to it. Caruso seemed a bit skimpy on details of the alternative. One issue is that an offender in prison is treated differently than a “quarantined” patient. The prisoner can refuse to participate in rehabilitation, the patient cannot. There was a movie ages ago called “A Clockwork Orange” where the sociopath was treated with brainwashing techniques to “reprogram” him. It lasted for awhile, but then he went on another killing spree.

    But the ineffectiveness is not the issue. The issue is whether treating an offender as a “patient” involves forcing rehabilitation against his will. (Especially in a context where “free will” is no longer part of the vocabulary).

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      1. Thanks for the link to the Gregg Caruso pdf. I appreciate the number of times Gregg employed the term “pragmatic”, because I consider myself a pragmatist. Pragmatism is concerned with the usefulness of concepts and the consequences of belief. Often abstract philosophical issues disappear when put the question “what practical difference would it make if this were true”.

        Caruso starts by suggesting we can make positive social changes by abandoning the concepts of moral responsibility and free will. But by the end he has made it clear that what he really wants to abandon is religion and the political right-wing. He uses several studies to associate people who believe in free will with those who believe we need take no interest in the poor or the social causes behind criminal behavior.

        But he is very unpragmatic in going after these social improvements by invoking the abstract philosophical debate over the abstract concept of free-will and the abstract concept of deterministic inevitability. The problem only exists in the abstract, not in the real world.

        In the real world no one actually abandons cause and effect for the sake of free will. In the real world no one abandons free will for the sake of determinism. In the real world both concepts are pragmatically put to use on a daily basis. Every person’s choice is both deterministically inevitable and freely made by that person alone — unless it is forced upon them by someone else or by external factors actually beyond their own control.

        An offender’s first crime is always a new and deliberate choice. And, regardless of all the social factors impinging upon and influencing that decision, a portion of responsibility must be owned by the person who made the choice. And any system of criminal justice must address that responsibility in a way that deterministically impacts the offender’s future decisions.

        Society also acts of its own free will when deciding to tolerate a breeding ground for a criminal subculture or to provide a wholesome environment of after school activities and recreation for families and children. And society must be held morally responsible for its part in the creation or prevention of criminal acts.

        Free will and moral responsibility are invoked by those advocating social change by placing more responsibility upon society and those avoiding social change by placing more blame on the individual.

        The problem is not in the concepts of free will and moral responsibility. Without them you have fatalism and nothing at all within anyone’s control to change.

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      2. Marvin “Caruso starts by suggesting we can make positive social changes by abandoning the concepts of moral responsibility and free will. But by the end he has made it clear that what he really wants to abandon is religion and the political right-wing. He uses several studies to associate people who believe in free will with those who believe we need take no interest in the poor or the social causes behind criminal behavior.

        But he is very unpragmatic in going after these social improvements by invoking the abstract philosophical debate over the abstract concept of free-will and the abstract concept of deterministic inevitability. The problem only exists in the abstract, not in the real world. ”

        Afieldy – His point rightly or wrongly, and I have suspicions with his paper which I expressed to him in person, is that if we dismiss the notion of free-will in the libertarian and compatibilist sense, then we can look at the environmental, genetic and social conditions that affects individuals behaviour. That appears extremely pragmatic to me. The pragmatic debate isn’t at issue in the free-will debate anymore since most, if not all, of the positions have real life implications and consequences. You may have read it with William James, but it doesn’t really apply.

        Marvin – “In the real world no one actually abandons cause and effect for the sake of free will. In the real world no one abandons free will for the sake of determinism. In the real world both concepts are pragmatically put to use on a daily basis. Every person’s choice is both deterministically inevitable and freely made by that person alone — unless it is forced upon them by someone else or by external factors actually beyond their own control.”

        Afieldy – Your point here is not really relevant to the issue, since this blog post is about the social consequences of denying free-will in general and in relation to Caruso’s views. However, apart from your persistent begging the question with argumentation approach, it is quite a puzzling line that “no one actually abandons cause and effect for the sake of free will”, even stepping aside questions of moral responsibility, we do not experience the determinants of our “free-will” choices. We do not go around thinking “I have to put on this coat” because of cause and effect. I may have a reason to, i.e. because it is raining, or a reason not to, i.e. I like the feeling of rain touching my skin, but those choices are initially felt as libertarian free-will decisions.

