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How can we be debating free will if we have no free will?

 
leebern
 
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leebern
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27 July 2018 11:03
 
goedselhoeg - 27 July 2018 02:00 AM

Hello,
you are absolutely right.
I just had breakfast and shurely I couldn’t decide what to eat and drink. And tomorrow it will be the same. But - and this is what I meant in the second paragraph - from my perspective of now (from my actual present) it is not fated what I have for breakfast tomorrow. And that is because until then a lot of things can happen. Maybe today I read a book that tells me that coffee will kill me and it is so convincing to me that tomorrow I drink only hot water. Or I go to the doctor and he tells me that I should avoid butter and ham and tomorrow I am vegetarian. How do I know?
So maybe from the perspective of an almighty being (there is none!) who could forsee everything that will happen to me, my breakfast-future is fated. But this doesn’t effect my life.
So the answer to the question fated or not depends on the perspective. From a gods perspective everything is fated, but from the perspective of a human being the future is open (even though you can’t decide in which direction it will turn). And as there are no gods .... wink

Best regards
goedselhoeg

Ah, OK that helps, I believe I understand your position now:  you do not believe in free will…and while there is way too much complexity for a human to know what the future will hold, it would be known with omniscience because it is fully determined.  And by the way I think this is Sam’s exact position as well.

And this is precisely where Sam’s contradictions on this topic come in.  He frequently says things in direct opposition to determinism, or says things that are just incoherent for someone who believes in determinism.  e.g. these are all verbatim quotes from Sam:

“we are not “fated” to implement one policy or another” 
    - (my response:  under determinism, of course we are)

“By lying, we deny others a view of the world as it is.  Our dishonesty not only influences the choices they make, it often determines the choices they CAN make—and in ways we cannot always predict.  Every lie is a direct assault upon the autonomy of those we lie to.” 
    - (my response:  this quote perfectly shows the contradictions in Sam’s views and words, as he unambiguously refers to human autonomy, of which of course there would be none under determinism)

“I can well imagine that some people might use the nonexistence of free will as a pretext for doing whatever they want, assuming that it’s pointless to resist temptation or that there’s no difference between good and evil. This is a misunderstanding of the situation, but, I admit, a possible one.” 
    - (my response:  what does “do whatever they want” even mean in the context of humans who have no ability to decide what they do or what they want?

“There is also the question of how we should raise children in light of what science tells us about the nature of the human mind.” 
    - (my response:  the concept of “should” is incoherent under determinism.  Because there is nothing any of us can choose to do to affect how our children are raised, therefore there is nothing any of us should do either.)

“Who would choose to leave this world in such terrible isolation?  Perhaps there are those who would.  But why should anyone make this choice for another person?” 
    - (my response:  again, lots of choices being discussed here, and another “should”)

“whatever I choose to do will compete with all the other ways I could use my time and attention”  (my response:  so now you can choose to do things??)

“And by lying to one person, we potentially spread falsehoods to many others—even to whole societies.  We also force upon ourselves subsequent choices—to maintain the deception or not—that can complicate our lives.” 
    - (my response:  once again, here Sam is saying that we have the choice to do something, in this case the choice to continue lying or not)

This contradiction problem isn’t exclusive to Sam, of course…in fact it seems that most people I encounter who don’t believe in free will share the same problem, which I find very interesting and feel the need to push back on.

 

 

 

 
goedselhoeg
 
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goedselhoeg
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28 July 2018 08:52
 
leebern - 27 July 2018 11:03 AM

Ah, OK that helps, I believe I understand your position now:  you do not believe in free will…and while there is way too much complexity for a human to know what the future will hold, it would be known with omniscience because it is fully determined.  And by the way I think this is Sam’s exact position as well.

And this is precisely where Sam’s contradictions on this topic come in.  He frequently says things in direct opposition to determinism, or says things that are just incoherent for someone who believes in determinism.  e.g. these are all verbatim quotes from Sam:

“we are not “fated” to implement one policy or another” 
    - (my response:  under determinism, of course we are)

“By lying, we deny others a view of the world as it is.  Our dishonesty not only influences the choices they make, it often determines the choices they CAN make—and in ways we cannot always predict.  Every lie is a direct assault upon the autonomy of those we lie to.” 
    - (my response:  this quote perfectly shows the contradictions in Sam’s views and words, as he unambiguously refers to human autonomy, of which of course there would be none under determinism)

“I can well imagine that some people might use the nonexistence of free will as a pretext for doing whatever they want, assuming that it’s pointless to resist temptation or that there’s no difference between good and evil. This is a misunderstanding of the situation, but, I admit, a possible one.” 
    - (my response:  what does “do whatever they want” even mean in the context of humans who have no ability to decide what they do or what they want?

