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Unread July 18th, 2006, 08:56 PM
Margaret McGhee Margaret McGhee is offline
Join Date: Jan 2006
Posts: 271
Default Re: free will, determinism, and morality

I invite the reader to observe the high emotion expressed in Fred's post. IMO - whenever this happens it is almost given that someone's strongest identity beliefs have been challenged and probably insulted.

Fred's posts are often emotionally charged (as are mine sometimes) and provide good examples for my premise.

I think this also illustrates the strong need of those who are psychologically conservative to hold others "to account" for whatever bad things they percieve to happen in the world - as if dire and painful punishment is the only balm that could erase whatever damage has been done - that could make the world right again.

Fred refuses to acknowledge Tom's qualifying term "ultimately". To acknowledge that, Fred would have to allow some blame to be lost - and another chance to make the world right would be squandered.

What Tom is saying is that if a dog were raised under a brutal master, intimidated, beaten, taught to be vicious, and rewarded only when it attacked - and if that dog were to injure someone some day, then ultimately the dog could hardly be blamed in terms of right and wrong. Perhaps, for the good of others the dog may need to be euthanized but the concept of evil does not exist for the dog.

But, that's how Tom means "ultimately" in this context. Ultimately, the dog can not be held morally accountable for its actions. The concept of human free-will allows Fred to escape such analyses where people are concerned. He may even admit that dogs can't be evil - but he is absolutely certain that people can. Because, they have free-will.

Tom is just saying, and I would agree, that people may do bad things, but ultimately they can only do what their minds dictate. Every behavior decision is the result of some negotiations that occur between the neurons and chemicals in the brain - and those are there because of genetics and that person's experiences in life - just like that dog's are. There is no ghost in the machine that we can blame. We can call bad people evil and we can punish them, we can even execute them. Tom may even agree that some terrible killer should be executed for the practical good of society.

But, I'm sure that Tom (and I) would say that that was unfortunate. It was unfortunate that a person's mind devoloped in such a way that they did such terrible things - and that at some point, according to the rules set up by our society, they had to be executed. I imagine that Fred would likely say that it was good that the world was set right by such a dire consequence and the killer deserved it.

I think this illustrates an important break in the psychological development of human minds - the conservative / liberal break. My purpose is not to say that Fred is wrong and Tom is right. Instead, I'd just suggest that such a psychological bias exists in most of us. It causes us to develop our belief systems in certain predictable ways. Those belief systems then generate the reliably conservative or liberal emotions that determine how we see the world and the conclusions we come to about things. Those emotions are what ultimately guide our behavior. And we're all pretty good at using our brains to justify that behavior.

Added on edit: I think it's important to add that we often compartmentalize our belief system. We might see capital punishment as wrong, a fairly liberal position. At the same time we might see same sex marriage as immoral, a socially conservative belief. I suspect this happens when specific learning experiences are strong enough (such as strong emotional experience when we were young) to overcome a general bias we may have developed in one direction or the other.

My apologies to both Tom and Fred if I mischaracterized either of your views on these things.


Last edited by Margaret McGhee; July 19th, 2006 at 01:28 AM.
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