        Marvin – ” (a) Free will and moral responsibility are invoked by those advocating social change by placing more responsibility upon society and those avoiding social change by placing more blame on the individual. … (b) The problem is not in the concepts of free will and moral responsibility. Without them you have fatalism and nothing at all within anyone’s control to change.”

        Afieldy – [I’ve inserted (a) and (b) into your text]. Regarding (a) isn’t it the other way around? Like everyone else, Hard Determinsts want to reduce crime, but unlike everyone else, they think more research should be focused, in a deterministic universe, on the underlying criminal systemic (environmental and genetic) causes. Regarding (b) fatalism and hard determinism, heck any determinism, are not-coextensive.

        Marvin, I know your not going to agree with this (and that’s fine), but don’t you find it odd, that if you’ve been determined to be a murderer, and you could do nothing but be a murderer given determinism (and we both accept that metaphysics) that your to blame to be a murderer? That all those non-coerced reasons, deliberations, thought-patterns, deep reflective ideas etc, have inevitably led to that outcome. That given determinism, and a super-super-super-super computer I could say (and assume its true) that Mr X – who is not yet born – will murder at 9pm on the 15 January 2098, and he is to be truly morally responsible for that action, even though he is not the ultimate source of his actions and could not do otherwise.

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      3. AF: “We do not go around thinking “I have to put on this coat” because of cause and effect. I may have a reason to, i.e. because it is raining, or a reason not to, i.e. I like the feeling of rain touching my skin, but those choices are initially felt as libertarian free-will decisions.”

        Oh? And how does a libertarian free-will decision feel? Do they begin their decision by saying, “Should I put this coat on or not? Wait, let me step outside of the chain of causation so I can decide for myself. Okay, now that I’ve decided, I can step back inside the chain”? Is that how it goes? (Or perhaps they make all their decisions inside a particle accelerator to take advantage of quantum indeterminacy?)

        No. They don’t. They do precisely what you and I do. They take into account the factors most relevant to their decision (temperature, rain, etc) and either decide to put the coat on or leave it off. Their choice may be rational or irrational by someone else’s standards, but it is a choice we all freely make for ourselves (free will). Except when we’re a child and our parent forces us to wear the coat against our will (unfree will).

        Free will represents the exact same class of phenomena for pretty much everyone,

        The so-called “libertarian free will”, which you and I agree cannot possibly exist, is just an abstract idea. And those who cling abstractly to it do in fact make their decisions just like the rest of us. Otherwise how could they make decisions at all? They have not demonstrated any capacity to step out of causation, or out of their own nature, or out of the real world.

        Pragmatically, it must serve some useful purpose or else the theologians would not cling so to it. And I believe that practical purpose is to provide themselves a mental escape from fatalism.

        But other than for that singular comfort, it makes no practical difference whether they believe in it or not. It certainly does not change how they make their own choices.

        There is but a single real phenomena that everyone associates with free will, and that is the act of choosing for oneself (free will) without being forced to choose something else against one’s own will (unfree will). It is not necessary to be free from everything in order to be free from a single and very significant thing. If freedom meant freedom from everything then nothing would ever be free.

        AF: “Like everyone else, Hard Determinsts want to reduce crime, but unlike everyone else, they think more research should be focused, in a deterministic universe, on the underlying criminal systemic (environmental and genetic) causes.”

        And I agree that everyone else wants to reduce crime and every intelligent person (someone who has taken a college Sociology course) wants to address the psychological, sociological, genetic, and environmental causes of crime, especially to prevent it in the first place. Anyone who feels they have sufficient reliable information to support changing their position can do so. But the majority of us must first have the facts to be confident to make changes.

        And it is totally unnecessary to sacrifice the idea of free will, responsibility, or even religion in order to accomplish this.

        AF: “Regarding (b) fatalism and hard determinism, heck any determinism, are not-coextensive.”

        I’m about to say something you will call argumentative. Any determinism without free will is fatalism. Feel free to demonstrate how that statement could be false. (Or not. Choose your battles. I do.)

        AF: “don’t you find it odd, that if you’ve been determined to be a murderer, and you could do nothing but be a murderer given determinism (and we both accept that metaphysics) that your to blame to be a murderer? ”

        No. I don’t find that odd at all. Operationally, blaming you for the murder means you are the relevant causative agent that needs to be dealt with. If we do not address the causes of murder we will not reduce the occurrence of murder. Now, if possible, we should also address all of the other causes that may have influenced your decision to pull the trigger. But that happens outside the court. Inside the courtroom we have one of the relevant causes in hand. So we address that cause with a penalty intended to achieve justice (repair, correct, protect, but no more than that).