“There is also the question of how we should raise children in light of what science tells us about the nature of the human mind.” 
    - (my response:  the concept of “should” is incoherent under determinism.  Because there is nothing any of us can choose to do to affect how our children are raised, therefore there is nothing any of us should do either.)

“Who would choose to leave this world in such terrible isolation?  Perhaps there are those who would.  But why should anyone make this choice for another person?” 
    - (my response:  again, lots of choices being discussed here, and another “should”)

“whatever I choose to do will compete with all the other ways I could use my time and attention”  (my response:  so now you can choose to do things??)

“And by lying to one person, we potentially spread falsehoods to many others—even to whole societies.  We also force upon ourselves subsequent choices—to maintain the deception or not—that can complicate our lives.” 
    - (my response:  once again, here Sam is saying that we have the choice to do something, in this case the choice to continue lying or not)

This contradiction problem isn’t exclusive to Sam, of course…in fact it seems that most people I encounter who don’t believe in free will share the same problem, which I find very interesting and feel the need to push back on.

Yes, you got my position. And if we concede that the universe functions in the way of cause and effect (except on subatomic levels) then there is no possibility for humans to behave otherwise. The difference between us and a rock is not that we make choices, but that we can (due to our brain) make experiences that can change our behaviour over time.

Reflecting on your quotes of Sam, I would like to have him in our discussion, because I really don’t know what exactly were his thoughts and how he would respond to you. Because I think that there are a lot of points that could generate misunderstandings. First, as I wrote in my last post it depends on the perspective (human or god). Second if I say you should do something, do I think you have the possibility to decide or do I refer to an ethical concept. Third, are we talking colloquial language or in terms of philosophy, this might make a big difference sometimes. I often use the term “I decided” (to use the bike instead of the car) knowing that I didn’t decide anything.

Having said that, I try to adress at least some of the quotes and give you my thoughts on them.
“we are not fated…”
I would like to have the context of this quote, but what came to my mind as I read it was that people always think that there is no possibility to change if the future is determined. But as you don’t know which experiences you make in the future you don’t know who you will be tomorrow.

“By lying…”
Maybe we should replace choices with some other word or say unconcious choices. In my interpretation this means that if I lie, the other person has a different experience than if I had told the truth. Due to cause and effect he will act different in the future. Though he is denied the truth his actions are based on false information.

“I can well imagine…”
I once met a person that he describes. He left his wife for another woman and said: “This is who I am and there is nothing I can do. Don’t blame me.” Shure he couldn’t decide differently, but in this case he was to blame, because he behaved like an a**hole. I would think that Sam means exactly this, using non-free-will to behave like an a**hole and demanding not to be blamed, because you couldn’t act otherwise. But this is not the way it works. If you behave like an a**hole you get reactions like one. So you get a new experience and maybe change your behaviour in the future.

“There is also ...”
I think this “should” is an ethical one. Meaning that in the light of what we know about free will or his absence it would be the right thing to raise our children differently. It makes a big difference in education if you punish your children because you think they are bad (worst case: they are possesed by the devil), or if you think that bad deeds are due to bad experiences and that you have to give them better ones.

“Who would choose…”
This one I don’t get without context, sorry.

“Whatever I choose…”
I can only imagine that he refers to unconscious choices.

“And by lying…”
Again I think he doesn’t mean conscious choices, but he tries to show his readers what the consequences of lying are. So the reader gets a new experience and maybe avoids lying in the future.

Tow remarks at the end:
- I didn’t read his book about lies so maybe I misinterpret his ideas.
- Some of the thoughts I tried to write down are quite complicated and I don’t know if my english is good enough to get my ideas across.

