Determinism and Free Will

by Luke Muehlhauser on July 4, 2009 in Free Will,Reviews

I’m blogging my way through Sense and Goodness Without God, Richard Carrier’s handy worldview-in-a-box for atheists. (See the post index for all sections.) In the last post, we saw that Carrier accepts a “tenseless” theory of time, meaning that all of time is fixed and unchanging. Obviously, this implies that libertarian free will doesn’t exist. So today, I discuss section III.4 The Fixed Universe and Freedom of the Will.

The entire chapter can be summed up in one of Carrier’s paragraphs:

I believe determinism is true because it is simple and has great explanatory power, it is a reasonable inference from the facts so far, it leads to a much clearer and more accurate understanding of many things, and alternative accounts are neither needed nor useful. As we shall see, for example, ‘responsibility’, both moral and legal, actually requires determinism. For if determinism were not true, then our actions and choices would not necessarily be caused by who we are. And what “we” (as a set of personality traits, memories, and so on) did not cause, we cannot logically be blamed or praised for.

Most of the chapter is a detailed response to the (incoherent) argument for libertarian free will given by J.P. Moreland in his chapter of In Defense of Miracles. I shall not go into all that; get the book if you want the details.

Carrier actually defends compatibilism, the idea that free will is compatible with determinism. He says:

…free will is doing what you want – nothing more, nothing less. And being responsible is being the cause – nothing more, nothing less.

Since we always do what we want, can’t we call that free will?

I suppose. But that might be confusing, since “free will” has traditionally meant that our decisions are not caused or determined by physical processes – that we have a special ability to choose in the moment to go one way or the other. Carrier and I (and most compatibilists) agree; we do not have that kind of free will.

So why redefine “free will” to mean “doing what we want”? Probably because we are emotionally attached to the phrase “free will.” I typically say that we do not have free will, meaning we do not have contra-causal free will, but as long as Carrier is clear about what he means by “free will,” I have no objection to his claim that free will (the ability to do what we want) exists.

Fatalism

Carrier notes that determinism does not imply fatalism: that we can’t change our future or apply lessons of the past. Quite the opposite! Determinism shows us that we determine our future. Our good desires cause us to do good, and our bad desires cause us to do bad. Maybe we can’t stop hurricanes, but we can build ambulances and study weather systems and calculate the most efficient response to disasters. All that is required to make our future better is the desire to do so, and that we foster similar desires in others.

Moral responsibility

But if I am determined to do everything I do, how can I be blamed for my actions?

A slight rephrase will draw out the absurdity of that question. We are basically asking: “If I am the cause of everything I do, how can I be blamed for my actions?”

Now it should be obvious that we couldn’t be blamed any other way! Moral responsibility requires determinism. Carrier writes:

For it is wickedness we condemn and goodness we praise, not freedom from causation. Complaining changes nothing. But acknowledging your faults and improving yourself changes everything.

So, accepting determinism may not change our views on moral responsibility, but it probably should change our views on punishment:

Of course, this means we ought to care more about reforming bad people than punishing them, and a lot more about fixing the social causes of evil than locking up their products… Punishment for vengeance’s sake is pointless cruelty from which no noble benefit accrues to anyone. The only valid punishment is that which has as its end a better society and, if possible, a better person.

In fact, as Carrier points out, it is only through determinism that punishment and reward can do any good at all:

…with libertarian free will, punishment and reward have no point or purpose, because they can have no practical effect. If the will is free of causation, then nothing can really cause anyone to change or act differently…

With all of this, I agree. And it fits perfectly with the moral theory I think is most plausible: desire utilitarianism. (But Carrier is not a desire utilitarian, and I have lots of criticism waiting for his upcoming chapter on naturalistic morality.)

Next up, I discuss section III.5 What Everything is Made of.

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{ 68 comments… read them below or add one }

Justin Luddington July 4, 2009 at 5:00 pm

“For if determinism were not true, then our actions and choices would not necessarily be caused by who we are.”
 
That’s a bit disingenuous. If we have libertarian free will, we still cause our actions — we just have a free (that is to say uncaused) choice over what actions we’re going to cause!

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Jeff H July 4, 2009 at 5:59 pm

This reminds me of Hume’s Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (which I just got finished reading a couple days ago). He essentially argues that when it comes down to it, we’re all compatibilists. I’m not sure I’d necessarily go that far, but it seems to him (and me) that we all seem to think that our character/personality/desires as well as our external environment are the cause of what we do. Our explanations for someone yelling at us are either “He’s an angry person” or “He’s just having a bad day.” We don’t think, “Well, he’s making a free choice based on nothing else to yell at me.” That’s a little weird.
 
That said, he also goes on to say that we also understand that we are the actors that produce our actions. So that means that our will produces what we do. Whether or not you want to call that will “free” or not, I guess, is the matter at hand, but Hume would say that the whole argument is essentially just a confusion of terms.

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Derek July 4, 2009 at 10:52 pm


“I believe determinism is true because it is simple and has great explanatory power, it is a reasonable inference from the facts so far, it leads to a much clearer and more accurate understanding of many things, and alternative accounts are neither needed nor useful.”

This is nonsense. Determinism, like naturalism (whatever that means), is a metaphysical thesis, and it’s very difficult to see what the “scientific” evidence for such a metaphysical thesis would be. It would have the be something like:

“If determinism were true, then we’d be able to make highly specific predictions with astonishing accuracy.
The consequence is true.
Therefore the antecedent is true.

But this is silly.

And even if induction could confer rational justification on the antecedent, if the consequence is the thesis of determinism per se, we have the most blatant case of begging the question I’ve ever come across. For without assuming that something like determinism is true, we could never think inductive reasoning is veridical. Given that induction presupposes the truth of determinism (or something like it), to turn around and make an inductive argument for the truth of determinism is viciously circular. I can’t believe this guy got published! This makes me think that a career in philosophy is going to be much less difficult than I had assumed!

“As we shall see, for example, ‘responsibility’, both moral and legal, actually requires determinism. For if determinism were not true, then our actions and choices would not necessarily be caused by who we are”

To be a realist about causation is not to endorse determinism. This is incredibly sloppy! It’s perfectly coherent to say “Sally f-ed” while believing that her f-ing is determined in one sense and not the other-i.e., an indeterminist can deny that sally was determined by antecedent conditions to F, but that her f-ing itself was determined (necessitated) but Sally’s act of choosing to F. Thus, equating libertarianism with contra-causal freedom is misinformed as well: a libertarian can say that some things are determined –that there are bona fide laws governing certain things in the world, but deny that such laws apply or necessitate every event in the world, and thus if there is such a thing as indeterminist freewill, it’s not “contra-causal”, since in such domains there simply is no antecedent causes that necessitated the effect in the first place-there’s no laws to break.

