1 2 3 > 
 
   
 

Free Will and Innocence

 
frankjspencejr
 
Avatar
 
 
frankjspencejr
Total Posts:  5
Joined  26-04-2011
 
 
 
26 March 2016 14:12
 

Free Will
Doesn’t the “Non-reality” of Free Will (as Richard Double describes it), which I agree with, argue for the moral and ethical “innocence” of everyone, including the Greenwalds and even the jihadists of the world? By that I mean that the concept of “should” becomes descriptive rather than prescriptive without free will. We can say that it would be better so far as outcomes or experiential consequences are concerned for someone to act one way vs another but not that one “should” act one way vs another, given the lack of ultimate control over one’s own behavior. “Should” implies “can”, “should have” implies “could have”.

 
NL.
 
Avatar
 
 
NL.
Total Posts:  5858
Joined  09-11-2012
 
 
 
26 March 2016 17:11
 
frankjspencejr - 26 March 2016 02:12 PM

Free Will
Doesn’t the “Non-reality” of Free Will (as Richard Double describes it), which I agree with, argue for the moral and ethical “innocence” of everyone, including the Greenwalds and even the jihadists of the world?


At first I cracked up at this causal usage of “Greenwald and jihadists” as shorthand for “evil”, but then I became alarmed at the societal implications and decided the internet is rotting my brain so I should probably sign off for the day.

 
frankjspencejr
 
Avatar
 
 
frankjspencejr
Total Posts:  5
Joined  26-04-2011
 
 
 
26 March 2016 17:33
 

My intent was to use examples, lesser: “the Greenwalds”, and greater: “even jihadists”, of people Sam would have trouble seeing as “innocent”. I didn’t use the word evil. My point has nothing to do with them specifically but with the logical consequence of the non-reality of free will. Sorry if you were offended.

 
GAD
 
Avatar
 
 
GAD
Total Posts:  16272
Joined  15-02-2008
 
 
 
26 March 2016 17:39
 
frankjspencejr - 26 March 2016 02:12 PM

Free Will
Doesn’t the “Non-reality” of Free Will (as Richard Double describes it), which I agree with, argue for the moral and ethical “innocence” of everyone, including the Greenwalds and even the jihadists of the world? By that I mean that the concept of “should” becomes descriptive rather than prescriptive without free will. We can say that it would be better so far as outcomes or experiential consequences are concerned for someone to act one way vs another but not that one “should” act one way vs another, given the lack of ultimate control over one’s own behavior. “Should” implies “can”, “should have” implies “could have”.

If people can’t be held accountable for their actions then I can’t be held accountable for holding them accountable.

 

 
 
frankjspencejr
 
Avatar
 
 
frankjspencejr
Total Posts:  5
Joined  26-04-2011
 
 
 
26 March 2016 17:49
 

That is true. I just think it is an interesting logical point, a description, not a pre- or proscription, as I said in the original post.

 
GAD
 
Avatar
 
 
GAD
Total Posts:  16272
Joined  15-02-2008
 
 
 
26 March 2016 18:00
 
frankjspencejr - 26 March 2016 05:49 PM

That is true. I just think it is an interesting logical point, a description, not a pre- or proscription, as I said in the original post.

But the point is I can proscribe, say that terrorists, pedophiles etc are evil and should be executed.

 
 
hannahtoo
 
Avatar
 
 
hannahtoo
Total Posts:  6509
Joined  15-05-2009
 
 
 
26 March 2016 18:09
 

Consequences are one of the inputs to a person’s psyche that determines their course of action.  So seeing the negative consequences of violating society’s rules (like social shunning or incarceration) helps keep most people in line.  If they break the rules, they know what will happen.

 
frankjspencejr
 
Avatar
 
 
frankjspencejr
Total Posts:  5
Joined  26-04-2011
 
 
 
26 March 2016 18:38
 

I agree that consequences affect behavior. Again my post is neither arguing for or against specific behaviors or consequences. I am just making the logical point that no one can logically be ultimately responsible for their behavior because free will as self-determination is impossible logically.

 
hannahtoo
 
Avatar
 
 
hannahtoo
Total Posts:  6509
Joined  15-05-2009
 
 
 
27 March 2016 06:48
 
frankjspencejr - 26 March 2016 06:38 PM

I agree that consequences affect behavior. Again my post is neither arguing for or against specific behaviors or consequences. I am just making the logical point that no one can logically be ultimately responsible for their behavior because free will as self-determination is impossible logically.