Best regards
goedselhoeg

 
leebern
 
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leebern
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28 July 2018 15:39
 

Lots to discuss here but let me key in on the 3-4 main topics from my perspective:

1) “If we concede that the universe functions in the way of cause and effect (except on subatomic levels) then there is no possibility for humans to behave otherwise” 
    - I’m not yet convinced of this (nor do I deny it), but I don’t expect you to explain it as I know many people have written thousands of pages on this topic—do you or anyone have a book recommendation that fully explains this idea?  I’d like to better understand it.

2) I appreciate your comments on Sam’s individual quotes, and I don’t expect you to “defend” him per se.  My opinion still remains that in everyday conversation most determinists (like Sam) sound a lot more like believers in libertarian free will than believers in determinism UNTIL they specifically discuss free will vs. determinism.  Does believing in determinism even matter, or change anything for determinists? 

3) “The difference between us and a rock is not that we make choices, but that we can (due to our brain) make experiences that can change our behaviour over time.” 
    - What do you mean by the bolded part of this?

4) “I once met a person that he describes. He left his wife for another woman and said: “This is who I am and there is nothing I can do. Don’t blame me.” Shure he couldn’t decide differently, but in this case he was to blame, because he behaved like an a**hole.” 
    - To me his defense was 100% defensible/accurate under determinism, but 100% indefensible/inaccurate under free will.  Under determinism we all are just actors in a pre-written play—would you ever blame the actor for the script?

5) “I would like to have the context of this quote, but what came to my mind as I read it was that people always think that there is no possibility to change if the future is determined. But as you don’t know which experiences you make in the future you don’t know who you will be tomorrow.” 
  - Referring mainly to the bolded part of your quote…“change” is inevitable, even if you sit on a couch 24 hours a day, because your body changes, the world around you changes, etc.  It is impossible to escape change.  But what I think the “people” in your quote are probably thinking is “since my life is already determined, then it is what it is and there’s nothing I can choose to do to change it”.  Which is 100% true under determinism…it’s true by definition, actually, as the definition of determinism is that there is nothing you can do to affect your future because your future is already fully determined.

And that last part is why I’m still agnostic on determinism.  Determinism somewhat makes sense to me, logically.  However it makes zero sense to me practically.  Regardless of causes, I know that if I don’t actively “choose” the “right choices” in my life, then my life will be less likely to be as I want it to be.  Even if I started believing in determinism tomorrow, I would still decide to make those “right choices”.  Which is a catch-22 because if think I’m “deciding” anything then I don’t actually believe in determinism.  That’s where I’m at but I’m very open-minded and would actually like to learn more about determinism e.g. why I asked for book recommendations.

 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
 
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TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
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28 July 2018 17:55
 
goedselhoeg - 28 July 2018 08:52 AM
leebern - 27 July 2018 11:03 AM

Ah, OK that helps, I believe I understand your position now:  you do not believe in free will…and while there is way too much complexity for a human to know what the future will hold, it would be known with omniscience because it is fully determined.  And by the way I think this is Sam’s exact position as well.

And this is precisely where Sam’s contradictions on this topic come in.  He frequently says things in direct opposition to determinism, or says things that are just incoherent for someone who believes in determinism.  e.g. these are all verbatim quotes from Sam:

“we are not “fated” to implement one policy or another” 
    - (my response:  under determinism, of course we are)

“By lying, we deny others a view of the world as it is.  Our dishonesty not only influences the choices they make, it often determines the choices they CAN make—and in ways we cannot always predict.  Every lie is a direct assault upon the autonomy of those we lie to.” 
    - (my response:  this quote perfectly shows the contradictions in Sam’s views and words, as he unambiguously refers to human autonomy, of which of course there would be none under determinism)

“I can well imagine that some people might use the nonexistence of free will as a pretext for doing whatever they want, assuming that it’s pointless to resist temptation or that there’s no difference between good and evil. This is a misunderstanding of the situation, but, I admit, a possible one.” 
    - (my response:  what does “do whatever they want” even mean in the context of humans who have no ability to decide what they do or what they want?

“There is also the question of how we should raise children in light of what science tells us about the nature of the human mind.” 
    - (my response:  the concept of “should” is incoherent under determinism.  Because there is nothing any of us can choose to do to affect how our children are raised, therefore there is nothing any of us should do either.)

“Who would choose to leave this world in such terrible isolation?  Perhaps there are those who would.  But why should anyone make this choice for another person?” 
    - (my response:  again, lots of choices being discussed here, and another “should”)

“whatever I choose to do will compete with all the other ways I could use my time and attention”  (my response:  so now you can choose to do things??)