“If I am the cause of everything I do, how can I be blamed for my actions?”

This is such a wrongheaded way of putting the question (on a second thought, it’s a strawman), and it ignores the different senses of the word “determines” (causes). Again, a libertarian thinks that Sally causes (“determines”) her acts when Sally exercises her free will. But the libertarian says that her act (what she caused) was not necessitated by its antecedent conditions- she could have did something else. Sally “determines” her actions, but nothing about the prior state of her choosing necessitated that she chose A over B.

Having said all this, and since you seem to think “scientific evidence” is REALLY important, what do you make of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics- the thesis that “fits” the “data” that much of our world- indeed- the entire subatomic domain, is fundamentally indeterministic? Does Carrier discuss this? If not, how can he be so myopic?**

**Just so you know, I think that “scientific data” is irrelevant to most metaphysical topics, so I’m not offering evidence for indeterminism here, I just think it’s an interesting question for someone, like you and Carrier, who think it is relevant.

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Yair July 5, 2009 at 1:10 am

How does Carrier conclude that determinism is correct in light of the indeterminism of quantum mechanics?
 
I suspect he holds the multiple worlds interpretation so as to allow for tenseless time. But even in this interpretation, there is epistemic indeterminism. An agent in the multiverse or worlds “splits” in the act of observation, there is no sense in which his actions absolutely determine the future .
 
Of course, this is not much of an issue in practice, as the macroscopic world is classical, but as a metaphysical pronouncement saying “it is a reasonable inference from the facts so far” seems dubious.

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Taranu July 5, 2009 at 3:25 am

Peter van Inwagen defines free will as that which we are able to do. He is an incompatibilist and a Libertarian. This is what he has to say on the issue of free will.

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lukeprog July 5, 2009 at 6:33 am

Yair,

Many of us use ‘determinism’ to simply mean that everything this side of quantum events is determined. The indeterminism of quantum events does not provide any way for contra-causal free will to slip into the universe.

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lukeprog July 5, 2009 at 6:39 am

Derek,

Once again you seem not to be attacking naturalism or defending theism, but instead you are attacking extremely well-tested methods of knowing. Determinism is a reasonable inference from observable facts because it fits with everything we have ever discovered and does not require any ad hoc hypotheses about special magical worlds where the causal laws we observe everywhere else do not hold. Thus, determinism is far more probably true than its opposite, given all the evidence we do have.

Re: Sally being the cause of her actions given libertarianism. On libertarianism, what is this ‘Sally’ that has caused an action without her willed decision itself being caused? Which part of ‘Sally’ is not determined by the causal universe? Her personality, memories, desires, and beliefs? (all brain states) Her body? What? I think you will have to invent many ad hoc and totally unproven entities in order to hypothesize that Sally could be an uncaused cause of her actions.

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cartesian July 5, 2009 at 6:40 am

Luke,
Can you define “determinism” (in a way that doesn’t use “determined” in the definition)? It’s hard to figure out exactly what your position is otherwise.
 
Carrier said: “free will is doing what you want.”
That actually sounds like freedom of action, not freedom of the will. I could have freedom of action even if someone were implanting desires/wants into my brain. In that scenario, it sure wouldn’t seem like I was responsible for my actions, even though I was doing what I wanted to do.

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oliver July 5, 2009 at 7:59 am

Derek: Having said all this, and since you seem to think “scientific evidence” is REALLY important, what do you make of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics- the thesis that “fits” the “data” that much of our world- indeed- the entire subatomic domain, is fundamentally indeterministic? Does Carrier discuss this? If not, how can he be so myopic?**

Derek, what does the behaviour of sub-atomic particles have to do with cognition? Aren’t you conflating two totally different systems? For example, uncaused quantum events occurring at the sub-atomic level do not render Newtonian physics moot. One can still make accurate predictions about physical objects and systems based on principles of Newtonian physics, even though at a sub-atomic level it is the general theory of relativity that applies.

 
 
In suggesting that deterministic approaches to human cognition somehow fail because of the existence of uncaused sub-atomic events, I think you betray your lack of understanding of physics. Further, you are conflating properties of part of a system with the whole. This is called the fallacy of composition.
 
You might also want to ease up on your hostile tone, Derek.

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Chuck July 5, 2009 at 8:33 am

 

oliver: …uncaused quantum events occurring at the sub-atomic level do not render Newtonian physics moot. One can still make accurate predictions about physical objects and systems based on principles of Newtonian physics, even though at a sub-atomic level it is the general theory of relativity that applies…

I think something here is confused. General relativity applies only at the “macroscopic level”. If you adhere to the Many Worlds interpretation, then you believe quantum mechanics applies at the macroscopic level too. Newtonian physics is just an approximation that breaks down whenever things start to get interesting … and by the way, there is something wrong with general relativity too. It predicts singularities for the Big Bang and black holes, and we know from quantum mechanics that just isn’t right.

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lukeprog July 5, 2009 at 8:39 am

cartesian,

In plain talk, I see determinism as the view that every macroscopic event is caused; is part of a causal chain. But it appears that some quantum events may not be caused in the traditional sense. While this may undermine determinism as conventionally understood (without the ‘macroscopic’ qualification), I still no see positive evidence for uncaused decisions of a ‘will’ that exists apart from the causal web of the physical universe. So, in my own speech on free will I tend to avoid the term ‘determinism’ and simply refer to the lack of evidence for uncaused, willed intentions.

I object to the statement “free will is doing what you want” for the same reason as you do. If that is how we choose to define free will, then fine, we trivially have that kind of free will, but that does not sound like free will to me. It does not seem to me that if an alien race programmed me with certain desires and I was causally bound to act out those desires, that this could sensibly be called ‘free will.’ It seems you and I agree about this.

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Derek July 5, 2009 at 9:06 am

Cartesian:
“Can you define “determinism” (in a way that doesn’t use “determined” in the definition)? It’s hard to figure out exactly what your position is otherwise.”

Following PVI, et al.,

Determinism =(def.) The state of the world  (S1) at t1 (t1<t2) in conjunction with physical laws (N) causally necessitates the state of the world  at t2 (S2).

S1 + N — > S2

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Derek July 5, 2009 at 9:40 am

Luke:
“In plain talk, I see determinism as the view that every macroscopic event is caused; is part of a causal chain.”
This is too broad. An incompatibilist would grant that everything is part of a causal chain, but they would deny that causal necessary conditions are jointly sufficient for an agent’s F-ing- whereas the determinist thinks that the necessary conditions are jointly sufficient.
To put it another way, Sally can be “a part of” a causal chain without the antecedent causes determining (sufficiently causing) her actions.

