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  #1  
Unread July 9th, 2006, 09:20 AM
alexandra_k alexandra_k is offline
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Default free will, determinism, and morality

the question of WHETHER we have free will isn't anywhere near as interesting as the question of WHAT free will consists in. are there such things as hunvudlgs? how can you even begin to answer that question until you have some notion of what the hell a hunvudlg is supposed to be? likewise with free will...

some people think that a good theory of free will will be a theory that allows that even if determinism is true we can still have free will. why do some people think that is a good constraint on a theory of free will? because determinism might well turn out to be true that is why. even if determinism is true we still want to have free will, however, and one way to ensure this is to define free will in such a way so that even if determinism is true then we can still have free will.

another consideration is that even if quantum indeterminacies are an irreducible feature of this world and even if those indeterminacies percolate up to the atomic level indeterminacies can always be recast in determinist form. instead of saying event E CAUSES event F instead we have event E CAUSES EITHER event F (probability 0.5) OR event G (probability 0.2) OR event H (probability 0.2) OR event I (probability 0.1). Instead of deterministic laws we might have such indeterministic laws but the overall picture still looks the same as the determinist picture (but with an added layer of complication).

So... What on earth might free will be?

I surely do believe that we are morally responsible for our actions. Oh yes indeedie. So what does that moral responsibility consist in? That I could have done otherwise? That isn't consistent with determinism so it wouldn't be a good idea to say that (if determinism turns out to be true then we wouldn't have moral responsibility). Even if indeterminism is true it wouldn't have been a good idea to say that. I can't cause the probability weightings to change (there is no hidden variable to affect the probability weightings) so that move isn't going to help... So what on earth might free will be?

Simple example (why am I getting a feeling of deja vu?)...

Elliot Sober talks about a weather vane... When the weather vane is free its movements are caused by the weather and it moves sensitively to register its environment. Similarly one might consider that when our beliefs and desires (and other mental states are free) is when they are caused by the relevant portions of the world and they are appropriately and sensitively registering the relevant aspects of our environment. When those features of us cause our behaviour (and we are not prevented by others, and when we don't have abnormal desires that aren't sensitive to our needs like compulsions and abnormal beliefs that aren't sensitive to the world like delusions) then WE ARE FREE!!! And morally responsible even...

I like this idea because... Whether determinism or indeterminism turns out to be true I can still have free will and moral responsibility.

In case god is the issue...

I am a bright:

http://www.the-brights.net/

Instead of my morality being based on 'god says i should do x so i shall do x' my morality is based on the golden rule (expressed as 'do unto others' in christianity). i have some brute parts to my ethics just as the religious person has some brute parts to theirs (that god exists that they know what god wants that the bible is the world of god). but one doesn't need to believe in god to be a good person and there is no correlation between being a member of an established religion (or not) and ethical behaviour...
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  #2  
Unread July 10th, 2006, 02:16 PM
TomJrzk TomJrzk is offline
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Default Re: free will, determinism, and morality

Quote:
Originally Posted by alexandra_k
I like this idea because... Whether determinism or indeterminism turns out to be true I can still have free will and moral responsibility.
If my beliefs were based only on what I 'like', I would have hardened them long ago. My hardened beliefs are based on what I can prove; the rest of what I believe is based on my minimalist bent.

I know that you like the concept of free will, I would too. But I can't reconcile a belief in 'nothing supernatural' with something indeterministic. We can do nothing but what our brains tell us to do.

No, I don't believe that we can't ever characterize consciousness from mere neurons and their connections. WHAT ELSE IS THERE? And where does it reside?

So, you can not prove you have free will, no matter how much you want one. But you do have a responsibility toward our collective social instincts, if you don't want to be locked up.
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  #3  
Unread July 10th, 2006, 03:20 PM
Margaret McGhee Margaret McGhee is offline
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Default Re: free will, determinism, and morality

Tom said:
Quote:
If my beliefs were based only on what I 'like', I would have hardened them long ago. My hardened beliefs are based on what I can prove; the rest of what I believe is based on my minimalist bent.
I offer this not in contradiction of what you say (as I understand where you are coming from, I think) but as a broader perspective in basic agreement. A different way to look at this is that your beliefs are based on what you like - in that all our behavior, including the adoption of hardened beliefs (perhaps, especially hardened beliefs) is the result of seeking that emotional payoff - that comes from satisfying our likes - and avoiding our dislikes.

