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Friend A believes Friend B should try something before deciding not to like it.

Friend A believes Friend B should try something before deciding not to like it. Friend B believes he shouldn't have to try something if he doesn't want to. Who is correct? Are they both correct? Who is more correct? Should Friend C help convince Friend B to try the thing or let him make his own choices?

I hope I don't come across as pedantic, but I think that your questions may contain what philosophers call "false alternatives."

First, there's a sense in which both A and B can be correct. It might be that B is well-advised to try a particular something before rejecting it because the risks associated with trying it are small compared to the possible benefits. Nevertheless, it could be true that B "shouldn't have to" try something before rejecting it: that is, B might well have the right to refuse to do X even if he would be well-advised to do X.

Second, C can help convince B to try the thing even while C lets B make his own choice. As I see it, giving B convincing reasons to make a particular choice needn't mean depriving B of a choice -- including a free choice -- in the matter.

I hope I don't come across as pedantic, but I think that your questions may contain what philosophers call "false alternatives." First, there's a sense in which both A and B can be correct. It might be that B is well-advised to try a particular something before rejecting it because the risks associated with trying it are small compared to the possible benefits. Nevertheless, it could be true that B "shouldn't have to " try something before rejecting it: that is, B might well have the right to refuse to do X even if he would be well-advised to do X. Second, C can help convince B to try the thing even while C lets B make his own choice. As I see it, giving B convincing reasons to make a particular choice needn't mean depriving B of a choice -- including a free choice -- in the matter.

Do philosophers really understand the concept of free will and have it formally

Do philosophers really understand the concept of free will and have it formally defined? Dr. Maitzen in response to question 5711 was able to answer the question without asking what free will is yet for question 24592 he seemed not to know what free will is and seemed to treat is an abstract construction so is it just an abstract construction and if it is, why create the concept in the first place?

Thanks for your question and the chance to clarify. In Question 24592, the questioner talked about philosophers "redefining free will" but never defined the term himself/herself. So I cited the definition of "free will" given at merriam-webster.com. I did so in order to indicate just how much neuroscientists would have to show before they could be said to have shown that we (routinely) lack free will as the dictionary defines "free will".

The merriam-webster.com definition treats free will as an ability. I'm not sure if that means treating free will as an abstract construction, but in any case if it's not a good definition then I suggest that you let them know. I myself see nothing wrong with their definition.

Thanks for your question and the chance to clarify. In Question 24592 , the questioner talked about philosophers "redefining free will" but never defined the term himself/herself. So I cited the definition of "free will" given at merriam-webster.com. I did so in order to indicate just how much neuroscientists would have to show before they could be said to have shown that we (routinely) lack free will as the dictionary defines "free will" . The merriam-webster.com definition treats free will as an ability. I'm not sure if that means treating free will as an abstract construction, but in any case if it's not a good definition then I suggest that you let them know. I myself see nothing wrong with their definition.

If neuroscience were to prove that one particular person has free will, does

If neuroscience were to prove that one particular person has free will, does that imply that everyone else in the world would have to have free will as well? If neuroscience tests show that not everyone has free will, how would philosophers explain that other than redefining free will?

I notice that your question leaves "free will" undefined, so let me propose the definition found at merriam-webster.com: "the ability to choose how to act; the ability to make choices that are not controlled by fate or God."

I presume that no one imagines that neuroscience will prove that some of our choices are controlled literally by fate or God. So if neuroscience is to show that some or all of us lack free will, neuroscience must show that some or all of us lack the ability to choose how to act or the ability to make choices.

I don't think we need neuroscience experiments to show us that some people lack free will in the sense just defined: for example, people who are in the midst of drug-induced mania or a psychotic episode. To show us something we didn't already know, neuroscience would have to show that people in general typically or routinely lack free will.