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cartesian July 5, 2009 at 11:40 am

Hi Luke,
>>In plain talk, I see determinism as the view that every macroscopic event is caused; is part of a causal chain.>>
 
My worry is similar to Derek’s. I believe in full-blown libertarian free will, and agent causation. On most accounts of “determinism,” I’m not a determinist. But on your definition, I am. I think that choosings/willings/decidings are events, and these events are caused by agents (things like you and me). And at least sometimes, nothing forces, compels, or necessitates the way these agents choose. And at least sometimes, they could have chosen otherwise than they actually did. This is pretty full-blown freedom of the will that I believe in. It doesn’t get much stronger, as far as I can tell.
 
And yet I can endorse all this and still accept that all macroscopic events have a cause. My decisions do have a cause: me. I decide, I choose, I will. But I’m not an event. So my commitment to what you call ‘determinism’ doesn’t require that I say that I too have a cause. So my point is just that it’s a pretty feeble definition of ‘determinism’ that doesn’t rule out my view of full-blown libertarian free will.
 
>>I still no see positive evidence for uncaused decisions of a ‘will’ that exists apart from the causal web of the physical universe. So, in my own speech on free will I tend to avoid the term ‘determinism’ and simply refer to the lack of evidence for uncaused, willed intentions.>>
 
As I say, I’m a hardcore libertarian. And I agree with you that uncaused willings/intendings/decidings would be really weird, if not impossible. But someone of my persuasion doesn’t think that there are any uncaused willings. Nope, agents cause willings (in ordinary English: “People choose.”)

>>It does not seem to me that if an alien race programmed me with certain desires and I was causally bound to act out those desires, that this could sensibly be called ‘free will.’ It seems you and I agree about this.>>
 
Yeah, we definitely agree about that. A lot of the debate could be cleared up if people were more careful to distinguish between freedom of the will and freedom of action. Most compatibilists just talk about the latter, but often misleadingly use the expression “free will.”

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cartesian July 5, 2009 at 11:44 am

Hi Derek,
I’m familiar with PvI’s stuff on this. I was just wondering how Luke was using the term, so I could get clear on his view before offering any comments.
 
>>An incompatibilist would grant that everything is part of a causal chain, but they would deny that causal necessary conditions are jointly sufficient for an agent’s F-ing>>
 
Just a small suggestion: You may want to find an expression other than “F-ing,” especially if you’re ever going to talk about this out loud.  ;-)  Acting? Phi-ing? X-ing?
 

 

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Derek July 5, 2009 at 12:10 pm

cartesian: Just a small suggestion: You may want to find an expression other than “F-ing,” especially if you’re ever going to talk about this out loud.    Acting? Phi-ing? X-ing?

Haha.  My term paper this last semester was a critique of Kapitan’s “Deliberation and the Presumption of Open Alternatives.” I got so used to saying “eff-ing” for “phi-ing” that I forgot about how it sounds.

Are you a grad student, Cartesian?  Where are you at?

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Derek July 5, 2009 at 12:49 pm

Cartesian,
 
I take it that your adoption of the pseudonym is not simply a rigid designator, but that you’re somewhat sympathetic with some Cartesian doctrines.  Are you familiar with Malebranche?  As of late, I’ve been seriously entertaining a modified version of occasionalism.   Classical occasionalism says that only God has causal powers.  I’m starting to think that only agents do, which would include both God and us.  Part of why I find this view attractive is because I think Hume’s critique, pace Kant and some fairly attractive contemporary accounts (e.g. Bonjour’s), is essentially unanswered.  I also think that determinism is an unfalsifiable  thesis, which makes the typical “that’s not scientific!” objections to libertarianism ill-conceived/motivated.  Anyway, just some thoughts.
 
 

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lukeprog July 5, 2009 at 1:15 pm

Derek and cartesian,

I’m used to reading about Susan Φ-ing.

I think I can assent to PVI’s definition of determinism, which also seems to admit the statistical nature of some quantum events. At least, I think this kind of determinism is more probably true than not, given what we know so far.

What evidence is there for uncaused agent-causation? These are not physical agents, are they?

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Derek July 5, 2009 at 2:17 pm

“What evidence is there for uncaused agent-causation?”
Depends what you count as “evidence”.  I think most of us, pre-philosophically and pre-”scientifically” at least, think that the conjunction of all prior states before our f-ing might be causally necessary for our f-ing (i.e., we think that having desires, having a certain physiological makeup, having our character traits, environment, and so on) can be construed as necessary conditions for our willing.  But, prior to acting, and retrospectively after we act, we always have a very strong sense that we can choose either A or B, (that nothing about the conjunction of our states necessitates one or the other), and even after our choosing, we sense that even though we chose A instead of B, nothing about the conjunction of the antecedent states sufficiently explain why we, in fact, chose A.

Of course, this is simply a prima facie case.  Most scientifically inclined philosophers respond by saying that such a characterization relies heavily on “unscientific” folk concepts, or that it’s nothing more than an argument from ignorance. The current debate between compatibilists and incompatibilists is pretty much deadlocked, because any argument from either side gets accused of begging the question.

Being an “experimental particularist”, I think we should pay attention to our most immediate experiences, and only revise our interpretations of them when we are overwhelmed by the contrary evidence.  But luckily for me, determinism itself is, at best, a metaphysical presupposition of scientific methodology, and as such there really can be no question beginning “scientific evidence” for determinism.

Since I’ll take my immediate experience over dogma, I think this is ample “evidence” that we have incompatibilist free will; or perhaps more modestly, that a reflective examination of ourselves will show that incompatibilist freedom is what we think of ourselves as having.
“These are not physical agents, are they?”

Define “physical”.  Define “cause”.

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cartesian July 5, 2009 at 9:11 pm

 
Derek:
>>I take it that your adoption of the pseudonym is not simply a rigid designator, but that you’re somewhat sympathetic with some Cartesian doctrines.>>
 
That’s true.

>>Are you familiar with Malebranche?>>
 
Not really, no. I just know that he was into occasionalism.
 
>>As of late, I’ve been seriously entertaining a modified version of occasionalism.>>
 
Me too, ever since I read a footnote from Plantinga in either “Against Materialism” or “Materialism and Christian Belief.”
 
>>Classical occasionalism says that only God has causal powers. I’m starting to think that only agents do, which would include both God and us.>>
 
Hm. I’d be inclined to say that we have them only derivatively, i.e. only in virtue of God causing stuff on the occasion of our willing stuff, i.e. not at all.
 