It so happens that you, and some others here, like things that can be intellectually examined and that yield to some form of objective proof. This is not to say that you will always find that truth infallably - or that you will always have enough evidence to discern that truth perfectly. Just that you are happiest entertaining beliefs that seem, after careful examination, to accurately reflect the real state of the universe, as best you can determine.

This may seem pedantic, but it is really an important distinction - because the majority of persons out there don't share this like with you. Truths that approximate objective reality offer fairly small emotional rewards - compared with other truths that come from religion or magic or the minds of charismatic leaders. Is it more fun to believe that we evolved over millions of years in tiny steps that had no purpose or direction, that we are the result of a lot of chance and probability in the mixing of genes within a selective enviroment - or, that we come from seeds planted in the Andes by an advanced civilization from another solar system, 200,000 years ago? Well, I suspect I know your answer, but you can see my point, can't you?

Most of humanity have chosen the more emotionally satisfying rewards offered by those alternate views of the natural world. What causes a few, the minority, to eschew those easy pleasures for the harder to understand and much less celebrated truths of science?

These differences are not limited to the uneducated. Even among scientists I see a gradation in this dimension of belief. Many scientists pursue fields and proofs within them that align perfectly with their ideological beliefs. Michael Behe and William Dembski come to mind as perfect examples. But, even the best scientists probably have areas of belief that they protect from science. How many otherwise excellent scientists believe that homosexuality is an unnatural disease of the mind - rather than the overwhelming evidence that it's a normal behavior of complex evolved sexually-reproducing organisms. More than a few, I'd guess.

The interesting question for me, is not whether we are designed to seek emotional rewards for what we believe, as I can't see any other plausible mechanism for that, but what makes us different from each other in that regard. What makes some of us feel good when a scientist says that homosexuality is a disease of the mind - and others feel good when a scientist, like Joan Roughgarden, says the opposite - even regardless of the quality of the underlying arguments?

I suspect that some of us have developed a general antagonism toward superstitious belief. In my case I think I also have an antagonism toward mob-belief. I have never trusted groups of people who seem to embrace any belief system with a lot of emotion. I am especially distrustful of groups that claim the inferiority of minority or weaker groups - like Christians claiming that homosexuals are evil. I tend to be highly skeptical of whatever beliefs such ideologically motivated groups might advocate.

I admit that I would prefer to reject their beliefs and would prefer to accept uncritically those who contradict such beliefs. I'm not sure how good I'd be at being objective on such questions - although, of course, if I could claim to be honorably objective, no matter the outcome, that would make me feel good about myself.

To me, this is an interesting area for further examination.

Margaret
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  #4  
Unread July 10th, 2006, 09:45 PM
Fred H. Fred H. is offline
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Thumbs up Re: free will, determinism, and morality

Quote:
MM: . . . your beliefs are based on what you like - in that all our behavior, including the adoption of hardened beliefs (perhaps, especially hardened beliefs) is the result of seeking that emotional payoff - that comes from satisfying our likes - and avoiding our dislikes.
I have to agree that this almost certainly is the case, for MM herself, that her “beliefs are based on what [she] likes - in that all [her] behavior, including the adoption of hardened beliefs (perhaps, especially hardened beliefs) is the result of seeking that emotional payoff - that comes from satisfying [her] likes - and avoiding [her] dislikes.”

Think about it.
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  #5  
Unread July 10th, 2006, 10:35 PM
alexandra_k alexandra_k is offline
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Default Re: free will, determinism, and morality

Hey. There are a number of considerations or reasons for thinking that we have free will. Here is one of them:

> I like this idea because... Whether determinism or indeterminism turns out to be true I can still have free will and moral responsibility.

> My hardened beliefs are based on what I can prove; the rest of what I believe is based on my minimalist bent.