“And by lying to one person, we potentially spread falsehoods to many others—even to whole societies.  We also force upon ourselves subsequent choices—to maintain the deception or not—that can complicate our lives.” 
    - (my response:  once again, here Sam is saying that we have the choice to do something, in this case the choice to continue lying or not)

This contradiction problem isn’t exclusive to Sam, of course…in fact it seems that most people I encounter who don’t believe in free will share the same problem, which I find very interesting and feel the need to push back on.

Yes, you got my position. And if we concede that the universe functions in the way of cause and effect (except on subatomic levels) then there is no possibility for humans to behave otherwise. The difference between us and a rock is not that we make choices, but that we can (due to our brain) make experiences that can change our behaviour over time.

Reflecting on your quotes of Sam, I would like to have him in our discussion, because I really don’t know what exactly were his thoughts and how he would respond to you. Because I think that there are a lot of points that could generate misunderstandings. First, as I wrote in my last post it depends on the perspective (human or god). Second if I say you should do something, do I think you have the possibility to decide or do I refer to an ethical concept. Third, are we talking colloquial language or in terms of philosophy, this might make a big difference sometimes. I often use the term “I decided” (to use the bike instead of the car) knowing that I didn’t decide anything.

Having said that, I try to adress at least some of the quotes and give you my thoughts on them.
“we are not fated…”
I would like to have the context of this quote, but what came to my mind as I read it was that people always think that there is no possibility to change if the future is determined. But as you don’t know which experiences you make in the future you don’t know who you will be tomorrow.

“By lying…”
Maybe we should replace choices with some other word or say unconcious choices. In my interpretation this means that if I lie, the other person has a different experience than if I had told the truth. Due to cause and effect he will act different in the future. Though he is denied the truth his actions are based on false information.

“I can well imagine…”
I once met a person that he describes. He left his wife for another woman and said: “This is who I am and there is nothing I can do. Don’t blame me.” Shure he couldn’t decide differently, but in this case he was to blame, because he behaved like an a**hole. I would think that Sam means exactly this, using non-free-will to behave like an a**hole and demanding not to be blamed, because you couldn’t act otherwise. But this is not the way it works. If you behave like an a**hole you get reactions like one. So you get a new experience and maybe change your behaviour in the future.

“There is also ...”
I think this “should” is an ethical one. Meaning that in the light of what we know about free will or his absence it would be the right thing to raise our children differently. It makes a big difference in education if you punish your children because you think they are bad (worst case: they are possesed by the devil), or if you think that bad deeds are due to bad experiences and that you have to give them better ones.

“Who would choose…”
This one I don’t get without context, sorry.

“Whatever I choose…”
I can only imagine that he refers to unconscious choices.

“And by lying…”
Again I think he doesn’t mean conscious choices, but he tries to show his readers what the consequences of lying are. So the reader gets a new experience and maybe avoids lying in the future.

Tow remarks at the end:
- I didn’t read his book about lies so maybe I misinterpret his ideas.
- Some of the thoughts I tried to write down are quite complicated and I don’t know if my english is good enough to get my ideas across.

Best regards
goedselhoeg

I think you are trying too hard to avoid the implication of the quotes leebern provides.  For all his determinism—i.e. that we can’t believe or do otherwise than what we are predestined to believe or do, meaning that once believed or done, we couldn’t have done or believed otherwise than what we did—Harris still insists that we are responsive to good reasons or the right deterrents, that we can change our minds or our behavior in light of these incentives or reasons.  That is, Harris thinks that when presented with a good reason or the right deterrent, we can change our beliefs or redirect our behavior otherwise than what we were predestined to do, absent those reasons or deterrents.  And should we fail to change or redirect, we are somehow responsible for the failure, and therefore we can be held accountable.  This is the voluntarism and moral accountability he stresses in Free Will, and he insists it’s compatible with his strict determinism.