>>Part of why I find this view attractive is because I think Hume’s critique… is essentially unanswered.>>
 
I’m not sure what you’re talking about here. You mean the considerations that lead Hume towards skepticism about any causation beyond mere constant conjunction?
 

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cartesian July 5, 2009 at 9:20 pm

Luke,
>>I’m used to reading about Susan Φ-ing.>>

Me too, though I like to steer clear from Greek letters when I write. Sort of pretentious without increasing clarity (makes it less clear, really). That’s just a matter of taste, though.

>>At least, I think this kind of determinism is more probably true than not, given what we know so far.>>
 
Oh. Well, I take it we know something about moral responsibility and deliberation, and I have a lot of trouble making sense of either of these if determinism is true as defined by van Inwagen. So I’m inclined to think that that sort of determinism is more probably false than true.
 
>>What evidence is there for uncaused agent-causation? These are not physical agents, are they?>>
 
They may be, sure. I personally don’t think they are, but I don’t think that’s essential to the view.
 
What evidence is there for the claim that sometimes people choose to act, without their choices being necessitated by prior events? Well, there’s the fact that some people’s choices are blameworthy and others are praiseworthy. That’s very strong evidence for this view, I think, since it’s hard to see how choices could be praiseworthy or blameworthy if they were casually necessitated by the state of the universe plus the laws of nature 1,000 years ago.
 
And there’s the fact that it’s often useful to deliberate. That’s very strong evidence for this view, I think, since it’s hard to see the use in deliberating about our choices if they were casually necessitated by the state of the universe plus the laws of nature 1,000 years ago.

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Derek July 5, 2009 at 9:41 pm

cartesian: I’m not sure what you’re talking about here. You mean the considerations that lead Hume towards skepticism about any causation beyond mere constant conjunction?

Right.  Sorry about that- I was thinking about too many things at once when I wrote that.  Malebranche’s arguments for occasionalism are pretty much proto-humean: if we do not find any necessary connections between things, on what basis are we justified in thinking there are any?

And if we answer “inductive evidence”, enter Hume.

“Hm. I’d be inclined to say that we have them only derivatively, i.e. only in virtue of God causing stuff on the occasion of our willing stuff, i.e. not at all.”

Wow.  This is pleasantly surprising!  Most of my friends think I’m nuts when start talking about occasionalism.

But you’d say that our willing is a bona fide cause, even if its effects are only occasionally related, right?  Otherwise you couldn’t be an agent-causalist, could you?  This is where Malebranche and I part ways.  I do think that any causal powers we have are derivative in a weak sense, that is, we have causal powers because God created us with them.  But, lest agency be an illusion, we are, as Chisholm says, “not wholly moved-movers.”

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lukeprog July 6, 2009 at 7:29 am

Derek and cartesian,

In respond to your evidences, I would say that recent advanced in evolutionary theory about altruism, etc. undermines our warrant for trusting our inborn beliefs about things being blameworthy or praiseworthy. I would also say that just because it ‘feels’ like we make uncaused choices provides very weak evidence for libertarianism – in general, I think feelings are very poor evidence, and it seems to me that is a key point on which I differ with most theists. I also do not seem a problem with deliberation on my view. Computers do an awful lot of deliberation, and yet their every decision is wholly caused by the state of the universe plus the laws of nature.

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cartesian July 6, 2009 at 8:57 am

Luke,
>>In respond to your evidences, I would say that recent advanced in evolutionary theory about altruism, etc. undermines our warrant for trusting our inborn beliefs about things being blameworthy or praiseworthy.>>
 
So you mean that, in light of these advances in evolutionary theory, we shouldn’t trust our intuitions about praise and blame? So, intuitively, now it would be wrong (you might even say “blameworthy”) to go on trusting our intuitions about what’s right and wrong? It would be blameworthy to think that anything is blameworthy? Well, that position is incoherent. So I’m not going to adopt it.
 
I can’t critically think without evaluating some views as good or bad, right or wrong, justified on the evidence or unjustified. If you take yourself to have a defeater for any such evaluation, I can’t see how you can think critically.
 
But let me say that I completely agree with you that atheistic evolution has this incoherent consequence. So you should give up atheism or evolution, your choice. I’ll reject atheism. You can keep atheism at the cost of rejecting evolution, but then I’ll be more scientific than you. And that would probably be pretty annoying for you.
 
>>I would also say that just because it ‘feels’ like we make uncaused choices provides very weak evidence for libertarianism>>
 
I don’t think I said anything about feelings, did I? I think Derek mentioned “sensing” that we’re free. But you like trusting sensations, right? That’s pretty much what science is built on.
 
>>in general, I think feelings are very poor evidence>>
 
What if it feels hot? Isn’t that pretty good evidence that it’s hot?
 
>>I also do not seem a problem with deliberation on my view. Computers do an awful lot of deliberation>>
 
I don’t think computers deliberate. I think they run programs.
 
Suppose your girlfriend offers to take you out to dinner. She says “Well, we can go to the Indian restaurant or we can go to the Italian restaurant.” So you guys start deliberating about where to go. You weigh the pros and cons. Then you call the Indian place, and find out that it’s closed, so you can’t go there. So your only option is the Italian place. Still, you spend about 20 minutes trying to decide whether to go to the Indian place or to the Italian place.
 
Oh wait, you wouldn’t do that. That would be silly. Once you find out that there’s only one option, you cease deliberating. Right? Deliberation wouldn’t make sense anymore, if there’s really only one option.
 
Well, determinism tells us that there’s only one possible future, and it was determined by the state of the universe 1,000 years ago plus the laws of nature. You don’t have any control over the state of the universe 1,000 years ago or the laws of nature. So you don’t have any control over the future. So why bother deliberating? It doen’t make any sense to deliberate, if you believe determinism is true. And yet you do deliberate. (You’re deliberating right now about how to respond to this.) So you don’t live as though determinism is true.

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cartesian July 6, 2009 at 9:04 am

Derek,
>>Malebranche’s arguments for occasionalism are pretty much proto-humean: if we do not find any necessary connections between things, on what basis are we justified in thinking there are any?>>
 
Yeah, I’m pretty sympathetic to that. Causation is pretty darn mysterious.
 
>>Most of my friends think I’m nuts when start talking about occasionalism.>>
 
Well, as I said, it looks like Plantinga is leaning this way. And he’s not nuts. So you can toss that out in future conversations with your friends.
 