        Blame is the first step toward correction and (when feasible) rehabilitation.

        Deterministically speaking, one of the causes of the murder was a biological organism whose neurological system made a decision at some point that it was okay to get one’s way by killing someone. To avoid repeated murders, we blame, penalize, and attempt to rehabilitate the organism, while acting consistent with the optimal outcome, which is a biological organism that makes a different decision next time, on his own, of his own free will.

        AF: “even though he is not the ultimate source of his actions and could not do otherwise.”

        He is (a) the final responsible cause of his actions and (b) within our reach. Whereas the “big bang”, which determinism suggests is the “ultimate source” of his actions, is not within our reach.

        You see, the concept of deterministic, universal inevitability is an interesting fact, but it is spectacularly useless to us. There are no helpful implications that can be drawn from it. It is a truth which is best simply acknowledged and then ignored.

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    1. I understand the worry of “rehabilitation” against somebody’s will, but when you really think about it, it comes down to the same worry that all policies face unrelated to free-will. Before I explain this comment, lets consider these following examples, all of which are plausible and, presumably, have happened before: (1) A individual goes to prison due to assault, refuses rehabilitation because he does not want to change, does his prison time, and on release assaults more individuals – he is not mentally ill or a psychopath. (2) A known psychopath goes to prison, refuses to co-operate with rehabilitation, and is thus held indefinitely (in UK law most psychopaths will not be released unless they co-operate with rehabilitation), but at least he will not commit any more crimes.

      Now, of course, when (1) is released compared to (2) – even though (2) is not released, but lets suppose if he was – then we suspect he would be less likely to re-offend. So, the fact that we do not rehabilitate somebody against his will, may lead to unnecessary re-offending and unnecessary suffering to some innocent individuals.

      Now that was a purposefully an extreme case, and under rehabilitation, it would not be the case that we would rehabilitate somebody against their will in all cases. Psychopaths, possibly, but psychopaths are not released unless they rehabilitate anyways (in the UK.) The idea of rehabilitation is to facilitate a changing of personality in as least suffering as possible rather than throwing somebody in jail for an act which they committed which under incompatibilism would not be morally responsible for. It would never be rehabilitate against your will, it would always be a choice. With the seriously violent and deranged, it would be the same choice that psychopaths have today, rehabilitate or you will stay quarantined, but at least it wont be in jail. Of course to the psychopath he may internally relate it to himself as “rehabilitate against my will to return to society”, but I’m pretty sure nobody has an issue with that.

      Successful rehabilitation, though, is dependent on unrelated free-will issues per se. In a deterministic universe, the more advanced our neuroscience, brain chemistry knowledge, what we know about conscious, genetics, etc. will help facilitate rehabilitation programs. The type of rehabilitation, amount of rehabilitation, when we release individuals beck into society will depend on issues of policy. But the fears that you describe are the same fears that infect all policy-governed system, although you have made it relevant and pertinent to the issue at hand. If you analogise rehabilitation to restrictions on free-speech, you get: is our laws too strict when we allow hateful, racist, violent speech to foster or arrest individuals for it? — The same would go for compatibilist consequential considerations: are we being to strict in our deterrence policies for when etc. etc.

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      1. Yes, science must continue to provide feedback on recidivism and help us to learn more about what works and what doesn’t work in criminal rehabilitation. And there is a balance between liberty and security that must be optimized to get the best of both. But there is a difference in how we perceive that balance if we view the offender as a person or merely as a robot.

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      2. I do not compute …. In all seriousness though, regarding being quarantined, I would argue that hard determinists/ hard incompatibilists are fully respecting personhood, even more so than compatibilism. We understand, when you look closely enough at the genetic and environmental factors, allied with determinism, that things had to turn out the way they did, – despite not being coerced, despite being reasons-responsive, despite having full deliberation and the phenomenology of having alternative (but rather illusory) choices – and thus are not morally responsible for their actions. So, due to this, we do not believe they deserve undue suffering in supermax prisons, capital punishment and the like. In actuality, if you accept this version of Hard Determinism/Incompatibilism then you are more than respecting personhood.

