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Austin Philosophy Discussion Group (APDG) Message Board Philosophy for Real Life Monday night group › Comment on Bill's March 13 free will blog

Comment on Bill's March 13 free will blog

Austin, TX
Post #: 10
I already responded to the "quantilist" arguments at:­

Thanks for your most recent blog post, "Brains, Choices, and Free Will". It's a good idea to move to practical issues.

As a compatibilist, or least indifferentist, I believe in having your cake and eating it, too. I very much agree with your opening quote:

"We need not enter into a philosophical debate between free will and determinism in order to decide how to act. Either we have free will or it is determined that we behave as if we do. In either case we make choices."

You described it as the most cogent statement on free will you've seen. But I suppose you don't accept it, because you follow up with two counter-arguments:

1. Lack of belief in free will negatively affects how we behave.

2. If much, or all, of behavior is determined, how do we decide issues of responsibility?

These are old arguments, complementary questions: "If I'm not free, should I hold myself responsible?", and "If others are not free, should I hold others responsible?". Advocates use them to claim that free will is necessary, because if you assume the answers are both no, a chaotic dystopia results.

The arguments prove nothing. Either we have free will or we don't, but it's beyond dispute that we have social systems with morals, ethics, and laws. As your quote suggests, this is largely unaffected by our beliefs about free will.

Either our predetermined behavior caused these things to come into being, or we freely choose to create them. They exist, and we experience the world in such a way that we want them to exist, and we want to improve them.

If we have a dystopia (a matter of opinion), then either free will led to a very bad outcome, or free will is desirable but unobtainable (because everything's determined). It wouldn't be possible to conclude that we must have free will because it's desirable.

I don't think these abstract kerfuffles matter. Our subjective model for how we and other autonomous agents act in the world is that we freely choose, but we agree to allow our choices to be bound by moral considerations. We hold ourselves responsible for our own actions, and others for theirs, to the degree we think they're capable of holding themselves responsible.

We could have a long and interesting discussion about the nature and role of penalty in our legal system. Perhaps we should, sometime. But, even without being able to perfectly know others' minds, the models of free will and personal responsibility work well enough to let us muddle through thousands of years with reasonable success, even measurable progress. Science may give deeper insight and better diagnostics, so we can draw boundaries of responsibility more accurately. I welcome that.

We are not just now discovering that people can be manipulated, or that what we believe (not just about free will) has something to do with our quality of life. New scientific discoveries about how mind and brain are related don't change the basics. There is great irony in the fact that the notion of penalty for crime is mostly about modifying future behavior. It assumes that penalty - punishment, retribution, rehabilitation - changes future behavior, which is essentially a deterministic claim. If we replace penalty with drug therapy, cognitive therapy, or other more "scientific" methods, we're still betting on determinism. Yet some people believe that, without a rational justification for free will, everything collapses.

To summarize: I can't agree that "Whether or not we believe we have free will does have consequences; hence, we need to try to resolve the issue." We've tried at least as long as recorded history, and in spite of never resolving any aspect of the problem, life in general has improved. Our imperfect, incomplete, and stubbornly extra-rational ideas of free will and responsibility have served us well, and that's an empirical fact.

Yet, we seem to be committed to resolving the problem. Maybe it seems more urgent if compatibilism must be denied.
user 7355689
Austin, TX
Post #: 592
http://agencyandrespo...­ In my view, children manifest free will early (around age two- the terrible two stage) when they are initiated to become members of a given society through inculcation of social mores and values http://en.wikipedia.o...­ which curb their will and make room for other people's wills. In general, people are allowed to exercise their free will more freely in a more open and tolerant society where individual differences are respected in the name of freedom marked by freedom of choice within reason. Societies that value the idea of free will seek to shape the malleable minds of youngsters to expect a number of choices to be available to them such that each individual can freely choose a way of life, a course of action, etc. and add to innovative and adaptive diversity that is socially ecological and sustainable.
Gene R.
Austin, TX
Post #: 199

I don't think these abstract kerfuffles matter.

And isn’t the whole philosophy thing just a large collection of such kerfuffles? Well, it surely feels like that sometimes. After 2000 years free-willers and determinists are still fighting it out in their N-th round. It looks hopeless, looks like it does not matter. But then what does? And once you asked that question, you are back to the large collection of kerfuffles.

Perhaps one of the sources of frustration is that philosophy is not like engineering. Often there are no clear solutions, just a long haul of finding problems with the solutions offered. Is it a waste of time? But then what is a proper use of time and why? We are back to kerfuffles.

But perhaps they actually do matter, even in the simplest terms of influencing how humans conduct their affairs? After all, a lot of concepts embedded into our daily thinking are gifts from Plato and friends. And free will vs. determinism has its role too. When attorneys use “twinkie defense” it is an exploitation of people’s folk-determinist feelings. But misuse of our free-will intuitions is just as bad. Why support equal rights in case of same-sex marriage, if these people have chosen “homosexual life style” on their own free will? Can’t they just get a grip? Isn’t it clear that 47% of population simply have chosen to be “takers”? And inner-city ghetto dwellers have chosen not to become hedge fund managers or Columbia Business School’s professors? Insane metaphysics is a proper foundation for an insane social policy.
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