People make choices.  The sum total of their experiences and their disposition determine their choices.  It’s still them.

 
MrM0bius
 
Avatar
 
 
MrM0bius
Total Posts:  1
Joined  22-02-2016
 
 
 
27 March 2016 14:32
 

So, I’d grant that no one has ultimate culpability for their decisions, given a strong reading of “ultimate”. 

However, though we may not possess free-will in a strong philosophical way, we have some large degree of agency over our own minds, through introspection and internal simulation, and the way that we judge and categorize past choices and experiences.  Our agency for a single choice in a given instant is likely probabilistic at best, and the contexts and thoughts available to us have arrived out of a mixture of chance, culture, and past decisions.  However, this is still, in my opinion, more agency than is attributable to any single external element affecting a choice.  So in that way, a proportional degree of blame or culpability on an individual making a bad decision is entirely logically valid and necessary, even with an understanding that the blame is not absolute.

 
mindmindmind
 
Avatar
 
 
mindmindmind
Total Posts:  1
Joined  13-06-2016
 
 
 
23 June 2016 09:44
 
frankjspencejr - 26 March 2016 02:12 PM

Free Will
Doesn’t the “Non-reality” of Free Will (as Richard Double describes it), which I agree with, argue for the moral and ethical “innocence” of everyone, including the Greenwalds and even the jihadists of the world?

IMHO, yes and no, but mostly no.

Imagine yourself watching a play in a theater. One character murders the other, and is duly punished for it. You could say “hey, that guy is innocent! whoever wrote the play made him kill that other guy - it wasn’t his decision!”. I think this is an illustrative oversimplification of the point you were arguing? If you are able to place yourself *outside* of the system of reality and observe it, you could say that every new event in that system completely depends on the sum total of all previous events, which sounds like there is no such thing as “free will”, since the future might appear to be predetermined, maybe. From this perspective, you might be right.

However, we are not able to observe the system that we are inside of, and we do get to make choices inside of the system, even if they are nothing more than a derivative of the sum total of all other choices that we made before plus external stimuli that we ever received. So, as a participant of such a system, you cannot be considered “innocent” any more than that murderer character is “innocent” by the “logic” of the play that he’s in.

Maybe a better answer to your question is both yes and no…

 
Brick Bungalow
 
Avatar
 
 
Brick Bungalow
Total Posts:  4729
Joined  28-05-2009
 
 
 
23 June 2016 14:53
 

I don’t think so. Guilt and innocence are self defining concepts within the paradigm of a legal or moral system. These are socio-political issues that are best dealt with at a pragmatic inter-personal level.I think we reflect on our ethics in moments of quietude in order that we may have sufficient fortitude to maintain them in times of trauma. It’s a narrative of our experience more than some kind of scientific thesis.

I would agree at the level of meta-physics and brain chemistry that guilt is just one of many entangled brain states that deterministic bio-machines can experience and name. But I don’t think that this speaks very efficiently to how we deal with them. Essentially, it’s a wash because if we pardon one person on this basis we have to pardon everyone including those who choose not to pardon. It’s a non starter as an ethical system. We still have to deal with each other.

 
Poldano
 
Avatar
 
 
Poldano
Total Posts:  3184
Joined  26-01-2010
 
 
 
23 June 2016 21:05
 
frankjspencejr - 26 March 2016 06:38 PM

I agree that consequences affect behavior. Again my post is neither arguing for or against specific behaviors or consequences. I am just making the logical point that no one can logically be ultimately responsible for their behavior because free will as self-determination is impossible logically.