Some neuroscientists do claim to have shown that, but their arguments are woefully unpersuasive (in my judgment and in the judgment of philosophers more expert on this topic than I am). For one thing, neuroscience would have to show more than that our choices are causally determined by prior factors, because on one analysis of free will -- the analysis accepted by most philosophers, as it happens -- a free choice can (and perhaps must) be causally determined by prior factors.

For more on this topic, see Question 5733.

I notice that your question leaves "free will" undefined, so let me propose the definition found at merriam-webster.com: "the ability to choose how to act; the ability to make choices that are not controlled by fate or God." I presume that no one imagines that neuroscience will prove that some of our choices are controlled literally by fate or God. So if neuroscience is to show that some or all of us lack free will, neuroscience must show that some or all of us lack the ability to choose how to act or the ability to make choices. I don't think we need neuroscience experiments to show us that some people lack free will in the sense just defined: for example, people who are in the midst of drug-induced mania or a psychotic episode. To show us something we didn't already know, neuroscience would have to show that people in general typically or routinely lack free will. Some neuroscientists do claim to have shown that, but their arguments are woefully unpersuasive (in my judgment and in the...

I have a question about causality solely when it comes to human behavior.

I have a question about causality solely when it comes to human behavior. Suppose I argue that the presence of oxygen on Earth was the cause of an office building on fire. It is certainly true that if there had been no oxygen on Earth there would have been no fire. It is also true that if there had been no arsonists or negligent persons, nor any flammable material, there would have been no fire. So is it true that when it is assumed that one of several necessary conditions was the sole and exclusive cause of an effect, then the reasoning is fallacious due to the possibility that humans might have free will which somehow shifts responsibility away from nature or scientific processes?

Assuming I understand it, the reasoning you described is fallacious regardless of anything having to do with human free will. True, the presence of something combustible is a necessary (but fortunately not sufficient!) condition for the occurrence of a fire. But if I were to infer from that fact alone that the presence of something combustible was the sole cause of the fire, my inference would be laughably bad: indeed, onlookers would probably construe it as a joke. In any case, it would be evidence that I don't really possess the concept of causation.

I think that a related but different fallacy is often committed by those who say that the physical necessitation of a human action always makes the action unfree. It's the fallacy of assuming that the physical necessitation of an agent's action always bypasses the agent's deliberations. If causal determinism is true, then my decision to respond to your question was physically necessitated by events that predated my birth. But that doesn't imply that my deliberations -- my deciding which questions in this week's batch to consider answering, my deciding which of those to go ahead and answer, etc. -- played no role in my eventually answering your question. (It's not as if someone else decided that I would respond to your question.) On the contrary, according to causal determinism, my deliberations were essential links in the causal chain that led to my decision to respond: there's no reason at all to think that I would have responded to your question even if I had never deliberated about whether to respond to it.

I hope my answer engages with your question enough to be helpful.

Assuming I understand it, the reasoning you described is fallacious regardless of anything having to do with human free will. True, the presence of something combustible is a necessary (but fortunately not sufficient!) condition for the occurrence of a fire. But if I were to infer from that fact alone that the presence of something combustible was the sole cause of the fire , my inference would be laughably bad: indeed, onlookers would probably construe it as a joke. In any case, it would be evidence that I don't really possess the concept of causation. I think that a related but different fallacy is often committed by those who say that the physical necessitation of a human action always makes the action unfree. It's the fallacy of assuming that the physical necessitation of an agent's action always bypasses the agent's deliberations. If causal determinism is true, then my decision to respond to your question was physically necessitated by events that predated my birth. But that doesn't imply...

If we have no free will, then is the entire legal system redundant since no one

If we have no free will, then is the entire legal system redundant since no one can be held accountable for anything since no one has control over their own actions?