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      3. If they are not morally responsible for their own actions then they don’t deserve anything, neither reward nor penalty, nor, for that matter, any intervention of any sort. You subtract free will, then you subtract responsibility, then you subtract deserved treatment. What is it that you think you have left to work with?

        Can you justify any intervention without first holding the offender responsible for the act he chose to commit?

        If he does not “deserve” supermax, because under your determinism no one ever “truly deserves” anything, then how does he “deserve” quarantine?

        “In actuality, if you accept this version of Hard Determinism/Incompatibilism then you are more than respecting personhood.”

        Everything already works under the current model. We can hold society responsible for its own failures to act justly and we can morally condemn the penalties that are not deserved, that are in excess of what is required to protect society. Holding ourselves responsible, feeling guilt and regret for bad behavior that results in the suffering of others, and inspiring ourselves to choose better options is how we have discarded slavery, enabled women to participate as equals, and expanded marriage rights to gays.

        Please demonstrate how things work differently under your model.

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  5. Marvin – “If they are not morally responsible for their own actions then they don’t deserve anything, neither reward nor penalty, nor, for that matter, any intervention of any sort. You subtract free will, then you subtract responsibility, then you subtract deserved treatment. What is it that you think you have left to work with?

    Can you justify any intervention without first holding the offender responsible for the act he chose to commit?

    If he does not “deserve” supermax, because under your determinism no one ever “truly deserves” anything, then how does he “deserve” quarantine? ”

    Afieldy – Its clearly a different assertion to say that somebody is not truly morally responsible for their actions in that they deserve praise and blame for them, and to talk about deserving intervention. Quarantine is not about deserving something, quarantine is realising that a certain individual has a disease and needs to be rehabilitated, according to the dictates and the balance of the policy. We do not classify an individual with Ebola, in typical non-contrived circumstances, as deserving it or not, but we still don’t want them running around in the streets

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    1. AF: “Can you justify any intervention without first holding the offender responsible for the act he chose to commit? ”

      Yes. I can stop someone from accidentally stepping in front of a bus. The presumption is that it is consistent with that person’s desires to be saved from being killed. That’s my justification.

      But any action we take against the criminal offender must also be justified. Am I to arrest and jail him against his will without justification? If you say I cannot hold him responsible and that there is nothing I can do to him that he deserves, then how to I justify the arrest and jail?

      AF: “We do not classify an individual with Ebola, in typical non-contrived circumstances, as deserving it or not, but we still don’t want them running around in the streets.”

      But suppose he chooses to run around the streets? After all, he’ll be symptom free for several days and could enjoy a trip to Disneyland (where we had a measles outbreak). Do you wish to say he does not “deserve” to be quarantined against his will?

      AF: “according to the dictates and the balance of the policy”

      The policy for the patient who is compliant with the quarantine will be different from the policy for the patient who is noncompliant. Since the noncompliant patient has no moral responsibility and deserves no punishment under your model, how do you justify your intervention?

      This is the kind of detail that I had hoped Caruso would have provided in his pdf article. Did I miss something in the pdf?

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  6. I think Caruso makes very valid and interesting points. I would love to see society move away from the blame/praise game. BUT since none of us have free-will, none of us has any real say-so in making this happen. Ultimately, if it is meant to happen, it will happen. We are all just along for the ride. Hope all our rides are enjoyable!

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    1. Roger, it would be very interesting for us to move away from the praise/ blame game! Can you ever see it happening? I have my doubts, the need to punish agents for supposedly free actions is unbelievably strong!

      Roger – “BUT since none of us have free-will, none of us has any real say-so in making this happen. Ultimately, if it is meant to happen, it will happen. We are all just along for the ride. Hope all our rides are enjoyable!”

      – I don’t think that any (roughly) free-will skeptic position has to entail a type of fatalism, in which we shouldn’t deliberate about this issues or try to push these policies through because we have no “real-say so should in making this happen” should hard determinism be true. Hard determinism/ free-will scepticism is entirely consistent with deliberation. Ultimately, however, our deliberations are themselves determined, and the end result – whether retributive punishment (the praise/blame game) is diminished – is determined itself, so I do agree with the other statement “Ultimately, if it is meant to happen it will happen.” However this doesn’t preclude us being active in the fight, so to speak

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      1. Andrew: “Roger, it would be very interesting for us to move away from the praise/ blame game!”

        But that’s how we raise our children. We smile, speak rewarding words, and allow new freedoms when a child chooses appropriate behavior. We frown, speak seriously, and explain why what they did was wrong and what they “might have done instead” when the child chooses inappropriate behavior.