I think this is concluding absolute determinism from an absolutely deterministic hypothesis. That’‘s bad logic. We can at best find a measured bound for the degree of determinism for any absolutely deterministic theory. That degree is very large, perhaps many orders of magnitude more than we can currently measure, but it is not infinite. Any actual measurements of a single experimental or observational setup that consistently return the same value, to the limit of the theoretical precision of that setup, can be taken as an indication that something in the experimental or observational setup is broken. Absolute determinism is nothing more than a convenient theoretical rule of thumb that saves most of us from having to work too hard.

Don’t fret too much about it. Almost everyone gets suckered in by this. Even the greatest of the great minds.  wink

 

 
 
NL.
 
Avatar
 
 
NL.
Total Posts:  5858
Joined  09-11-2012
 
 
 
24 June 2016 14:34
 
Poldano - 23 June 2016 09:05 PM
frankjspencejr - 26 March 2016 06:38 PM

I agree that consequences affect behavior. Again my post is neither arguing for or against specific behaviors or consequences. I am just making the logical point that no one can logically be ultimately responsible for their behavior because free will as self-determination is impossible logically.

I think this is concluding absolute determinism from an absolutely deterministic hypothesis. That’‘s bad logic. We can at best find a measured bound for the degree of determinism for any absolutely deterministic theory. That degree is very large, perhaps many orders of magnitude more than we can currently measure, but it is not infinite. Any actual measurements of a single experimental or observational setup that consistently return the same value, to the limit of the theoretical precision of that setup, can be taken as an indication that something in the experimental or observational setup is broken. Absolute determinism is nothing more than a convenient theoretical rule of thumb that saves most of us from having to work too hard.

Don’t fret too much about it. Almost everyone gets suckered in by this. Even the greatest of the great minds.  wink


Frank, in your post what stands out to be is the word ‘responsible’, and what we mean by that. Poldano, in yours, the implicit idea that there could be some other, as-of-yet-unnamed or even conceived of, factor or dynamic at play other than causality or randomness. Trying to picture what this ‘other’ factor could be always makes my head hurt, but the best I can come up with is something like ‘consciousness’, ‘awareness’, input-output-exposure-relationship dynamics, etc.


This does not instantly take us from determinism to something like libertarian free will, but to my mind it subtly changes the question that we should be asking. Would it make sense to look at a class of young students and notice that after their first year of school, some percentage of them didn’t learn to read, some couldn’t add, and some didn’t play with their peers, and say “Well, you can’t really say they’re responsible for that”? In that scenario we wouldn’t really think of it in terms of responsibility, but the idea that humans are fluid systems in a more ethereal way than machinery is would certainly come to the forefront. You can expose a rock to phonics all you want, you won’t see much in the way of behavioral changes on the rocks part. I think when we talk about the consequences of ‘free will’ we may really be talking about what factors make sentient minds different along these dimensions.

 
Poldano
 
Avatar
 
 
Poldano
Total Posts:  3184
Joined  26-01-2010
 
 
 
24 June 2016 18:38
 
NL. - 24 June 2016 02:34 PM

...

Frank, in your post what stands out to be is the word ‘responsible’, and what we mean by that. Poldano, in yours, the implicit idea that there could be some other, as-of-yet-unnamed or even conceived of, factor or dynamic at play other than causality or randomness. Trying to picture what this ‘other’ factor could be always makes my head hurt, but the best I can come up with is something like ‘consciousness’, ‘awareness’, input-output-exposure-relationship dynamics, etc.