But it’s not.  If a reason or a deterrent fails to change a belief or a behavior, that means it failed to be the necessary cause for a change, and if the failure is on anyone, it’s on the proposer of the reason or the incentive, not the believer or agent to whom the reason or deterrent is proposed.  For under determinism the believer can only believe what he is causally destined to believe, and the actor can only do what he is causally destined to do: in this predetermined world, the believer or doer can’t but be any other way, for being any other way would require being the cause of their own belief or behavior, something Harris stipulates can’t be true. As such, any “failure” to be caused, i.e. to “respond,” belongs not to the believer or doer but to the causal structure of the universe itself—or in this case, to the proposer of the reason or deterrent who sought causal change of the belief or behavior.  It just can’t lay with the believer or the actor who wasn’t caused to change because he can’t but do as he is predestined and caused to do.  I don’t see how Harris can have it any other way.  That we can’t be the cause of our own beliefs and behavior is precisely what he affirms with his determinism and its denial of free will, even as he insists that we can be such a cause by voluntarily responding to good reasons and the right deterrents; that with either we could do otherwise than we are causally predestined to do; that when it comes to responsibility, reasons and deterrents matter.  It’s a contradiction, pure and simple.  Either we are predetermined and strictly caused, or we are not, and voluntarism is no more possible in the former case than it is necessary in the latter.

So, paradoxically enough, if Harris was being consistent, the only ones responsible for bad beliefs or criminal behavior are those who propose to change either but fail, i.e. those who fail to change either because they fail to supply the necessary causes for the change.  So, for example, if Harris fails to change the belief of a religious zealot with his proposed reasons against religious belief, then Harris is responsible for the failure to change, not the zealot for not responding to the reason.  For if Harris presented the right reason as the right cause of change, then the zealot would have changed.  And so forth for criminality as well: we who try but fail to deter criminal behavior are responsible for this behavior because the criminal simply can’t behave otherwise than how he does or did.  Obviously, Harris doesn’t want such a counterintuitive and absurd implication that comes with his determinism, so he opts not to be a consistent determinist.  Instead he’s an inconsistent determinist who thinks we can be freely responsive to reasons and incentives as voluntary changers of our minds, as though having reasons is enough for doing otherwise than we were causally destined to have done…in other words, he’s a closet compatibilist, despite himself.  I don’t think there is any way he can get out of this inconsistency, context for the quotes or otherwise.

In any case, I would suggest that Harris himself provides the only context one needs to interpret leebern’s quotes—his unwavering support for determinism in Free Will, and it’s inconsistent voluntarism.  When it’s obvious that he has to, Harris waffles on this issue with the best of them.

 

[ Edited: 29 July 2018 07:01 by TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher]
 
goedselhoeg
 
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goedselhoeg
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29 July 2018 06:05
 

Hello Leebern,
1) I am afraid, I can’t really help you with the book question, unless you speak german. The best book I read is from the german philosopher Michael Schmidt-Salomon and is as far as I know not available in english. In german it is titled “Jenseits von Gut und Böse -Warum wir ohne Moral die besseren Menschen sind” (Beyond good and evil - Why we are better people without moral). But I think that in the english speaking world there are shurely also good books available on this toppic.

2) Does believing in determinism even matter, or change anything for determinists?
When I wake up in the morning, I have to “decide” if I get up at once or stay in bed a little longer. So in my mind there are arguments for staying in bed (cosy and warm) or getting up at once (the right thing to do). And at some point I watch myself “deciding” what to do. This is (I suggest) like any believer in free will sees it. So no difference there in the allday experience. If I am in a philosophical mood I can tell myself that all those arguments where just a play performed by my brain for my conscience to suggest that I make a decision based on free will, while the result was certain from the beginning.
To me believing in non-free-will matters with regard to the perception of the world, my fellow humans and myself. This is a lot and it made my life happier and myself a better person (subjectively cool smile). The explanation for this would be quite long so I stop here, but if you want to know more, I will tell you.

3) A rock has no brain, so he can’t make experiences. The outer world and the laws of physics are working on him, so if he rests on a hillside, due to the laws of gravity eventually he rolls down. If we live on the hillside maybe we walk down into the valley every day due to our positive experiences. But then we read a book about the beauties of hilltops - we made a new experience - and in the future change our path. That was all I meant.

4)I agree that he couldn’t have done otherwise, but I disagree that he couldn’t be blamed for his behaviour. This would mean that no killer could be jailed under the assumption of non-free-will. But we as societies have ethical standards of behaviour (which are changing over time) and if someone violates them we have to blame him, because otherwise we couldn’t keep them alive. So he has to face blame even though he is not accountable for his deeds. We blame him because we want him not to repeat his behaviour in the future.