Consider two otherwise identical worlds, in one of which determinism is true, and in the other of which it is not. In the second world there is freedom of the will. What difference does this make to the legal system and the moral system? Ex hypothesi, none. When I wrote that if hard determinism is true, moral systems cannot be corrupt, I was describing Stephen's view, not my own! Hence I think the apparent contradiction that he detects. Here's another way of putting the point I wanted to make. We can imagine a deterministic world in which people are thinking good thoughts and doing good things, and making good laws. The world of law and morality seems to have survived the loss of freedom! In this world, some philosophers believe in determinism, and some in freewill. But of course the having of those beliefs is part of a deterministically produced system. There could be incidentally be a deterministic world that is morally and legally better than a world with freewill. Consider the worst world imaginable, but having freewill, and the best world imaginable, but lacking freewill. You might prefer to live in the unpleasant world, but that doesn't mean it's better. In it the innocent are tortured, unfairness abounds, and so on.

Those like me who are compatibilists take the view that the truth of determinism would have no consequences for law and morals. Like Jonathan, I too am a compatibilist, and I agree with what he says in the italicized statement above. However, the questioner asked about the effect on the legal system of (1) the total absence of free will, not (2) the truth of determinism. I agree with Jonathan that (2) has no consequences for law and morals. But (1) does. One consequence of (1) for morals is that no actions are morally right or wrong. Furthermore, our current legal system routinely assumes that defendants are morally responsible for their actions and able to conform their conduct to standards of right and wrong. If that assumption is false, then our current legal system is corrupt, or at least unfair, assuming that it's unfair to hold people morally responsible when in fact they're not morally responsible. Is hard determinism supposed to imply that nothing is unfair? If hard determinism...

If no one can legitimately be held accountable for anything, then I think the Anglo-American legal system (the only legal system I know at all well) is worse than redundant (and strictly speaking not even redundant): it's fundamentally corrupt. Indeed, it's hard for me to imagine any legal system that doesn't presume that we have control over at least some of our actions. Even a system that punishes solely for the sake of deterrence or rehabilitation needs to presume that we can control our actions, at least sometimes, in response to examples that are meant to deter us, or as a result of programs that are meant to rehabilitate us.

There has been much made of Hawking and Harris using brain scans to demonstrate

There has been much made of Hawking and Harris using brain scans to demonstrate a deterministic explanation of "free will". My question is, how do they treat a case where I think about moving my arm, but don't? How can the experiment they site test thoughts, subjective experience, etc. which do not lead to any outward physical effects? Must we accept that for all cases of mental phenomena that the brain scan test constitutes a proof?

Must we accept that for all cases of mental phenomena ... the brain scan test constitutes a proof?

I think the important philosophical question here is "A proof of what?" Suppose that science did somehow establish that all of our choices are causally determined by our earlier brain states. According to compatibilism, that result wouldn't threaten free will at all, and according to many compatibilists it would be good news indeed for free will. Before we get too hung up on whether brain scans are evidence in favor of determinism about human choices, let's ask the prior philosophical question "What difference would that make for free will?" You'll find this issue discussed many times on this website, including here:

Question 5451
Question 5711

Must we accept that for all cases of mental phenomena ... the brain scan test constitutes a proof? I think the important philosophical question here is "A proof of what?" Suppose that science did somehow establish that all of our choices are causally determined by our earlier brain states. According to compatibilism , that result wouldn't threaten free will at all, and according to many compatibilists it would be good news indeed for free will. Before we get too hung up on whether brain scans are evidence in favor of determinism about human choices, let's ask the prior philosophical question "What difference would that make for free will?" You'll find this issue discussed many times on this website, including here: Question 5451 Question 5711

Why should I be convinced by a hard determinist's argument against free will if,

Why should I be convinced by a hard determinist's argument against free will if, assuming his position is true, I am simply determined by causes other than myself to believe in free will? And I also wonder if there are professional philosophers who are hard determinists who try to convince other people of their view if in their view all people are determined (by causes other than their free choice) to believe whatever they presently believe.

Your question seems to presuppose that one chooses whether to be convinced by an argument or whether to believe that one has free will. I don't find that presupposition to be psychologically plausible, and indeed it might be conceptually incoherent. Besides, wouldn't you rather form your belief because of a compelling argument than because of something else? You'll find relevant discussion in this online article.