>>But you’d say that our willing is a bona fide cause, even if its effects are only occasionally related, right?  Otherwise you couldn’t be an agent-causalist, could you?>>
 
Yeah, you’re right, there’s an apparent tension here. I’m not sure if there’s actually a problem though. What I claim as an agent causationist is that, sometimes, I cause certain events: choices, decisions, willings, volitions, whatever. I think that even a full-blown occasionalist has to admit that we have at least that power, since God has to have some occasion on which to act. I thought the classic view was that God takes my volitions as occasions to move my body (or whatever). So it looks like I have some ability to cause certain events, even on this classic occasionalist picture. If I’m totally causally impotent, what’s the occasion on which God acts?
 

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lukeprog July 6, 2009 at 9:14 am

cartesian: So, intuitively, now it would be wrong (you might even say “blameworthy”) to go on trusting our intuitions about what’s right and wrong? It would be blameworthy to think that anything is blameworthy? Well, that position is incoherent.

No. What I’m saying is that if you’re merely using your inborn intuition, your ‘conscience,’ to make moral judgments, then those moral judgments are unwarranted, because I believe we have no good reasons to trust our inborn moral sense, and many good reasons to distrust it.

cartesian: I can’t critically think without evaluating some views as good or bad, right or wrong, justified on the evidence or unjustified. If you take yourself to have a defeater for any such evaluation, I can’t see how you can think critically.

Sorry, I don’t understand you here.

cartesian: But let me say that I completely agree with you that atheistic evolution has this incoherent consequence. So you should give up atheism or evolution, your choice.

Are you invoking the EEAN, or saying something else?

cartesian: I don’t think I said anything about feelings, did I? I think Derek mentioned “sensing” that we’re free.

Sensing with what? A cognitive sense that has no known ontological existence in the brain, and no proven reliability?

cartesian: What if it feels hot? Isn’t that pretty good evidence that it’s hot?

By ‘feelings’, I’m here referring to pre-philosophical intuitions.

Why bother deliberating? First, because it seems to us that we do have free will. Second, because I want to make the right move, and that statement is not made false by the fact that physical laws determined me to want to make the most profitable decision, nor by the fact that physical laws determined how I would deliberate, which things I would consider, and which conclusion I would eventually reach.

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Derek July 6, 2009 at 9:29 am


“In respond to your evidences, I would say that recent advanced in evolutionary theory about altruism, etc. undermines our warrant for trusting our inborn beliefs about things being blameworthy or praiseworthy.”

I don’t want to speak for Cartesian, but must of us with strong libertarian tendencies respond to such objections in a Nagelian fashion: “so much for evolutionary theory.” Incidentally Luke, I highly recommend, if you haven’t read them yet, Thomas Nagel’s “The View from Nowhere” and “The Last word.” He’s a thorough going atheist, but a “freethinker” in the truest sense of the word: he’s not afraid to suspend “scientific” dogma when it encroaches upon what he thinks to be truth about morality, consciousness, knowledge, and our freewill.

“I would also say that just because it ‘feels’ like we make uncaused choices provides very weak evidence for libertarianism – in general, I think feelings are very poor evidence, and it seems to me that is a key point on which I differ with most theists.”

I’m sorry for perhaps being unclear: I didn’t mean “having a sense” in any non-cognitive sense—as a mere “feeling”. If human actions can have any hope of being explained, from a first person point of view, our desires and beliefs do most of the explaining: “Why did you punch Bob?”, “Because he pissed me off and and I knew punching him would hurt him in more ways then one.” Certainly such responses do some degree of explaining behavior: we act for reasons in the background of beliefs. But even though such first-person reports are partly explanatory, from both the third person point of view and the first, we know that the conjunction of beliefs and desires do not sufficiently explain—there is a causal gap in the explanation- between these antecedent states and the outcome. Not only do we sense (in a feeling sense) freedom, there is also cognitive content to that accompanies the feeling: “though I had a strong desire to punch Bob, my desires didn’t get the best of me, I chose to act upon them, and I could have chose otherwise.”

(1) If determinism is true, antecedent states would sufficiently explain our intentional choices.

(2) Antecedent states, as of yet, don’t sufficiently explain our intentional actions.

(3) Therefore determinism, in the domain of human willing, is false, or at least evidentially underdetermined.

Many would like to deny (2) on the basis of nomological necessity: “we know that the physical world is deterministic, and therefore we have good reason to suppose that neurological states of Bob are the efficient causes of his actions.” But going this route makes every first person partial explanation of one’s behavior epiphenomenal. If neurons themselves are casually sufficient, desires themselves are irrelevant. But surely desires and reasons are relevant: they’re indispensable in explaining our behavior.

Of course, some might argue for a pairing thesis: there’s a correspondence between the neurons and the desires: the reasons why desires are efficacious and explanatory is because they mirror the neurological underpinnings. This might be true, but even so: if desires and reasons are underpinned by the neurology, and the desires themselves are only necessary conditions (as our experience repeatedly tells us, as a matter of the reflective content of our experience), then our own indeterministic willing is what fills the gap. Why “indeterministic”, because none of the antecedent states, though relevant, do not sufficiently explain why we willed what willed, and to think of action deterministically, we must think that they are sufficient, which we don’t.

“I also do not seem a problem with deliberation on my view. Computers do an awful lot of deliberation, and yet their every decision is wholly caused by the state of the universe plus the laws of nature.”

“Deliberation”, in the agent-relevant sense, is when Sally has already evaluated her desires and reasons for choosing A or B. Sally only deliberates when her desires and reasons don’t compel her to choose either one or the other. But if Sally is a determinist, she thinks that one of them is necessary. Thus, she has contradictory beliefs.

(1) By being a determinist, she believe only one option is “open to her”.
 
(2) By deliberating about whether to do A or B, she must believe that both A and B are open to her. (by reductio, if Sally doesn’t believe that she can A, she cannot deliberate about A-ing, and the same goes for B.)

But surely (1) and (2) are inconsistent.
 
 

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lukeprog July 6, 2009 at 9:56 am

Derek,

Evolution is so extremely well-evidenced, anything that contradicts it is very implausible.

Yes, I deny (2) and I think that desires are probably brain states; made of neurons.

I’m not sure what you mean by “the reflective content of our experience.” When I reflect on the content of my experience, I do not see reason to posit uncaused, non-physical agents.

Re: Sally. Many of our beliefs and desires are unconscious, and do not enter our rational deliberations, as psychological experiments have repeatedly shown.

Also, it is well known that humans can harbor inconsistent beliefs. It is not inconsistent of the universe for humans to believe two inconsistent things. For example, atheists and theists repeatedly accuse each other of inconsistent thinking, and that accusation is built into the title of my blog.

