Thursday, September 9, 2010

FLG Just Doesn't Understand

Why this keeps coming up:
If all of our actions are determined by prior events — just one thing causing the next, which causes the next — then is it ever possible for human beings to be morally responsible for the things we do? Faced with this question, many people feel themselves pulled in competing directions — it is as though there is something compelling them to say yes, but also something that makes them want to say no.

What is it that draws us in these two conflicting directions? The philosopher Shaun Nichols and I thought that people might be drawn toward one view by their capacity for abstract, theoretical reasoning, while simultaneously being drawn in the opposite direction by their more immediate emotional reactions. It is as though their capacity for abstract reasoning tells them, “This person was completely determined and therefore cannot be held responsible,” while their capacity for immediate emotional reaction keeps screaming, “But he did such a horrible thing! Surely, he is responsible for it.”

To put this idea to the test, we conducted a simple experiment.

I'm sorry, but I've never questioned my free will. Yes, yes, I understand the logic. We don't make choices about what we learn and experience initially. This forms us in ways that determine subsequent choices. Yada. Yada.

But, and I think Andrew Stevens mentioned this before, I can choose not to go to work today. It's a clear choice. Every once and a while, I choose not to go to work. The idea that some distant experience renders this choice a fiction is, I don't know of a better way to put it than, silly. It seems that the so-called abstract, theoretical reasoning is completely ignoring the world as I and, I assume, other people experience it.

I don't deny various constraints (psychological, social, physical, biological, etc) on our choices exist. It's just that I find the idea that we are entirely determined, and by extension morally unaccountable for our actions, preposterous and generally unworthy of further exploration.

3 comments:

George Pal said...

We must believe in free will, we have no choice.
- Isaac Bashevis Singer

Andrew Stevens said...

It keeps coming up because most academics prefer strange, counter-intuitive conclusions yielded by complex chains of reasoning to obvious truths. The former, after all, is often what keeps them employed. In academia, typically only certain types of philosophers are taught to resist this tendency.

"I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the highest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives." -- Leo Tolstoy

George Pal said...

"I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the highest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions...”
- Tolstoy


Not accepting the simplest and most obvious truth would be the highest expression of free will.


“... for the whole work of man really seems to consist in nothing but proving to himself every minute that he is a man and not a piano-key!...

...Good heavens, gentlemen, what sort of free will is left when we come to tabulation and arithmetic, when it will all be a case of twice two make four? Twice two makes four without my will. As if free will meant that!”


The Underground Man - Notes from the Underground, Feodor Dostoevsky

 
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