        Praise and blame are effective, deterministic tools of child rearing. What’s your replacement tool?

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    2. Roger: “BUT since none of us have free-will, none of us has any real say-so in making this happen. Ultimately, if it is meant to happen, it will happen.”

      That is called “fatalism”. It is a moral corruption, because it allows evil to flourish unchallenged. Slavery, for example, would never have been abolished if everyone held that attitude.

      If someone throws you into a swimming pool (and life is often like that), and you choose to wait and see what will inevitably happen, you’ll drown. It turns out that inevitability is sitting back waiting on you.

      Roger: “I think Caruso makes very valid and interesting points.”

      He does. But he dilutes his effect by embracing “free will skepticism”. Oddly, and incoherently, he seems to believe in autonomy, which is a synonym for free will.

      The value in Caruso is drawing attention to the social factors, like unemployment, school dropouts, gangs, etc. in the community that influence a person to choose to commit a crime. All of these things must be addressed if we are to have any serious impact upon the probability of criminal activity in a community.

      However, it is also important to keep in mind that the person who committed the crime also requires correction.

      If we wish to reduce unnecessary harm then we need to address ALL of the relevant causes, including social as well as individual factors.

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      1. – Hard Determinism is not fatalism: determinism allows deliberation, if it didn’t then compatibilist theories would be fatalistic as well.

        – Hard Determinism believes in autonomy, since it believes in deliberation. This is philosophy, not the art of checking up dictionary definitions to make a point – there is nothing incoherent about free-will scepticism.

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      2. Autonomy, the ability to choose for yourself what you will do, is functionally the same as free will. I’m not speaking of abstract definitions, but of how things actually work. If you have autonomy then you have free will. If you think there is some real practical difference, or some scenario where you have one without the other, then please educate me.

        The very same things that hard determinists say about free will can be said of autonomy.

        Andrew: “determinism allows deliberation”

        Yes. And the ability to deliberately choose for yourself is also called “free will”. In fact, “a person deliberately choosing for himself” would be an empirical example of free will.

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  7. Marvin, the free-will debate, typically characterised, is about free-will in relation to whether an agent has moral responsibility in a basic desert notion of the sense. So, cashing out a theory in terms of autonomy doesn’t mean an individual necessarily has free-will. If it were purely about whether an agent had the powers of autonomy and deliberation then we could all go home, since this has been known from day one. Even though its not obvious that autonomy and deliberation themselves equate to free-will anyways. If you’re happy that this basic known truth (that we have autonomy) satisfies the definition of free-will, without discussions of moral responsibility, then fine the free-will debate is sorted for you. But the reality is, the free-will debate is much more than whether we can deliberate and have autonomy; nobody would doubt that (even though autonomy does not necessarily equate to freewill). Hence why its so frustrating when somebody thinks, like yourself, that hard determinism equates to fatalism – nothing could be further from the truth, and its also an obvious mistake that non-philosophers make. Hard determinism is an incompatibilist theory because, wait for it, it believes determinism is incompatible with moral responsibility – it’s in the very term itself. Should I explain compatibilism for you?

    I also don’t know why you keep up this rhetorical bravado about “how things actually work”, it doesn’t add anything and it gives the impression you’re trying to “bully” your point home. I could start similar meaningless rhetorical bravado, such as, you actually have to read the philosophical papers to understand what’s going on and not rely on a single paper read in the 1800’s. Or I could just state that your arguments most of the time make no sense and in the philosophical tradition we would ignore them. I do know in the real world of neuroscientific and philosophical study that my fellow researchers, students, and colleagues already assume that the type of arguments that you dogmatically standby are useless and already discarded.

    This is a philosophical and neuroscientific issue mostly, which is currently being explored. If we really knew how it worked, then there wouldn’t be so much disagreement about whether the concept of free-will actually applied to human beings or not. It just tells me that you clearly don’t understand the philosophical issues that are being discussed.

    All you keep referencing is the supposed phenomenology of free-will without taking into account the deterministic issues, which is why you never understand the criticisms of your position. This definition you state here “Yes. And the ability to deliberately choose for yourself is also called “free will.” Because a layman calls it free-will it doesn’t mean that it is. Laymen also believe in “libertarian free-will.” In fact, “a person deliberately choosing for himself” would be an empirical example of free will.” is blatantly not true; its not an empirical example of the concept free-will whatsoever.