I also don’t think (1) and (2) are inconsistent. Sally can believe that only one option is open to her without knowing which one it is. She can use deliberation to figure out which one is open to her. Or, better, she will use deliberation, in some cases, to figure out which one she thinks best fulfills her desires, and that perception – in conjunction with unconscious beliefs and desires – will determine how she acts.

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cartesian July 6, 2009 at 10:49 am

Hi Luke,
>>What I’m saying is that if you’re merely using your inborn intuition, your ‘conscience,’ to make moral judgments, then those moral judgments are unwarranted, because I believe we have no good reasons to trust our inborn moral sense, and many good reasons to distrust it.>>
 
I understand what you’re saying. And what I’ve been trying to get you to see (for several months now) is that you can’t escape using intuition. Any argument you give will ultimately rely on intuition. Your desire utilitarianism will ultimately rely on intuition. Indeed every single view you hold relies on intuitions of the form “Given this evidence, the right thing to believe is such and such.”
 
And even the piece of reasoning you gave that I just quoted relies on intuitions. You’ve surveyed some evidence concerning evolution, and you think atheism is true. You think that the PROPER response to this evidence is to distrust your intuitions. You think that this is the right response, the justified response, the warranted response. All of these evaluations rely on intuition. Evidence, by itself, is silent. That’s one of the things Hume taught us: evidence just describes the world. It’s up to us to evaluate it. If you undercut your ability to evaluate, you’re philosophically up a creek without a paddle.
 
And again, I agree with you that atheistic evolution furnishes us with defeaters for this evaluative intuitions. So if you buy atheistic evolution, you’re in a real philosophical mess. That’s one reason I reject atheism.
 
>>Are you invoking the EEAN, or saying something else?>>
 
I think you meant “EAAN.” And no, not really. Or at least not any more than you are when you tell me about these undercutting defeaters that modern evolutionary psychology delivers for our evaluative intuitions.
>>Why bother deliberating? First, because it seems to us that we do have free will.>>
 
Um, but you know better, right? So why do you deliberate? You’re in a room with two doors. You sit down and deliberate about which door to exit the room by. But then you learn that one door is locked. So the deliberation ends, right? You just get up and try the doors, don’t you?
 
As Derek said, sensible deliberation requires that one believe he has options. But determinism teaches us that we don’t have options. So how can a determinist sensibly deliberate?
 
>>Second, because I want to make the right move>>
 
You’re presupposing here at there are multiple moves you might make, and one of them is right. But determinism teaches you that you DON’T have multiple moves available to you. So don’t worry about making “the right move” — there’s only one move to make! Either stop deliberating, or reject determinism. I reject determinism.
 
Sometimes, late in a chess game, there’s only one move available to a player. You’re like that player who realizes that he only has one move available to him, and yet nevertheless agonizes over making the right move.

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cartesian July 6, 2009 at 10:52 am

lukeprog: Evolution is so extremely well-evidenced, anything that contradicts it is very implausible.

I think that the problem arises only for ATHEISTIC evolution. You can keep evolution, but you’ll have to give up atheism.
 
So which is it? Do you want to be scientific? Or do you want to be an atheist?
 
My how the tables have turned. ;-)

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Reginald Selkirk July 6, 2009 at 11:14 am

cartesian: I think that the problem arises only for ATHEISTIC evolution. You can keep evolution, but you’ll have to give up atheism. So which is it? Do you want to be scientific? Or do you want to be an atheist?

You seem to be implying some sort of contradiction between evolution and atheism, which you most certainly have not demonstrated, nor has anyone else. The only problem you have even attempted to demonstrate is that, given atheism and evolution, constraints are placed on one’s ideas about ethics.
 

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lukeprog July 6, 2009 at 11:26 am

cartesian,

I argue that prephilosophical intuitions about ethics are unwarranted. This does not prohibit me from using critical thinking in general, or making ‘educated guesses’ following the principles of logic and the evidence I know of.

I’m still unclear as to the conflict between atheism and evolution you have asserted. If not the EAAN, what is the conflict?

Re: determinism and deliberation. At any given time, there is only one decision I will make. But the decision I will make depends, often, on my deliberative process. Also, my ‘choice’ to enter a deliberative process depends entirely on a previous state of affairs + the laws of nature.

I admit the determinist is at a disadvantage when trying to describe his position in languages that evolved during a period when nearly everyone believed in libertarian free will, but I do not think the determinist is at a disadvantage with regard to the evidence. Perhaps you have read the theologians who rejected libertarian free will – did the present determinism or clearly than I have, even if you rejected their views as false?

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lukeprog July 6, 2009 at 11:36 am

Derek,

You asked me to define ‘physical’ and ’cause.’ These are difficult problems, though no less difficult for those who wish to refer to things that are non-physical and non-causal.

For ‘physical’, I suppose I would follow Melnyk in endorsing reductive, a posteriori, realization physicalism. For him, something is physical if it is described by current physics or realized by things that are – and obviously, tomorrow’s physicalism will be superior to today’s, as physics continues to advance.

For ’cause’, I accept the standard view involving necessary and sufficient causes, and the presence of counterfactuals.

But I’m sure you may have more precise definitions on hand.

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Reginald Selkirk July 6, 2009 at 11:47 am

Astounding colour illusion
Our perception tells us that the blue and green swirls are different colours, and yet we can verify that our perception has tricked us. Even after we verify the true state of things, the illusion persists. In no way does the persistence of the illusion demonstrate any falseness in our having demonstrated the true state of things. In this case, the verification is done scientifically.
In ethics, we can use reason and argumentation. Even if there are no objective morals, we can still say that one moral position is better than another due to a better understanding of evidence or due to better reasoning.
 

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cartesian July 6, 2009 at 11:58 am

Hi Luke,
>>I argue that prephilosophical intuitions about ethics are unwarranted.>>
 
I’m not positive what you mean by ‘unwarranted’ here, but I’m guessing you’d agree that you can’t sensibly trust your intuitions when it comes to what’s good, bad, right, wrong, praiseworthy, blameworthy, valuable, not valuable, etc. Right?
 
>>This does not prohibit me from using critical thinking in general, or making ‘educated guesses’ following the principles of logic and the evidence I know of.>>
 
I think it does. What we do in critical thinking is evaluate evidence. We try to decide what the right thing to believe is, given the evidence. We try to cultivate epistemic virtues, and avoid epistemic vices. You can’t think critically without generating beliefs of the form “Given this evidence, the right/proper/good thing to believe is p.” Yet you’ve just told me that you don’t trust the process by which such evaluative beliefs are generated. So you shouldn’t trust any belief of that form. So you can’t think critically.
 
