Did I Cheat?
John Fischer

29 March 2005

First, I wish to thank John and Ken for being so kind as to invite me to be a guest on the show; I enjoyed it very, very much.

Ken wondered whether I have "cheated" in the sense that I call something "freedom" which perhaps is not a genuine freedom.  I certaiinly sympathize with the worry that traditional compatibilism is a "cheat" or in Kant's words a "wretched subterfuge."  I love W. I. Matson's fulminations about compatibilism: "The most flabbergasting instance of the fallacy of changing the subject to be encountered anywhere in the complete history of sophistry...  [a ploy that] was intended to take in the vulgar, but which has beguiled the learned in our time." 

Poor compatibilism. It is actually not all that bad, and it is defended by very able philosophers, such as my colleague, Gary Watson. But recall that I am a semicompatibilist. I do not think that freedom to do otherwise (regulative control) is compatible with causal determinism. But I do think that causal determinism is compatible with acting freely (guidance control). The Frankfurt-type examples are supposed to motivate this contention--or at least this is one route to the conclusion.

Modern philosophers seemed to think of the "liberty of spontaneity" as a genuine form of freedom, where this is something like acting freely and doesn't in itself entail "liberty of indifference" (freedom to do otherwise, regulative control). How could one help to justify the idea that such freedom--actual-sequence freedom--is sufficiently robust to ground moral responsibilty?

Well, in the proto-Frankfurt example suggested by Locke, the fact that the door is locked and thus the man could not have done otherwise than stay in the room plays no role in his practical reasoning, decision, or act of staying in the room. So how can it be relevant to his responsibility? I would say that he freely stays in the room and can legitimately be held responsible for staying in the room. Whether or not the door is locked is irrelevant to his responsibility, and thus whether or not the door is locked does not bear on whether the man has whatever sort of control grounds moral responsibility.

After all, God is kind of like a "Frankfurt-style counterfactual intervener." That is, God may well be a condition that obtains and that renders it true that no human can do otherwise, and yet God plays no role in our actual choices and behavior (on certain views of God). So God is like the locked door in Locke's example or Black (the counterfactual intervener) in Frankfurt's story. But presumably factors that play no role in our choices or behavior cannot etiolate our expression of freedom.

In my view, when I act freely I express a genuine and real kind of freedom, sufficient to warrant ascriptions of responsibility. If I lack freedom to do otherwise, I lack some freedom; but I do not lack the freedom required for moral responsibility.

Comments (8)


Guest's picture

Guest

Tuesday, March 29, 2005 -- 4:00 PM

Woops--a correction. The Frankfurt-type cases are

Woops--a correction. The Frankfurt-type cases are meant to motivate (or be one way of motivating) the idea that guidance control (acting freely) is all the freedom required for moral responsibility (and that freedom to do otherwise--regulative control) is not required for moral responsibility. They do not in themselves justify the claim that causal determinism is compatible with acting freely. Sorry.
What I DO think is helpful about the examles is that they are a first step toward arguing that causal determinism is compatible with moral responsibility.

Guest's picture

Guest

Tuesday, March 29, 2005 -- 4:00 PM

Sometimes I think that everything might be pre-det

Sometimes I think that everything might be pre-determined. Have you ever felt that something had to happen in a certain way, at a certain time? If so maybe all is predetermined. At other times I think that we all have the ability to manipulate ourselves and our environment any way we desire, as long as we have enough knowledge to do it. I say manipulate because we do not actually create matter or energy. Currently I think that it is a mixture of both. If there is a God, or that which controls nature I can see why he would give humans free will, if in fact they have it. Humans make objects, but they have no Will, examples being: cars, houses, streets, bridges, etc. Humans do not currently make: animals, other humans (though they have sex), other beings with Will, etc, though they are trying to do it through genetics and artificial intelligence. I say that if God is an artist his art is greater than current human arts. Maybe God when he creates wanted to create a being with a Free Will that would eventually through centuries of development come to use that Will correctly-that is align itself with the Will of God. Humans seek to understand Nature, so they can uncover the laws that govern it. A collection of these laws would be equivalent to the Will of God. Y would make X and give X free will, so that eventually X would use that will perfectly. By perfectly in Y?s standard, would mean that X?s Will would align with Y?s Will, but that would take centuries of philosophical work.