Sure, why multiply entities beyond necessity? If we can show free will to be 'nothing but' entities / processes that you thought existed already then we wouldn't be departing from minimalism, however. With respect to proof abductive explanations are often used with good scientific results. For example... Genes were postulated to play a role in theory well before scientists 'discovered' them. Here theory drives scientific investigation... It is easier to find something when you have some idea what you are looking for. We use arguements to the best explanation all the time... And as for faith... You have no reason whatsoever to believe the future will continue to be like the past. The only evidence you could possibly have would be from the past (and you can't appeal to the past to justify your beliefs about the future because that is precisely what is being called into question). Hume's paradox of induction... Shows that we often believe things that we cannot prove... I believe the sun will rise tomorrow... I believe the seasons will continue to flow... I believe I'll go to work tomorrow... All these are inductive. We figure the best explanation we have for observed past regularities is that there are underlying mechanisms / laws that will continue unchanging into the future. But isn't it just as rational to believe that those laws / mechansims will simply break down at midnight tonight or at any other time you care to name? No proof anyway... Scientists have to have faith as well... Just not (typically) faith in the supernatural.

Another consideration for why we want to have free will is because a fair few people think that free will = moral responsibility. What do they mean by moral responsibility? The notion here is that we can / should PUNISH people who do such things as rape and murder because they freely choose to do that and we should punish them for their choice. Some people think that if there is no free will then there is no moral responsibility so then we can't really blame or condemn anyone for raping and murdering etc.

That argument conflates a fair few related though distinct concepts... I believe in moral responsibility (in the sense that the weather vane is free when it is appropriately caused). I believe that people are responsible for their actions but I also believe in rehabilitation and not retribution. But anyway...

My main point here is that when you deny that free will exists you must mean something very specific by free will. What can happen is that people define their terms differently and proceed to talk past each other. Fun in its own way I guess... But In order for progress to be made...

By analogy... Behaviourists defined mental states in such a way... Then proceeded to show that there weren't any such things.

> I can't reconcile a belief in 'nothing supernatural' with something indeterministic. We can do nothing but what our brains tell us to do.

Our behaviour is caused by the state of our brain, sure. How would it be MY behaviour if it wasn't caused by the state of our brain lol. I should be extra explicit I am NOT trying to say that free will arises from quantum indeterminacies. My point with the quantum stuff was to say that you CAN'T derive anything for free will that wasn't present in the determinist world view. Quantum indeterminacies don't really help with free will. Hence better to stick to the determinist picture and see how free will fits into that.

> WHAT ELSE IS THERE? And where does it reside?

Well... Most theorists consider that there isn't anyTHING else... While most philospohers are materialists (the facts about consciousness can be deduced from the facts about the physical / material world) those who are dualists are property dualists rather than substance dualists. That is just to say that they don't think there is this immaterial non physical stuff that is the mind / soul. Rather they think that there are phenomenal properties (the feeling of pain, the experience of redness etc) that can't be deduced from a complete physical description of our world (including our brains and their relations to our world).

Where are these phenomenal properties? Well... They are thought to be non physical properties of the brain. So... They are in our brains. But it is true that they are experienced as being in the world. Have you heard of projection? Some people think we project the properties onto the world... Another way of looking at it is that the phenomenal properties are representational in the sense that the experience of a red tomato represents the world such that there is a red tomato in front of me. red1 is phenomenal red a property of my brain. red2 is the typical cause of red1 in normal observers under normal conditions. red2 has something to do with the surface spectral reflectance of the tomato. red2 is an objective property of the tomato, red1 is a phenomenal property of my brain.

> So, you can not prove you have free will, no matter how much you want one. But you do have a responsibility toward our collective social instincts, if you don't want to be locked up.

So we have moral responsibility.

As for proof...

Do you think you can prove the existence of the external world?

Should I have to prove teh existence of the free will comperably to how one can prove the existence of the external world?

I think both of us will appeal to argument to best explanation (abductive reasoning)
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  #6  
Unread July 11th, 2006, 09:24 AM
TomJrzk TomJrzk is offline
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Default Re: free will, determinism, and morality

Quote:
Originally Posted by alexandra_k
So we have moral responsibility.

As for proof...

Do you think you can prove the existence of the external world?