>>I’m still unclear as to the conflict between atheism and evolution you have asserted. If not the EAAN, what is the conflict?>>
 
(1) If atheistic evolution is true, then we can’t sensiblyt trust our moral intuitions (intuitions about what’s right/wrong/good/bad/valuable/not valuable, etc.).
 
(2) If we can’t sensibly trust our moral intuitions, then we can’t sensibly hold any belief of the form “Given this evidence, the right/proper/good thing to believe is p.”
 
(3) If we can’t sensibly hold any belief of that form, then we can’t think critically.
 
(4) Therefore, if atheistic evolution is true, then we can’t think critically. (from 1-3)
 
So it’s not exactly a tension between just atheism and evolution, it’s an inconsistent triad: you can’t sensibly be an atheist, an evolutionist, and a critical thinker. You have to give up one of those. (I give up atheism.)
 
 
>>Re: determinism and deliberation. At any given time, there is only one decision I will make. But the decision I will make depends, often, on my deliberative process.>>
 
Not if determinism is true. If determinism is true, then your decision was causally necessitated by the state of the universe 1,000 years ago plus the laws of nature. You can’t control either of those things. Therefore you can’t control your decisions. So why bother deliberating?
 
>>Also, my ‘choice’ to enter a deliberative process depends entirely on a previous state of affairs + the laws of nature.>>
 
Right. So your answer to the question “Why do you deliberate?” is ultimately “I just can’t stop myself. It’s out of my hands.”
 
First: C’mon. Let’s get real. Second, can you now feel the force of the worry that determinism eliminates moral responsibility? All of our choices are out of our hands, if determinism is true. So why blame anyone for their choices or actions?
 
>>I admit the determinist is at a disadvantage when trying to describe his position in languages that evolved during a period when nearly everyone believed in libertarian free will>>
 
First, that’s an interesting empirical claim you’ve made here. Any evidence to back it up? My understanding is that quite a few ancient people believed in Fate (i.e. fatalism), and quite a few were theological determinists. I’d be interested to see the historical sociology that supports your claim up there.
 
Second, I don’t think the problem is with our language. I understand perfectly well what you’re saying, and I think you’re managing to express yourself clearly. My problem is not one of comprehending what you’re saying. No, my problem is with what you’re saying.
 
>>I do not think the determinist is at a disadvantage with regard to the evidence.>>
 
What evidence do you have in favor of determinism? How is this evidence incompatible with libertarian free will?
 
>>Perhaps you have read the theologians who rejected libertarian free will – did the present determinism or clearly than I have, even if you rejected their views as false?>>
 
I think you’re doing a fine job at expressing determinism. If I didn’t understand what you were saying, I’d ask you to clarify. The fact that I’m trying to object to your view indicates that I take myself to understand your view.

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lukeprog July 6, 2009 at 12:28 pm

Reginald,

This is a superb example of what I’ve been trying to argue, thanks.

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Reginald Selkirk July 6, 2009 at 12:35 pm

 

cartesian: (1) If atheistic evolution is true, then we can’t sensiblyt trust our moral intuitions (intuitions about what’s right/wrong/good/bad/valuable/not valuable, etc.). (2) If we can’t sensibly trust our moral intuitions, then we can’t sensibly hold any belief of the form “Given this evidence, the right/proper/good thing to believe is p.” (3) If we can’t sensibly hold any belief of that form, then we can’t think critically. (4) Therefore, if atheistic evolution is true, then we can’t think critically. (from 1-3) So it’s not exactly a tension between just atheism and evolution, it’s an inconsistent triad: you can’t sensibly be an atheist, an evolutionist, and a critical thinker. You have to give up one of those. (I give up atheism.)

I’m OK with point 1. I do not agree with premise 2, or 3 (which is dependent on 2). Therefore I reject your conclusion, 4. Example already presented about how we can recognize an untrustworthy “intuition” (actually a perceptual bias) and rationally demonstrate the metaphysical truth underlying it.

Not if determinism is true. If determinism is true, then your decision was causally necessitated by the state of the universe 1,000 years ago plus the laws of nature. You can’t control either of those things. Therefore you can’t control your decisions. So why bother deliberating?

The smart-ass answer: because I am pre-determined to deliberate.
You are stating that determinism implies fatalism. This is not so. We can make better decisions by carefully considering  the questions. This is true whether or not are answers are pre-determined.
 

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lukeprog July 6, 2009 at 12:53 pm

cartesian,

I would say that our prephilosophical intuitions about what is morally good or bad, morally right or wrong, morally praiseworthy or blameworthy – these prephilosophical intuitions do not provide epistemic justification for believing moral assertions about what is moral or immoral.

cartesian: I think it does. What we do in critical thinking is evaluate evidence. We try to decide what the right thing to believe is, given the evidence. We try to cultivate epistemic virtues, and avoid epistemic vices. You can’t think critically without generating beliefs of the form “Given this evidence, the right/proper/good thing to believe is p.” Yet you’ve just told me that you don’t trust the process by which such evaluative beliefs are generated. So you shouldn’t trust any belief of that form. So you can’t think critically.

I hold that epistemic normativity is not identical with moral normativity. To me, moral claims are about what is right and wrong given all the reasons for action that exist. Epistemically normative claims are a species of institutional oughts. If you want to provide justification for your beliefs, you ought to justify them in such and such ways.

 

So, my arguments against trusting prephilosophical intuitions about moral truths do not undermine my practice of critical thinking, for two reasons. The first is that moral normativity and epistemic normativity are not identical. The second is that critical thinking, as I understand it, relies on post-philosophical thinking, not pre-philosophical intuitions.

So, I specifically deny step (2) of your argument.

cartesian: Therefore you can’t control your decisions. So why bother deliberating?

Because I can control my decisions. Remember, given physicalism that which is referred to by “I” is also part of the physical world. My personality, beliefs, desires, etc. are part of the state of the world and the consequences of the laws of nature which cause my decisions.

cartesian: Right. So your answer to the question “Why do you deliberate?” is ultimately “I just can’t stop myself. It’s out of my hands.” First: C’mon. Let’s get real. Second, can you now feel the force of the worry that determinism eliminates moral responsibility? All of our choices are out of our hands, if determinism is true. So why blame anyone for their choices or actions?

Yes, the answer to why I do anything is ultimately that it was caused, by many things which are part of and not part of what I generally refer to as “me.”

 

Why blame anyone for their choices or actions? Because they, significantly, caused them! If I rape someone, it was, significantly, my desire to rape which caused the rape. And that desire is a little part of what is generally referred to as “me.” So, other people can (and will) use moral tools like condemnation to weaken my desire to rape. Perhaps they will also lock me away so that I cannot exercise my desire to rape. These may both be pragmatic actions on their part, given their desires.

cartesian: My understanding is that quite a few ancient people believed in Fate (i.e. fatalism), and quite a few were theological determinists. I’d be interested to see the historical sociology that supports your claim up there.