This does not instantly take us from determinism to something like libertarian free will, but to my mind it subtly changes the question that we should be asking. Would it make sense to look at a class of young students and notice that after their first year of school, some percentage of them didn’t learn to read, some couldn’t add, and some didn’t play with their peers, and say “Well, you can’t really say they’re responsible for that”? In that scenario we wouldn’t really think of it in terms of responsibility, but the idea that humans are fluid systems in a more ethereal way than machinery is would certainly come to the forefront. You can expose a rock to phonics all you want, you won’t see much in the way of behavioral changes on the rocks part. I think when we talk about the consequences of ‘free will’ we may really be talking about what factors make sentient minds different along these dimensions.

Thinking about this for a few milliseconds more than I did in my first response, the key is the term responsible. It is a causal term, in the sense that a person responsible for some X must logically be or have been able to exert some causal power over X. When tracing the causal train through physical causality, assuming absolute determinism, we find no person. This lack of ultimate responsibility can be obviated by making two assumptions: the first is that physical causality is not absolutely deterministic, the second is that a person is exactly some bounded set of physical entities and processes. The second assumption removes the need to identify the locus of will or decision-making at a single physical entity or process in the constituency of person. The first assumption mitigates the obsession to identify some definite cause of each physical event somewhere in the observable universe. Responsibility, then, remains associated with a person or persons, as agents, while pragmatically limited in speculating upon ultimate causality. The assumption of absolute determinism can be reinstated, but only at the risk of reducing the subjective sense of personal responsibility. The result would be that you may be personally punished for your personal failures, but it’s really nothing personal.

[ Edited: 24 June 2016 18:48 by Poldano]
 
 
NL.
 
Avatar
 
 
NL.
Total Posts:  5858
Joined  09-11-2012
 
 
 
24 June 2016 19:54
 
Poldano - 24 June 2016 06:38 PM

Thinking about this for a few milliseconds more than I did in my first response, the key is the term responsible. It is a causal term, in the sense that a person responsible for some X must logically be or have been able to exert some causal power over X. When tracing the causal train through physical causality, assuming absolute determinism, we find no person. This lack of ultimate responsibility can be obviated by making two assumptions: the first is that physical causality is not absolutely deterministic, the second is that a person is exactly some bounded set of physical entities and processes. The second assumption removes the need to identify the locus of will or decision-making at a single physical entity or process in the constituency of person. The first assumption mitigates the obsession to identify some definite cause of each physical event somewhere in the observable universe. Responsibility, then, remains associated with a person or persons, as agents, while pragmatically limited in speculating upon ultimate causality. The assumption of absolute determinism can be reinstated, but only at the risk of reducing the subjective sense of personal responsibility. The result would be that you may be personally punished for your personal failures, but it’s really nothing personal.


Yes, I think there’s an incredibly ethereal concept of ‘potentiality’ involved here. Say little Johnny, at the end of his first year of school, did not learn to read because he does not care about reading and spent all his time drawing pictures in comic books. Perhaps a mentor resolves to instill a sense of “responsibility” in Johnny, and after this he is an upstanding first grade citizen who is quite driven by this internal code. It gets back to “other possible universes”, doesn’t it? If everything is deterministic, then this was always going to be the unfolding of events, from time immemorial. The chain of events that led up to Johnny being who he is, and the mentor being who they are, and the school existing in the first place, and on and on. On the other hand, in some other hypothetical universe (say one where Johnny was placed in a horrible foster home and had a sort of anti-mentor,) things could and would have gone differently for Johnny, whereas things really could and would not have gone any differently for the rock I mentioned in my last post, at least in terms of literacy. The rock ain’t reading in any possible world. Johnny may or may not be. Does it matter if, in this world, there was only one possible outcome anyways? Do agents who have a sort of flexibility depending on hypothetical worlds have a characteristic that makes them in some indefinable way ‘freer’ in will than the rock? Honestly, I don’t know what follows from that. It seems intuitive that the increased potentiality of a sentient mind makes a different in that it could be different in other possible worlds, but then, we’re not in other possible worlds, are we, we’re in this world, which may well be entirely deterministic with, at most, a bit of randomness thrown in. It seems to me that there is something here that is difficult to parse with words.

 
 1 2 3 >