In any case, determinists -- who say that all events, including all human choices, are causally determined by prior conditions -- can grant that one chooses whether to be convinced by an argument or whether to believe that one has free will. According to determinism, such a choice will be causally determined by prior conditions, including any arguments to which the chooser has been exposed. It could be that the logical virtues of some argument are among the conditions that cause someone to choose to accept its conclusion. So I see nothing paradoxical about a (hard or soft) determinist's trying to cause someone to (choose to) believe a particular proposition by presenting that person with an argument for it. Even if the person currently rejects the proposition, and was causally determined to reject it, exposure to an argument can change his or her mind about it. Determinism doesn't say that what you believe has nothing to do with the arguments you encounter: on the contrary, determinism says that the arguments you encounter can matter crucially to what you end up believing.

Your question seems to presuppose that one chooses whether to be convinced by an argument or whether to believe that one has free will. I don't find that presupposition to be psychologically plausible, and indeed it might be conceptually incoherent. Besides, wouldn't you rather form your belief because of a compelling argument than because of something else? You'll find relevant discussion in this online article . In any case, determinists -- who say that all events, including all human choices, are causally determined by prior conditions -- can grant that one chooses whether to be convinced by an argument or whether to believe that one has free will. According to determinism, such a choice will be causally determined by prior conditions, including any arguments to which the chooser has been exposed. It could be that the logical virtues of some argument are among the conditions that cause someone to choose to accept its conclusion. So I see nothing paradoxical about a (hard or soft) determinist...

Why don't determinists believe, at least partially, in the notion of free will?

Why don't determinists believe, at least partially, in the notion of free will? If all events are simply outcomes of antecedent choices and events, wouldn't my decisions now affect me, to some degree, in the future? Thanks for considering this question, as rudimentary as it may seem.

Many philosophers believe in both determinism and the existence of free will. Even more philosophers accept at least the compatibility of determinism and free will: they're known as 'compatibilists' (see this link). Some philosophers go so far as to say that free will requires determinism: see this link. Accepting determinism doesn't by definition imply any particular stand on the existence of free will. That's why the term hard determinist is reserved for those who deny the existence of free will because they accept determinism.

You may also want to look at these questions recently answered on this website: 5408; 5397; 5349; and 5178.

Many philosophers believe in both determinism and the existence of free will. Even more philosophers accept at least the compatibility of determinism and free will: they're known as 'compatibilists' (see this link ). Some philosophers go so far as to say that free will requires determinism: see this link . Accepting determinism doesn't by definition imply any particular stand on the existence of free will. That's why the term hard determinist is reserved for those who deny the existence of free will because they accept determinism. You may also want to look at these questions recently answered on this website: 5408 ; 5397 ; 5349 ; and 5178 .

Compatiblism is attractive because it finds room for human freedom in a

Compatiblism is attractive because it finds room for human freedom in a deterministic world. But objections that compatiblism is evasive or incoherent strike me as persuasive. Setting aside the indeterministic defense of free will, how might the hard determist endorse the claim that humans generally do bear moral responsibility for their actions? Or would the hard determinist have to bite this bullet and conclude that moral responsibility is illusory if we have no free will?

I like Stephen's answer, but I think you ARE asking about the hard determinist -- you're convinced by hard determinism about free will (i.e. tht determinism rules out freedom, not (directly) that it rules out moral responsibility), and you're worried about having to give up moral responsibility. But I suppose a lot rides on how one defines moral responsibility -- I don't think it's somehow intrinsic to the concept that we have to have freedom in the indeterminist way in order to be morally responsible. Dennett, for example, makes pretty powerful arguments that we don't and really shouldn't care about whether we 'could have done otherwise' generally speaking -- see Elbow Room. Now you could use that point to defend compatibilist accounts of freedom -- we're free despite determinism's being true -- and then hold that moral responsibility requires freedom. But since you are persuaded against compatibilism (though I hope you've read Dennett...), why exactly couldn't you hold that moral resopnsibility does not require freedom after all? That is, use Dennett's arguments to develop a general account of moral responsibility independent of whether we 'could have done otherwise,' and cut out the freedom middle man altogether? (You might also read Frankfurt's accounts of moral responsibility as well -- lots of literature there.)