Should I have to prove teh existence of the free will comperably to how one can prove the existence of the external world?
Yes, this is why I avoid philosophers. You know I mean social instincts and not moral responsibility.

And, yes, you should prove the existence of free will if you're saying that you know it exists. How do you know?
Quote:
Originally Posted by alexandra_k
I think both of us will appeal to argument to best explanation (abductive reasoning)
While this might sound petty, it's not meant to be: I have a hard enough time deciphering your writing when I think the syntax is correct; I have no chance if you send replies without reading them over once. I'm assuming that these are not the words that were in your head at the time. This still gives me a headache when I look at it.
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  #7  
Unread July 11th, 2006, 06:05 PM
Fred H. Fred H. is offline
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Default Re: free will, determinism, and morality

Quote:
TomJ: We can do nothing but what our brains tell us to do.
Hey Tom, maybe you could explain, and “prove” (as you yourself are so fond of demanding) exactly how and what it is that tells “our brains” what to “tell us to do” (something more that just the typical superficial mention of evolved emergence from neurons and the natural selection of algorithms, neurotransmitters, etc.); and also explain who this “us” is if not “our brains” (in which case I guess you’ll start saying that our brains tell our brains what to do); and also explain, and “prove,” how it is that “our brains” also manage to trick “our brains” and/or “us,” including the most gifted and productive scientists and thinkers among us, currently and throughout human history, into thinking that we do indeed have some amount of freewill and moral responsibility, and how it is that you yourself know better, even though you yourself would have to be an automaton just like all the rest of us. Hello?
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  #8  
Unread July 12th, 2006, 01:26 AM
alexandra_k alexandra_k is offline
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Default Re: free will, determinism, and morality

I'm not too sure what you mean, that is why I'm kind of asking for clarification. Have you read 'Explaining Behaviourism' by William Baum? He outlines how behaviourists don't believe in libertarian free will and regarding what they say on free will... I'm in agreement 100%. Trouble is... When I say 'sure we have free will' I'm not talking about libertarian free will, I'm talking about a kind of free will that is compatible with determinism.

How do you know the external world exists?

To put a more modern spin on Decartes... How do you know that your brain wasn't removed from your body by evil scientists when you were 4? They could have placed your brain in a vat of nutrients and they could have attached electrodes to stimulate your brain in such a way that you have had the experiences that are indistinguishable from experiences you would be having were you to still be disembodied.

I'm not trying to trick you... I'm just trying to say that 'proof' can be hard to come by.

I can't prove we have free will (though I'll claim I can prove that we do not have libertarian free will). I can't prove that we have free will that is compatible with the determinist picture... I can't prove that we are morally responsible...

But I think we have chatted before about reasons to want a compatibilist version of free will:

People who committed suicide in the name of 'freedom'. Did they committ suicide for nothing? Was there no freedom for them to be fighting for?

Tell the slave that he can't complain about his slavery because nobody has freedom...

Let the serial rapist off because he wasn't free...

There are good reasons for retaining the terms 'freedom and dignity'. Despite Skinners rhetoric (heh heh).

If we don't follow the behaviourists on consciousness / mental states...
Then why follow then on freedom and dignity???

>> I think both of us will appeal to argument to best explanation (abductive reasoning)

> I'm assuming that these are not the words that were in your head at the time. This still gives me a headache when I look at it.

Because you don't understand what I'm saying?
Distinction: Deductive Reasoning / Inferential Reasoning
Distinction: There are two different varieties of inferential reasoning: The usual kind (what we typically mean when we say inferential reasoning) and abductive reasoning.

Examples:

DEDUCTIVE REASONING:
P1) If we don't have free will then people who died in the name of freedom died for an illusion
P2) They didn't die for an illusion
__________________________________________________ _____________
C) We have free will

This is a proof, but it will only work for you if you grant me premises one and two. I figure that if you are determined that we don't have free will then you will just reject (offer arguments against) either premiss one or premiss two or both.