5)Here I point back to my answer to 2). The setup of our brain leaves us no choice but to “decide” (If I get up in the morning or not) even though the dice are already cast. Noone has the choice to not “decide” even the simplest questions. Because if you stay in bed in the morning, you “decided” to stay in bed, there is no possibility to not “decide”. Our life as we experience it doesn’t work on its own, we are always involved. And if we let it run on automode even this is a “decision”. But “decisions” are not real decisions. So I “decide” about my live knowing that I don’t decide, but so what? There is no possibility to behave otherwise so I don’t really care about this part of non-free-will. It is more in the consequences I am interested, see 2).

 
goedselhoeg
 
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goedselhoeg
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29 July 2018 06:20
 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher - 28 July 2018 05:55 PM

I think you are trying too hard to avoid the implication of the quotes leebern provides.  For all his determinism—i.e. that we can’t believe or do otherwise than what we are predestined to believe or do, meaning that once believed or done, we couldn’t have done or believed otherwise than we did—Harris still insists that we are responsive to good reasons or the right deterrents, that we can change our minds or change our behavior in light of these incentives or reasons.  That is, Harris thinks that when presented with a good reason or the right deterrent, we can change our beliefs or we can redirect our behavior otherwise than what we were predestined to have believed or done, absent those reasons or deterrents.  And should we fail to change or redirect, we are somehow responsible for the failure.  This is the voluntarism and moral accountability he stresses in Free Will, and he nsists it’s compatible with his strict determinism.

Hello TheAnal_lytic Philosopher,
I agree that we can change our minds and behaviour in light of new incentives or reasons, so we can’t predict how we think tomorrow about a certain toppic or act tomorrow in a certain situation. But I don’t agree that we are accountable if the reasons fail to change our behaviour. Maybe our convictions were to deep, the reasons were to weak, the presenter of new thoughts was dubious…
So here I don’t go along with Sam, maybe I should have another look at his book.

Best regards
goedselhoeg

 

 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
 
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TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher
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29 July 2018 06:55
 

But I don’t agree that we are accountable if the reasons fail to change our behaviour. Maybe our convictions were to deep, the reasons were to weak, the presenter of new thoughts was dubious…So here I don’t go along with Sam, maybe I should have another look at his book.

It sounds to me like you are a more consistent determinist than Sam, and thus you avoid the contradiction leebern brings up.  Harris insists on a moral accountability for failing to change one’s mind or behavior when faced with reasons or a deterrent, an accountability based in his voluntarism in a deterministic world.  And therein lies the contradiction…

[ Edited: 29 July 2018 08:52 by TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher]
 
leebern
 
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leebern
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29 July 2018 09:19
 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher - 28 July 2018 05:55 PM

I think you are trying too hard to avoid the implication of the quotes leebern provides.  For all his determinism—i.e. that we can’t believe or do otherwise than what we are predestined to believe or do, meaning that once believed or done, we couldn’t have done or believed otherwise than what we did—Harris still insists that we are responsive to good reasons or the right deterrents, that we can change our minds or our behavior in light of these incentives or reasons.  That is, Harris thinks that when presented with a good reason or the right deterrent, we can change our beliefs or redirect our behavior otherwise than what we were predestined to do, absent those reasons or deterrents.  And should we fail to change or redirect, we are somehow responsible for the failure, and therefore we can be held accountable.  This is the voluntarism and moral accountability he stresses in Free Will, and he insists it’s compatible with his strict determinism.

But it’s not.  If a reason or a deterrent fails to change a belief or a behavior, that means it failed to be the necessary cause for a change, and if the failure is on anyone, it’s on the proposer of the reason or the incentive, not the believer or agent to whom the reason or deterrent is proposed.  For under determinism the believer can only believe what he is causally destined to believe, and the actor can only do what he is causally destined to do: in this predetermined world, the believer or doer can’t but be any other way, for being any other way would require being the cause of their own belief or behavior, something Harris stipulates can’t be true. As such, any “failure” to be caused, i.e. to “respond,” belongs not to the believer or doer but to the causal structure of the universe itself—or in this case, to the proposer of the reason or deterrent who sought causal change of the belief or behavior.  It just can’t lay with the believer or the actor who wasn’t caused to change because he can’t but do as he is predestined and caused to do.  I don’t see how Harris can have it any other way.  That we can’t be the cause of our own beliefs and behavior is precisely what he affirms with his determinism and its denial of free will, even as he insists that we can be such a cause by voluntarily responding to good reasons and the right deterrents; that with either we could do otherwise than we are causally predestined to do; that when it comes to responsibility, reasons and deterrents matter.  It’s a contradiction, pure and simple.  Either we are predetermined and strictly caused, or we are not, and voluntarism is no more possible in the former case than it is necessary in the latter.