Guest's picture

Guest

Wednesday, March 30, 2005 -- 4:00 PM

Fun topic. It seems to me that all the concern abo

Fun topic. It seems to me that all the concern about free will rides on concern about moral responsibility, which in turn rides on concern about morality in general. What I want to suggest is that even if we give up free will and moral responsibility, we can still have a viable ethics.
As Mr. Fischer pointed out, practical reasoning is forward looking, whereas moral responsibility is backward looking. To the extent that morality is in its essence prospective and action guiding, then, ascriptions of moral responsibility are superfluous.
Moreoever, even if post hoc, third-person moral evaluation were critical to ethics, we still wouldn't need the notion of moral responsibility. We could simply say such-and-such person's action in a given case was "good" or "bad." And that should be good enough for ethics.
Now, one might argue that taking moral responsibility for bad acts is necessary to develop moral attitudes like shame, and that shame (for example) is in fact a critical motivating component in practical reasoning. But there is at least one possible, aretaic response to this claim, which is to say that shame is directed at the weakness of character exposed by in committing a morally bad act, and that shame becomes action guiding by dint of one's will to reform one's character. On this understanding, then, shame is still retrospectively evaluative, but nonetheless independent of the idea of moral responsibility.
If the above sketch is on the right track, we can lose the idea of free will and (therefore) of moral responsibility without subjecting ourselves to any anxiety over whether our doing so will leave our ethics any less robust.

Guest's picture

Guest

Saturday, April 2, 2005 -- 4:00 PM

I can't help but think the easist way to resolve t

I can't help but think the easist way to resolve the quandry is to say there is a distinction needing to be made between ontological determinism and epistemological determinism.
Though my future actions are predetermined ontologically (or in other words, given the past and constant laws governing the unfolding of the universe) and therefore cannot be different from what they will be, there is good reason to believe what I'm choosing to call epistemological determinism (the doctrine; if you know everything about the present/past you can know the future) is unobtainable because it is impossible for a being to have such knowledge.
Putting aside the hoplessly confused notion of a theistic god, the two reasons I can see against the idea of knowledge of the present being impossible are;
1) The Heisenberg Uncertainty principle which explains that I cannot have knowledge of all causally efficacious particles as I cannot learn the velocity of a particle without changing that velocity in the course of my enquiry in an unpredictable (by me) way.
2) The present we are aware of is never the actual present of the universe but rather what one might call our causal present. To explain what I mean - say we see a supernova in the night sky; I might say "oh, how pretty" and thus it has a effect on me (if you want a more concrete effect lets say it inspires me to go on some bizarre star-hating rampage) but the actual event which is in my causal present is in fact very far in the actual past (a star a light year away appearing to go supernova means it went supernova a year ago).
How does this pertain to free will? While in a very real sense my 'free will' may be an illusion it is true that there are a number of plausible futures which given my lack of knowledge about the current state of the world could be the one which infact pertains and as I have a place in the causal process it appears from my point of view as if I have determined (casua sui) which of these plausible futures actually came about.
I was never very impressed by Frankfurt's paper for two reasons; (1) second-order desires do not solve the problem as second-order desires are caused by external factors just as much as first-order desires and (2) Frankfurt makes the bizarre (as I see it) claim that animals cannot have second order desires. Not only is this confusing from a natural history point of view (why would our motivation systems work completely diffently from 'animals'? Is that why we are the 'higher species'?) but it would appear to be false. To support this contention I direct your attention to rat park; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rat_Park
(It appears that rats can form desires not to desire water laced with morphine - a second-order desire - if on experience it detracts from their ability to enjoy the rat equivalent of the good life.)
By the way guys, love the show! If you're going to do more 'philosophy talk goes to the movies' spots Memento would seem to be a good candidate if you ever do a show on memory.
Duncan
Glasgow, Scotland/Cambridge, England.