INDUCTIVE REASONING:
P1) The sun rose yesterday
P2) The sun rose the day before yesterday
P3) The sun rose the day before the day before yesterday
================================================== =======
The sun will rise tomorrow

The premises are supposed to provide some reason to believe the conclusion. Hume offered a radical argument that... What reason do we have to believe the past is a good indicator of the future? Science makes use of inductive reasoning all the time... Consider

INDUCTIVE REASONING:
P1) People were selected at random
================================================== =======
C) We can generalise our finding back to the population as a whole

ABDUCTIVE REASONING:
P1) I am having experiences that seem to be systematic
================================================== =======
C) The best explanation for this is that I have causal contact with external reality

ABDUCTIVE REASONING:
P1) People talk about freedom a lot and they tend to value it highly
================================================== ========
C) While the folk notion (common conception) might be a little confused it seems that the best explanation for people valuing 'freedom' is that there is something worth having that we are capable of having that deserves to be called 'freedom'.

I can't prove that we have free will
Just like you can't prove that you are in contact with external reality.
The best we can do is offer arguments to the best explanation.

I think that the trouble we are having is mostly verbal.

You say we don't have free will because when you say 'free will' you mean libertarian free will.

I agree. We don't have libertarian free will.

But I do think we have free will because when I say 'sure we have free will' I mean compatibilist free will.

You disagree because you seem determined to read 'free will' as referring to libertarian free will and hence you miss the point of what I'm saying...

That a compatibilist position is possible.

And it is a verbal dispute...

Over whether what compatibilism gives us... deserves to be called 'free will'.

If you are interested in free will I'd reccomend:

"Elbow Room: Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting"
(Not only that but also varieties of free will that are possible for us to have)
Daniel Dennett... Well worth a read. If you are bold you could have a go at 'Freedom Evolves' too...
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  #9  
Unread July 12th, 2006, 01:19 PM
TomJrzk TomJrzk is offline
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Default Re: free will, determinism, and morality

Quote:
Originally Posted by alexandra_k
You say we don't have free will because when you say 'free will' you mean libertarian free will.
Quote:
Originally Posted by wiki
In philosophical debates about free will and determinism, libertarianism is generally held to be the combination of the following beliefs:
  1. that free will is incompatible with determinism
  2. that human beings do possess free will, and
  3. that determinism is false
Great info, thanks. I'm different from libertarianism in that I say:
  1. that free will is incompatible with determinism
  2. that human beings do not possess free will, and
  3. that determinism is true
So I'm a hard determinist:
Quote:
Originally Posted by wiki
Hard determinism accepts both determinism and incompatibilism, and rejects the idea that humans have any free will.
And I think any discussion of free will that does not depend entirely on the state of the brain belongs right beside Astrology. I can accept compatiblism as your best current guess, but not stated as fact; for that, I'd need proof.
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  #10  
Unread July 12th, 2006, 04:15 PM
Margaret McGhee Margaret McGhee is offline
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Default Re: free will, determinism, and morality

Just a quick question. When I consider this free will debate, it always seems to me to come down to whether or not human behavior is due to natural mechanisms inside the human central nervous system (even though we may not have a complete understanding of just how those mechanisms work physically) - or, whether there is some supernatural causation for human behavior - something that is beyond our neurons, synapses, neurotransmitters and other physical elements - some extraordinary mental force that can over-ride our physicality.

That's the end of the road I always find myself on.

I know where Tom and I sit on that question.

I'm not absolutely sure where Alexandra sits - although I would be very surprised that a Bright could seriously entertain supernatural causes.

I believe that Fred does attribute behavior to some supernatural mental force - although he's never described it and seems careful not to get pinned down on that. (Am I wrong about that, Fred?)

Free will almost means to me that we have a will that is free from our physicality. Although compatibalists use the term differently.

It seems to me that those who support some kind of supernaturally caused or abetted free will - have the burden to explain just how that supernatural effect comes to affect our behavior. We can see fMRI scans of brain regions lighting up as behavior decisions are considered and made. Where exactly is the supernatural effect inserted into that process?

Otherwise, what's the point of entering a scientific discussion in support of that view?

Any supernaturalists, feel free to educate me. Any naturalists, feel free to tell me why I may be asking the wrong question.

Margaret

Last edited by Margaret McGhee; July 12th, 2006 at 04:32 PM.
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