So, paradoxically enough, if Harris was being consistent, the only ones responsible for bad beliefs or criminal behavior are those who propose to change either but fail, i.e. those who fail to change either because they fail to supply the necessary causes for the change.  So, for example, if Harris fails to change the belief of a religious zealot with his proposed reasons against religious belief, then Harris is responsible for the failure to change, not the zealot for not responding to the reason.  For if Harris presented the right reason as the right cause of change, then the zealot would have changed.  And so forth for criminality as well: we who try but fail to deter criminal behavior are responsible for this behavior because the criminal simply can’t behave otherwise than how he does or did.  Obviously, Harris doesn’t want such a counterintuitive and absurd implication that comes with his determinism, so he opts not to be a consistent determinist.  Instead he’s an inconsistent determinist who thinks we can be freely responsive to reasons and incentives as voluntary changers of our minds, as though having reasons is enough for doing otherwise than we were causally destined to have done…in other words, he’s a closet compatibilist, despite himself.  I don’t think there is any way he can get out of this inconsistency, context for the quotes or otherwise.

In any case, I would suggest that Harris himself provides the only context one needs to interpret leebern’s quotes—his unwavering support for determinism in Free Will, and it’s inconsistent voluntarism.  When it’s obvious that he has to, Harris waffles on this issue with the best of them.

@TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher I agree with most all of this—well put.  One quick question, did you read Sam’s book Free Will, and if so would you recommend it for better understanding his full view on free will?  I’ve avoided reading it because I already feel the way he explains his views on free will is confusing and seemingly misguided, so I’ve assumed reading his book will just annoy me, but it sounds like in his book he really smuggles in the voluntarism that clearly is the downfall of his argument.

One part of your post I think I would differ slightly on is what Sam’s view would/should look like IF he were being consistent.  I’ve bolded two parts of your post.  I believe the first bolded part is more accurate than the second.  That is to say, under Sam’s hard determinism, any “blame” (so to speak) for what a person does or says can only fall on the “causal structure of the universe”, i.e. can only fall on however the universe was structured with its very first cause and with the “rules” that govern all subsequent causes and effects.  i.e. NOTHING after the beginning of the universe can be given any blame, responsibility, etc.

For the second bolded part, under determinism, then the “person who is proposing/advocating the change”, e.g. your example of Sam trying to change the religious zealot’s mind, can’t be held responsible for not changing the zealot either, because Sam in this example would also just be following the pre-written script of his life.  The logical conclusion of Sam’s determinism should be that nobody can be held responsible for anything, because nobody chose anything, everybody was just a helpless witness to their pre-determined life.  Back to my movie analogy, we don’t hold an actor responsible for the script.  Of course Sam surely quickly realized he can’t promote THAT worldview, because it negates much of his writing and speaking, where he tries to lay out cases for what people should do, i.e. morality.  And so this is where Sam starts to fully enter into cognitive dissonance and betray his own determinism by sneaking in allowances for voluntarism, etc.

 
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29 July 2018 10:09
 
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher - 29 July 2018 06:55 AM

But I don’t agree that we are accountable if the reasons fail to change our behaviour. Maybe our convictions were to deep, the reasons were to weak, the presenter of new thoughts was dubious…So here I don’t go along with Sam, maybe I should have another look at his book.

It sounds to me like you are a more consistent determinist than Sam, and thus you avoid the contradiction leebern brings up.  Harris insists on a moral accountability for failing to change one’s mind or behavior when faced with reasons or a deterrent, an accountability based in his voluntarism in a deterministic world.  And therein lies the contradiction…

As said to leebern, I’d like to have Sam in our discussion to make clear what he thinks. Having written a book about free will I think he spent more time with the subject than I did. And in his lectures and discussions he seemed to me sharp minded and logical. So maybe he could clear up the contradiction.
For me there is no way from determinism to accountability for someones deeds. Yet, as I also said before, I can blame him for his behaviour and so try to change his mind and deeds in the future. If I am convincing enough he will change if not not. Neither of us is to blame.

