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Is freedom of speech distinct from freedom of behavior? For example, is burning

Is freedom of speech distinct from freedom of behavior? For example, is burning the Bill of Rights distinct from calling for the revocation of the freedom from unjust imprisonment?

Excellent question. The right to freedom of speech has been used to defend what used to be illegal acts (burning an American flag). But the two are certainly distinguishable. So, burning a copy of the Bill of Rights may be highly dangerous in a building full of petroleum containers or in a crowded elevator. Also, speech may be easier to interpret than behavior. If you call for the revocation of the freedom from unjust punishment, your conviction seems pretty clear. But if we see you burning a copy of the Bill of Rights, your views may be less clear: You might not know what you are burning. You might be cold and the copy of the Bill of Rights is the only paper available for you to light a fire to be warm. You also might simply like to burn things, whereas it would be highly unusual for someone to say in public 'Let us revoke our right to be free from unjust punishment" unless they honestly desired such a revocation (assuming the "speech act" was not part of a film script or artistic 'happening' called 'what would it be like if the Bill of Rights was rendered null and void legally?')

More of an observation than a question, about "compatibilism" in the free will

More of an observation than a question, about "compatibilism" in the free will "versus" determinism debate. In the short run, there is a strong correlation between life expectancy tables and the number of people who die in a calendar year. Somehow, even though on the level of the individual, many of these events may be due to "luck" (wow, that train just missed me; or wow, what a freak combination of factors to lead to such a bizarre accident); on the level of the population, the total number of deaths in a year can be "predicted" fairly well even if no individual death can be predicted. In the long run, life expectancy tables do change over time: collectively, each individual person uses what they learn about diet, exercise, cigarette smoking, etc. and makes adjustments in their day-to-day lives; and the aggregate results over time do reflect these changes. It seems to me that there is a good question buried here in this analogy but I can't quite figure out how to unearth it. Any thoughts from a...

You make an important observation for compatibilism. What your analysis does is to show that we can have predictability and law (in a regularity sense) with no implications for individual freedom. My decision to cross the railway track might lead to my death, and it might produce a number that fits the predicted number of deaths on railway lines in a year. Was my decision then not a free one? Hardly, because for that to be the case it has to be coerced or whatever the particular compatibilist line being taken is. The fact that there are h homicides a year in the United States, on average, and that without the homicide I commit the number would be h-1 has no relevance to the freedom or unfreedom of my act. Your point was of central importance to the classical compatibilists, who realized that knowledge and predication of what will happen have no tendency to undermine freedom. I know what I will do, but this could hardly be a reason to say what I will do is not free. It might even be a condition for it to be free!

Why doesn't consciousness defeat the determinism argument? If a person

Why doesn't consciousness defeat the determinism argument? If a person consciously decides to order a hamburger instead of a cheeseburger the next time he goes to a restaurant, what force is controlling him to delude himself?

One typical way of thinking of such examples is this: perhaps the sequence of conscious mental states we enjoy is a causal sequence, so "causation" would be the "force" you are asking about. Perhaps the purely determinist laws of neuroscience dictate her sequence of brain states, which in turn dictate her sequence of mental states, generating her "conscious decision process" by which she eventually concludes she will order a hamburger. Perhaps event he deterministic sequence generates/dictates all the "feelings" she feels to, including the feeling of compelte freedom from external forces ... After all we are NOT typically aware of what is causing our mental states, are we? So even our "feeling of freedom," our "sense" of controlling our thoughts and decision processes, may be generated by entirely deterministic causal networks .... It seems to me, then, that consciousness could not itself defeat the determinism argument because our sequence of conscious states could easily be deterministically generated, despite their content ....

hope that's useful!


Free Will vs. (and) Determinism

Free Will vs. (and) Determinism I have been having a tireless debate with a friend about freewill and determinism. We have researched and regurgitated some of other people's arguments but it seems that our arguments never confront one another's. My description of the argument will be biased (I believe in determinism - kind of). I believe there are four possibilities 1. we have a determined future: We have our brain, biology, environment, and they interact in a specific way. What can possible change that? 2. at some level, particles move completely randomly, so our future isn't necessarily set, not because of free will, but because of those pesky little particles. 3. God asserts his will, but with rationality: our future is set, because a rational God is destined to make the same decisions (that argument might be incomplete, but we don't care about this one anyway. 4. God acts randomly, same outcome as 2, but because of a chaotic God. For arguments sake, we stick only to number 1 - we have a...

My first thought is that your four alternatives don't carve the territory up adequately.

Let's agree: either our futures are determined or they aren't. The way you've set up the debate, you've assumed that if determinism is true, we don't have free will. But that leaves out an important position: compatibilism. According to compatibilists, we can have free will even if determinism is true. This view has a long line of distinguished defenders, including Hume, A. J. Ayer and Daniel Dennett.