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    1. Andrew,

      An autonomous person is morally responsible for his actions. If a person is not autonomous, but rather acting under the control of someone else (such as in a parent and child relationship), then the person in actual control is held morally responsible for their actions.

      An autonomous person who chooses to commit a crime deserves a just penalty. If we are going to say he should get his “just deserts”, then we must assure that the penalty serves justice, and no other purpose. To serve justice, the penalty may require (a) repairing the harm to the victim (if feasible), (b) correction of the offender’s future choices such that when released he will autonomously choose to follow the law, (c) protect society in the meantime, but restraining him in a prison if necessary until his behavior is corrected, and (d) doing no more than is reasonably necessary to accomplish (a), (b), and (c).

      To “hold morally responsible” means to identify the autonomous individual as the final responsible cause of the moral benefit (praise) or moral harm (blame).

      This does not mean that he is the only cause. When investigating any accident it is important to identify ALL of the relevant contributing causes. Ideally, by correcting all of the relevant causes, you can better reduce the likelihood that the accident will occur again.

      For example, I was just reading in Discover magazine about an accident in a university chemistry lab. The lab tech was transferring a chemical that bursts into flame when exposed to air. Instructions clearly stated you must use a glass syringe, but the tech used a plastic one, that immediately melted as it filled with the chemical. In addition, technician should wear a lab coat, and all natural fiber clothing underneath. But she had no lab coat and synthetic clothing material that burst into flame as soon as the chemical spilled onto it. She died weeks later from the burns.

      The proper garments would have prevented physical harm. Using the correct syringe would have prevented the harm. Proper training and enforcement of procedures would have assured the correct clothing and syringe. Many separate things required correction to restore safe working conditions in the lab.

      And the same is true for criminal behavior. The court can only deal with the criminal. The rest of societies conditions that influenced the offender’s choice to commit the crime must also be addressed.

      Ironically for you, it is a sense of moral responsibility that brings individuals to work toward social improvements that help reduce the number of persons inclined to commit a crime. And they bring the rest of us along by invoking our sense of moral responsibility for our inaction in addressing these social issues. And it is our deliberate choices to respond to that sense of responsibility that brings moral progress.

      If Gregg Caruso or anyone else wants to sincerely pursue social improvement, they need to INCREASE everyone’s sense of moral responsibility, not reduce it by attacking free will and autonomy.

      Both the many and the one is at fault in the choice to commit a crime. The many for allowing social problems to fester into a breeding ground for crime. The one for choosing to go along rather than doing what is right.

      Andrew: “Should I explain compatibilism for you?”

      I’m pretty sure that I own that, and that I have a better grasp of it than most philosophy professors out there. But I’d be happy to explain it to you (I’ve sent e-mails to Gregg Caruso explaining it to him, but at this point he has a vested interest in retaining his current position — See my blog: “Note to Gregg Caruso”).

      Andrew: “I also don’t know why you keep up this rhetorical bravado about “how things actually work”, … ”

      Pragmatism solves philosophical issues by first asking “What difference does it make if this is true?”. And if it makes no real difference, then the issue is irrelevant.

      I am interested in social change, and in improving justice. The person who believes in “libertarian free will” makes his decisions in precisely the same way as the “hard determinist”. And it doesn’t matter much what the variations on those two themes were back in the 1800’s. The issue between them is irrelevant to moral progress.

      Well it should be irrelevant, except that now the “hard determinists” are seeking to overthrow the concept of moral responsibility, and that has a very negative effect upon society’s moral progress.

      If everyone takes Roger’s “hard determinist” approach of sitting back to see what happens, then it is unlikely that any reforms will come about.

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      1. Marvin – “An autonomous person … morally responsible”

        – I see you’ve brought back moral responsibility back into the debate now, I’ll take that as a tacit admission as a concession. Nothing you wrote there would convince an incompatibilist, since all you’ve done is state your conclusion as a compatibilist. If you want to persuade an incompatibilist, then you have to take on incompatibilist arguments.

        Marvin – “own compatibilism … grasp of it better than University professors.”