 
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29 July 2018 18:50
 

leebern.

You’re right to differ on the points you raise.  I should have been more clear and not left so much hang on “if the failure is on anyone.”

What I had in mind was holding Harris’ feet to the fire for what he’s said, not exactly what’s implied in his views.  For instance, he has said that it’s psychologically unhealthy and theoretically nonsensical to blame criminals for their crimes; they are merely predetermined to commit them (he’s said that when it comes to bad actions, “it’s tumors all the way down”).  Criminals can’t but do what they do.  But he’s also said (as you quote): reformers are not predetermined or “fated” to implement their policies; they are somehow free to come up with “the right ones,” not just causally predetermined ones.  So granting Harris those two grounds, to be consistent he needs blame the failure to change criminal behavior on the reformer for failing to get the policy right (for the reformer has the voluntary choice), not on the criminal (for he’s just doing what the reformer’s policy failed to causally change, and he can’t, on his own, do otherwise).  But again, you’re right.  To be consistent under determinism, neither party is responsible for their actions because both are predetermined to do what they do by the causal structure of the universe.  There can be nothing “voluntary.”  As you say, “nobody can be held responsible for anything, because nobody chose anything, everybody was just a helpless witness to their pre-determined life.”  Frankly, that position is so idiotic I’m surprised anyone would hold it.  It’s no wonder Sam can’t even bring himself to do so.  That is, it’s no wonder he sneaks in allowances for “freedom” and “choices,” it being so obvious that we have both…

Yes, I have read Free Will (twice), and I highly recommend it.  It will sharpen for you just how incoherent Harris is on this topic.  In his lengthy review, Dennett called it a “museum of mistakes,” and while I don’t think Dennett’s “compatibilism” is any more coherent—the pot calling the kettle black comes to mind—at least he’s said some sensible things about the kind of “free will” we in fact have (in Elbow Room, if you’re interested).  In any case, the essay is a quick read, and it’s probably the apotheosis of a screwed up formulation of the problem.  Harris is a clear and concise writer, and he’s quite good at threading an argument.  In this case it’s an argument for a nonsensical position, but I doubt you’ll find a clearer statement anywhere.  So it really is worth the read (and yes, he “smuggles” in the voluntarism, quite avowedly in fact.  That’s part of why it’s so worth the read…)

[ Edited: 29 July 2018 19:59 by TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher]
 
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29 July 2018 18:57
 
goedselhoeg - 29 July 2018 10:09 AM
TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher - 29 July 2018 06:55 AM

But I don’t agree that we are accountable if the reasons fail to change our behaviour. Maybe our convictions were to deep, the reasons were to weak, the presenter of new thoughts was dubious…So here I don’t go along with Sam, maybe I should have another look at his book.

It sounds to me like you are a more consistent determinist than Sam, and thus you avoid the contradiction leebern brings up.  Harris insists on a moral accountability for failing to change one’s mind or behavior when faced with reasons or a deterrent, an accountability based in his voluntarism in a deterministic world.  And therein lies the contradiction…

As said to leebern, I’d like to have Sam in our discussion to make clear what he thinks. Having written a book about free will I think he spent more time with the subject than I did. And in his lectures and discussions he seemed to me sharp minded and logical. So maybe he could clear up the contradiction.
For me there is no way from determinism to accountability for someones deeds. Yet, as I also said before, I can blame him for his behaviour and so try to change his mind and deeds in the future. If I am convincing enough he will change if not not. Neither of us is to blame.

You might be right about Harris’ participation, but then again I’ve heard him stick to a bad position no matter how clearly other’s criticize it, so I myself have my doubts.  In any case, we peons here are far beneath his radar, so we’re pretty much on our own, I think.

Like I said to leebern, if you haven’t read Free Will I highly recommend it.  Or if you did a while ago, maybe a second look, then.  It might help you distinguish where you agree and disagree with his (Harris’) position.  Again, what you write here suggests you are more consistent with his determinism than he is.

[ Edited: 29 July 2018 20:05 by TheAnal_lyticPhilosopher]
 
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