Before we go further, let's set aside the possibility that we do what we do because God makes it so. The point isn't to take a stand on a theological issue. It's just that if there's a God who makes us do what we do, it seems natural to say that God is the agent. There's room to argue, but for simpicity's sake, we'll assume that the sort of determinism (or non-determinism) at issue is natural.

Compatibilism comes in many varieties, but the basic idea is this: you're free if you can do what you want to do. Suppose I decided that I wanted to leave my desk and get a drink of water. What would happen? The plausible answer is that I'd do just that: I'd get up from my desk and get a drink. Furthermore, that hypothetical (counterfactual, to be more precise) seems true whatever your views on the laws of nature and the initial conditions. I'm free to get a drink of water because if I decided to do so, I actually would. Likewise, if I decided to sit here and finish this note first, I'd do that. So it seems that I really can do whichever of these I choose, whatever the physics of the world may be.

Now compatibilism isn't beyond objection. But once it's on the table, you see that the issue of free will doesn't simply amount to a question of whether determinism is true.

There's a parallel point about "randomness." It's often argued that if our "actions" are the outcome of random processes, then they aren't really actions and so aren't really free. But that's only relevant if indeterminism amounts to mere randomness. Believers in libertarian free will won't simply accept that. Many of them would say that free actions are authored by the self in a way that isn't reducible to the workings of laws of nature. Furthermore, even if this smacks too much of some sort of non-naturalist view of the self, there's at least one important libertarian who is content to make do with physical randomness. Robert Kane has a detailed defense of the idea that actions can be free even if deciding what to do is rooted in physical indeterminism.

So: some philosophers argue that free will is compatible with determinism, and some philosophers argue that free will is also compatible with indeterminism. In fact, there are philosophers who believe that free will is compatible with both.

Following the issue here would make this note far too long for this forum, but let me close with a thought about why you might want to take these compatibilist views seriously. There are straightforward ways in which we're sometimes not free. Some have to do with external coercion, and some have to do with our decision-making mechanism getting gummed up or tricked. It's also straightforward that much of this is a matter of more or less. We can decide more effectively when we're rested and not rushed than we can if we're tired and under pressure. Decisions made while sober are generally better examples of free choice than decisions made when drunk. In short, our usual view is that sometimes we're able to decide freely, sometimes we're not, and there's room for "more or less." We seem to be able to make nuanced distinctions about free choice. But if we insist that none of this makes sense until we settle Big Questions about the universe, everything is up for grabs in a most peculiar way. Do we really need to know about fundamental physics to know that in the senses we usually care about, we're sometimes able to decide freely? Keep in mind: physicists don't actually agree about whether the world is deterministic and they may never agree. Is the question of whether we can make free choices really a hostage to the outcome of such abstruse debates?

Some people think it is, but I'm suspicious. Life -- including our subtle ways of thinking about our choices and actions -- will most likely carry on as usual whatever the physicists decide about determinism. What matters to us when it comes to the questions of freedom and choice that actually face us seems far away from debate about whether the best understanding of the quantum world is deterministic or indeterministic. Even if there's some sense of "free choice" that isn't compatible with determinism in physics (or indeterminism, for that matter), it's not the only sense, and it's not obvious it's the one we should care about.

If I do something, is it fair to say that I am also _choosing_ not to do one of

If I do something, is it fair to say that I am also _choosing_ not to do one of an infinite number of other things that I am not considering at the time of the choice? For example, if I ask somebody "What's your name?", is it accurate to say I am choosing not to ask them "Where are my walnuts?", even if the second question never even occurred to me?

No, it's a mistake to say that you are choosing not to do all those other things. When you decide to ask someone "What's your name?" it is not "accurate" or right to say that you have chosen not to ask that person "Where are my walnuts?" What is true is that you are not choosing to do the infinite number of things, and you are not choosing to ask where your walnuts are, but that is not at all the same thing as choosing not to ask where they are. Not choosing to ask my name is not a choosing, whereas choosing not to ask my name is. You can also see that it couldn't be right to say that you are choosing not to do infinitely many things - there just isn't time!

A famous brazilian stand-up comedian has made a joke in which he said that ugly

A famous brazilian stand-up comedian has made a joke in which he said that ugly women should be thankfull if they were raped, after all, the rapists would be doing them a favor - since they are ugly, rape is an opportunity for them to have sex. Many people have considered this joke to be rape apology, while many others have considered it to be an exercise in freedom of speech. My question is not about whether the joke is funny or not (well... It isn't), but wether this comedian should be in some way punished for telling it in public. What do you philosophers think? Are there limits to humour?

I don't think he or she should be punished. In most countries there is no law against saying idiotic things and that seems right me.

It seems to me that the power of the first amendment to protect freedom of

It seems to me that the power of the first amendment to protect freedom of speech is vastly overstated. If a wealthy corporation doesn't like a magazine which is agitating against them they can just buy the magazine. Wouldn't freedom of the press be better served by some degree of government involvement?

Very interesting observation and question!