        – You have no idea what you’re talking about it, and you’re clearly deluded about your abilities: especially when you make simple basic philosophical mistakes and do not understand what you have done wrong.
        This is why we have the peer-review system (which is not perfect) because, at the end of the day, people will believe whatever they want to believe and think they are completely right with their arguments and ideas, despite not being so. Whilst its not the case that this blog itself will be peer-reviewed, so we will not know who is right in these debates, you will believe what you want to believe. Personally I think you should prove your compatibilism prowess and write a few articles for some journals, spearhead the fight for compatibilism, and show your credentials. However, since you have illusions of grandeur, I’m not going to waste my time arguing with you anymore.

        It’s also interesting that you, one of the leading authorities in the world of compatibilism, have not responded to my incompatibilist objections to the compatibilist responses in arguments that do not state your very limited and outdated compatibilist view.

        Like

      2. It’s actually a very simple insight. Everything that we’re doing now is causing what becomes inevitable (within our own “sphere of influence” of course). Inevitability is not actually doing anything.

        Deterministic inevitability changes absolutely nothing in the real world. That’s why the concept of universal inevitability has no useful implications. Determinism’s usefulness is limited to the specific causes of specific effects that are relevant to our human lives.

        The only thing I can do to persuade an incompatibilist is to point at objective reality and say, “Hey, look at that!” The only thing I can do convince a philosopher is to suggest he explain the practical implications of his beliefs, to return to the real world and step out of the entanglements of his own “logic”.

        And when people, for the sake of argument or interminable debate, start assigning their own meanings to words, I can point out their ordinary use.

        I don’t need to write journal articles to make my case. My case is already made.

        Like

    2. Andrew: “In fact, “a person deliberately choosing for himself” would be an empirical example of free will.” is blatantly not true; its not an empirical example of the concept free-will whatsoever.”

      Then please provide an empirical example of your definition of free will. If there are no empirical examples, then your definition is irrelevant.

      Like

      1. – This is what I mean when I say that you have no idea what you are talking about.

        I am a free-will sceptic, I do not believe that humans have true, genuine, free-will. So, of course I cannot show you an empirical example. How can I show you an empirical example of a negative existential? – you cannot show an empirical example that something does not exist! My definition would only be irrelevant, if you assume that free-will must be true, because free-will is true, but then you have committed the logical fallacy of begging the question. Hence, the need for argument, and theory that informs the argument.

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      2. Andrew: “I do not believe that humans have true, genuine, free-will. So, of course I cannot show you an empirical example. How can I show you an empirical example of a negative existential? – you cannot show an empirical example that something does not exist!”

        And yet I can show you repeated empirical examples of free will in operation in the real world. The question I have for you is why you would cling to a definition of free will which you know does not and cannot rationally exist while rejecting a definition that is both meaningful and useful by us ordinary people. What is the point of that?

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  8. Andrew: ”Roger, it would be very interesting for us to move away from the praise/ blame game! Can you ever see it happening? I have my doubts, the need to punish agents for supposedly free actions is unbelievably strong!”
    Yes, agreed. It appears that most in society believe we ‘choose’ our bad actions, and so therefore ‘should’ be punished accordingly (instead of adopting a “quarantine” approach). So I am pessimistic that change (in my life time) will ever occur.

    Andrew: “I don’t think that any (roughly) free-will skeptic position has to entail a type of fatalism, in which we shouldn’t deliberate about this issues or try to push these policies through because we have no “real-say so should in making this happen” should hard determinism be true. Hard determinism/ free-will skepticism is entirely consistent with deliberation.”
    This stance you take here, seems to exclude ourselves from the stance we view. As if we are somehow, momentarily, immune from the forces of reality. So yes, I think a fatalistic view is the correct view. Discounting this view based on its ugliness does not seem relevant nor valid.

    Whether we deliberate or not deliberate is determined by our passions/desires. And of course we do not choose our passions/desires, so we do not really control to deliberate or not.

    Andrew: “…so I do agree with the other statement “Ultimately, if it is meant to happen it will happen.” However this doesn’t preclude us being active in the fight, so to speak.”
    …yes, so long as we have the fight within us!

    Like

  9. Marvin says: “If someone throws you into a swimming pool (and life is often like that), and you choose to wait and see what will inevitably happen, you’ll drown. It turns out that inevitability is sitting back waiting on you.”

    Why would I choose to “wait and see”? Wouldn’t I just ‘auto-react’ to get the heck out of there! We are all driven by our desires. We do not choose our desires, we experience our desires. I imagine my desire ‘not to drown’ would compel me to get the heck out of the pool. I don’t think I would wait around to decide or deliberate 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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