hope that's useful --

ap

As I understand it, hard determinism by definition holds that because determinism is true, no one is morally responsible for his/her actions. That is, hard determinists are simply incompatibilists who accept determinism. See the definition of 'hard determinism' given at this link . According to that definition, hard determinists hold that human agents never bear moral responsibility for their actions. By 'hard determinist', did you perhaps mean to refer to a compatibilist who accepts determinism, or perhaps just anyone who accepts determinism? I'd be interested to know which arguments persuade you that compatibilism is evasive or incoherent. I haven't found any that persuade me of that. You say that compatibilism 'is attractive because it finds room for human freedom in a deterministic world'. I find it attractive because it concentrates on the ingredients that actually seem to bear on an agent's moral responsibility, discovering thereby that indeterminism isn't one of those ingredients.

There are many questions and answers here about free will and its importance for

There are many questions and answers here about free will and its importance for moral responsibility, and about how free will is consistent with the scientific view of the world. I would like you to consider the idea that even if there is free will, many human actions are anyway caused by circumstances, and we should try to refrain from blaming people. It is known that when economy goes down, crime rates increase. Violent criminals were often victims and spectators of violence in their childhood. Child molesters were often sexually abused when they were children. Religious terrorists were born and brought up among followers of their religion and were often led to terrorism by people around them. Of course, many people experienced more or less the same circumstances and didn't become criminals, but that's easy to say when you're on the right side of statistics, isn't it? And circumstances are never really the same. I know a 5-year old boy at my daughter's pre-school who doesn't seem to be growing properly...

You're right: many questioners have asked about free will, moral responsibility, and their consistency with a scientific view -- determinism -- that sees the world as governed by deterministic natural laws. These topics are important philosophically and have serious practical implications.

A minority of the philosophers who specialize in these topics (see this link) say that deterministic natural laws would rule out free will and moral responsibility: they're incompatibilists. Some of those incompatibilists also accept determinism -- they're hard determinists -- and therefore they say that no one ever acts freely and no one is ever morally responsible. According to hard determinists, President Obama is no more responsible, morally -- and is no more blameworthy -- for any of his most carefully planned decisions than is an addict who assaults someone while whacked-out on PCP. They say that determinism by itself rules out moral responsibility and blameworthiness, regardless of particular circumstances.

The examples you give in your question contain many persuasive details. But notice that those details are relevant only if hard determinists are wrong. So the particular case you make for not blaming the agents you describe presupposes that hard determinism is false; otherwise, the details you give wouldn't matter. But presumably the details you give do matter, or at least it's the hard determinist's burden to show that they don't.

I reject hard determinism, as apparently you do too, but I agree that not everyone who intentionally causes harm always deserves blame for it, including in some of the cases you describe. However, I don't think the lesson to draw is that "we should try to refrain from blaming people" ever, or in general. I think the lesson to draw is that the details matter, as you suggest. But again they matter only if hard determinism is false.

You're right: many questioners have asked about free will, moral responsibility, and their consistency with a scientific view -- determinism -- that sees the world as governed by deterministic natural laws. These topics are important philosophically and have serious practical implications. A minority of the philosophers who specialize in these topics (see this link ) say that deterministic natural laws would rule out free will and moral responsibility: they're incompatibilists . Some of those incompatibilists also accept determinism -- they're hard determinists -- and therefore they say that no one ever acts freely and no one is ever morally responsible. According to hard determinists, President Obama is no more responsible, morally -- and is no more blameworthy -- for any of his most carefully planned decisions than is an addict who assaults someone while whacked-out on PCP. They say that determinism by itself rules out moral responsibility and blameworthiness, regardless of...

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