Guest's picture

Guest

Saturday, April 2, 2005 -- 4:00 PM

Duncan, You refer to "Frankfurt's paper," but y

Duncan,
You refer to "Frankfurt's paper," but you are obviously talking about his 1971 paper, not the 1969 paper to which I referred!
Also, I do not think Frankfurt ever said that "second-order desires solve the problem," or anything to which "second-order desires do not solve the problem as second-order desires are caused by external factors just as much as first-order desires" would be a reply. Frankfurt's account of "acting freely" uses various ingredients, and it is more complex than you suggest. Whether it works is another question; I agree with your skepticism here. But note that neither Frankfurt nor his followers would make the mistake of overlooking the fact that, in a causally deterministic world, even the higher-order motivational states are caused. The question for you is: so what? That is, exactly what is the significance of this indisputable fact?

Guest's picture

Guest

Sunday, April 3, 2005 -- 5:00 PM

Well first of all it would seem somewhat disingenu

Well first of all it would seem somewhat disingenuous to me to refer to your view as 'semi-compatibilism' - as far as I was able to understand it seems your a thorough-going incompatibilist as far as the traditional account of free will ('It is the case that I could have done otherwise than I did') goes. As I understand it, we pretty much agree on how to answer the free will question (It is not the case that I could have done differently as my actions are determined by elements of the present state of the world beyond my ken but it is the case that had I been different, had some things occured to me which did not, I would have acted differently) but I'm worried you dodged the question which people have presented to me - that the view that classic 'free will' is impossible seems to conflict with feelings of resentment.
If I can ala George Bush decry someone as evil - they are the origin causa sui of their wrongdoings - then it would make sense that I can resent them, but if they arent the original cause of their wrongdoing - if it is a complicated element in a causal chain from how the world is - isn't my resentment misplaced or somehow 'false'? After all I may as well resent the past states of the world that caused their action as resent them themselves. Does this objection hold under your conception of free will? If not, why not? If it does, how would you answer it.
So far the only real answer which has occured to me is to bite the bullet and say that the concept of 'resentment' is indeed a blind-alley and that institutions which it supervenes (especially punishment) need some serious reconsideration.
Completely off-track here; are there any works you can recommend (articles, books) which have been particularly useful to you in developing your opinions on this subject?

Guest's picture

Guest

Sunday, April 3, 2005 -- 5:00 PM

It is not disingenuous, since in all my work I dis

It is not disingenuous, since in all my work I distinguish quite clearly two types of freedom or control. The alternative-possibilities kind is not compatible with causal determinism.
Anyway, some suggestions: Harry Frankfurt's essays on free will/moral responsibilty--he has a couple of collections on Cambridge U Press. I have been most influenced by Frankfurt. I have also been influenced by Peter Van Inwagen's An Essay on Free Will (Clarendon Press); I disagree with some of Peter's main points, but I admire this book, and I believe the arguments need to be addressed.

Guest's picture

Guest

Tuesday, June 21, 2005 -- 5:00 PM

There is a God. God - Consciousness Check ou

There is a God.
God - Consciousness
Check out this web site which is devoted to human beings open to a sober examination and response to the big questions phenomenon that has occurred since the inception of the Internet.
Off The Grid Home Page

 

Blog Archive

2018

November

October

September

August

July

June

May

April

March

February

January

2017

December

November

October

September

August

July

June

May

April

March

February

January

2016

December

October

September

August

July

June

May

April

March

February

January

2015

December

November

October

September

August

July

June

May

April

March

February

January

2005

December

November

October

September

August

July

June

May

April

March