The first amendment is (I believe) customarily treated as what some philosophers call a "negative right." That is, the amendment refers to the duty of government and private citizens to REFRAIN from outlawing or unjustly silencing "voices" that are licit (that is, the people speaking / publishing are not breaking some other precept of justice, e.g. a newspaper uses its prestige to make baseless claims about the outbreak of an epidemic that does not exist causing a mass population to a panic that leads to many preventable deaths). So, initially, it seems the first amendment does not involve a positive right, a right that would entail duties on behalf of people to insure that all voices be heard/ made public.

So, in the case you bring up: if a wealthy corporation has broken no laws and (let us imagine) has acquired its wealth justly (from a moral point of view), it seems that the second amendment would not be a sound basis for objecting to their acquisition of a magazine critical of the corporation. But your question and observation brings up a vital point: in a democracy, the citizens need to have access to fair and balanced information about their nation and the world. Other things being equal, it seems that a publicly funded source of information / news would be better than a news organization funded by private financing with a specific ideological agenda or, putting things differently, did not have a vested interest in the result. So, I believe that many of us would be more likely to trust a claim by a study that was funded by the public on the safety of Tobacco products than a study funded by Philip Morris.

While I suggest that there MIGHT be nothing unethical or illegal about a corporation buying a magazine critical of the company, democratic societies have a real and significant interest in insuring that their citizens have a fair and balanced understanding of what occurs locally and internationally. So, if the free market economy is unable to sustain a public investigation into whether a company is implicated in dangerous practices, there is a collective interest in supporting news sources that are not vulnerable to manipulation due to market pressures, especially those advanced by the company itself.

I have begun reading Kahneman's Thinking Fast and Slow. He admits that system 1

I have begun reading Kahneman's Thinking Fast and Slow. He admits that system 1 can react before system becomes conscious of a particular behavior. Once system 2 becomes aware, however, it can modify system 1's response based on reasoning, additional evidence, past experience, etc. Is there any value in thinking of system 2 as the seat of free will (I choose not to accept system 1's acceptance of a "trick question" fallacy)? If so, and we agree that systems 1 & 2 are aspects of one mind, does it follow that we have addressed Harris's claim that free will is an illusion?

The brief answer is yes, I think it makes a lot of sense to think of something like system 2 as the seat of free, autonomous, and responsible action. And if we do--that is, if we think that our capacities for conscious reasoning and self-control are ultimately capacities instantiated in our brains--then the arguments by Harris and others lose a lot of force, since those arguments often play on the misguided idea that if our brains do it, then somehow we don't. I would not want to say that system 1 (or our non-conscious, more automatic processing) is in conflict with our free will, since often its functioning is crucial to our acting freely and we can also shape its functioning to some degree with system 2 processes. However, if we find that some of our actions are produced by system 1 processes (and situational influences) of which we are unaware and that we would not want to influence us, were we aware of them, then I do think our freedom and responsibility are diminished. And I think that the evidence suggests this is the case more than we tend to think. That is, we have free will, but less than we think.

For a less brief answer, you might want to look at some of my articles (or short pieces) on my website. There is a review of Harris' book here.

Do philosophers who believe in a naturalistic and deterministic world and assert

Do philosophers who believe in a naturalistic and deterministic world and assert a compatabilist theory of free will believe that people who do very wrong things should be punished as an expression of retribution or to make the person realize how bad they are? (Rather than the use of punishment as discouragement) I find it fascinating and deeply disturbing that philosophers would want to punish people who are perfectly innocent according to a incompatibilist ethical system.

On the substance of your question, it may well be that different philosophers will respond differently, though I'd guess that naturalist/determinist/compatibilist more often goes with a view of punishment as having broadly utilitarian goals rather than retributivist ones. But I was struck by your last sentence: you find it disturbing that compatibilists would be willing to punish people whom incompatibilists see as innocent. Isn't this really just a way of siding with the incompatibilists? Compatibilists argue at length that we can be morally responsible even if determinism is true. Indeed, some compatibilists have argued (Hobart is a famous example from many decades ago) that we can't be responsible unless determinism is true. If compatibilists can make their case, then their point of view is only superficially disturbing. The apparently disturbing character, they would argue, is an illusion borne of misunderstanding what's required for moral responsibility. The compatibilist, in other words, thinks there's a strong case that these "innocents" aren't really innocent. Whether they have the better case is, of course, a matter of debate. But they do have arguments to offer.

If someone makes a statement, and I not only disagree with that statement, but

If someone makes a statement, and I not only disagree with that statement, but criticize or condemn her for having made it, do I infringe on her freedom of speech?

I don't see how. I think you have exercised your own freedom of speech. Speech acts can conflict with people's freedoms, including freedom of speech--for instance, if I threaten that I will harm you if you express certain opinions. But the beauty of freedom of speech is the idea that it will expose ideas to opposition with the hope that well-informed people will support the better ideas and reject, or if need be, condemn the others.