My claim could easily be wrong. I have no interest in defending it. In any case, I am finding it difficult to express determinism in a language which typically connotes libertarianism when words like “choice” or “decision” are employed, and I wish to use those words without connoting libertarianism.

 

cartesian: What evidence do you have in favor of determinism? How is this evidence incompatible with libertarian free will?

I present the continually accumulating scientific evidence that every system, when we look at it closely enough, turns out to be deterministic. The case is similar to the basic Inference to Naturalism: I’m betting on the horse that has won a million times and never lost, rather than the horse that has lost a million times and never won (yet).

There is always the chance that non-determined agent causation could exist in the universe, but I do not think good evidence has yet to be presented for it. Similarly, it could be the case that despite the apparently deterministic nature of lightning, the agent causation of Zeus could still be behind it somehow. The problem is that no good evidence has been given for this agent causation of lightning, and we have no need of that hypothesis to explain lightning.

 

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Reginald Selkirk July 6, 2009 at 4:02 pm

I see a common thread in many theist arguments: if (our senses |  our cognitive abilities | our meaning | our moral standards) are not (absolute | infinite | eternal), then they are no good at all and may as well not exist. I reject all of these arguments on the same grounds. Zero or infinity is a false dichotomy; I will make do with whatever finite quantity of these things I have.
I appeal to the patron saint of the finite and the make-do; I appeal to MacGyver. If I got lost in the woods and did not have a GPS locator and a satellite phone in my pack, but I had a stick of gum, a watch, a roll of twine and a package of twinkies, then I wouldn’t sit down and wait to die. I would come up with some way to make the best of what I do have and use it to the best advantage possible.
 

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lukeprog July 7, 2009 at 8:50 am

The MacGyver philosophy of life!

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derek July 7, 2009 at 12:05 pm


Luke,
 
 
“You asked me to define ‘physical’ and ’cause.’ These are difficult problems, though no less difficult for those who wish to refer to things that are non-physical and non-causal.”
 
 
First of all, I think agents, qua agents, cause things, and I think if there are causal connections, as opposed to mere constant conjunctions, among the objects of our experience, then agents are part of the causal chain.
 
 
Secondly, when do I posit anything “non-physical”?
 
 
“For ‘physical’, I suppose I would follow Melnyk in endorsing reductive, a posteriori, realization physicalism. For him, something is physical if it is described by current physics…”
 
 
This is incredibly circular, for physics, presumably, it the study of “physical things.”
 
 
“…or realized by things that are.”
 
 
And this is way too broad.  Suppose there are bona fide casual relations between things, causal relations we have never seen, then by “realized by things that are” would include things that aren’t sense perceptible.  Strange, given the “empirical stance” of “physics”.
 
 
Or suppose, I have an invisible soul.  Since it’s “realized by things that are” (namely, me), then it’s physical? 
 
 
Or suppose God exists.  Then he’s a physical thing.
 
I’m actually okay with this definition, though, because it’s so trivial.  If I can keep my theistic ontology by adopting the label “physicalist”, I’d gladly do it.  But this means that no materialist could principally object to my ontology.
 
 
In order to avoid this, you’d have to say something much more stronger, like “the only thing that can be (or is) realized by things that are the objects and relations described by physics.” 
 
 
But I object to this formulation, for by it, colors don’t exist (I suppose wavelengths would still exist, but whatever the color red is, it’s not a wavelength).   Or, consider the existence of the “the state of being euphoric”, or the equivalent, “the feeling of euphoria”.  No physics books I’ve come across discuss or describe this feeling.  Or consider the intentional content of my thought “Luke hasn’t given me a straightforward definition of “physical” yet.”  Current physics, to my knowledge, has not discussed the aboutness of my thoughts, how my thoughts can be about anything (or even that they are about anything).  So if physicalism is true, under this definition, I don’t think about anything.  Therefore, so much for physicalism under this definition.
 
 
“For ’cause’, I accept the standard view involving necessary and sufficient causes, and the presence of counterfactuals.”
 
 
Do you think there are de re modalities?  Do you think there are necessary objects or states of affairs, like perhaps, the laws of physics?  If so, what kind of scientific evidence would help us distinguish between contingent and necessary beings?
 
 
As far as the counterfactual analysis of causation goes, I think it helps us get clear on what we mean when ascribe causal predicates to states of affairs.  E.g. When we say the “The storm caused me to get wet”, we can analyze what we’re saying by putting it counterfactually: “if there wasn’t a storm, I wouldn’t have gotten wet”.  As helpful as this might be in terms of clarity, the counterfactual analysis fails to analyze causation per se. The counterfactual analysis merely assumes that there are causal relations; it doesn’t give an account of what the casual relation is, and how we know they exist. 

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lukeprog July 7, 2009 at 4:12 pm

derek: This is incredibly circular, for physics, presumably, it the study of “physical things.”

Physics is not the study of physical things. Brains are physical things, but they are the subject of another science.

derek: Or suppose God exists. Then he’s a physical thing.

No, I meant “…or are realized by things that are [described by physics].”
Colors are realized by light, which is described by physics. The feeling of euphoria is a brain state which, the physicalist holds, is realized by things that are described by physics (atoms, etc.). Thought content is also a brain state, and can now be directly detected by computers.
I’m agnostic about necessary things, and I don’t think I understand the de re/de facto distinction well enough to comment on it.
I think counterfactuals explain what we mean, or at least what I mean, by using the term ’cause.’ I don’t have any further analysis of cause. I do not, for example, posit some kind of metaphysical force that acts between an efficient cause and its effect.

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derek July 8, 2009 at 2:44 am

“I don’t have any further analysis of cause. I do not, for example, posit some kind of metaphysical force that acts between an efficient cause and its effect.”
Observing movements between objects alone won’t get you “A caused B”, or “the cue ball caused the eight ball to move.”  If all we do is observe things, we’ll only come away with a description of behavior, a  description that can easily avoid any and all causal ascriptions.  
But as soon as we say things like “the cue ball caused the eight ball to move”, we’re positing unobserved “metaphysical” forces.
 Again, consider the following phenomenon:  An apple in a  tree moves closer and closer to the ground. 
This is all that’s given to the senses.  If we go further and say, “gravity caused the apple to fall to the ground,” we’re positing “metaphysical forces” between things.  We’re inserting unobservable forces to explain the behavior.  
Would you agree?
 

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lukeprog July 8, 2009 at 7:06 am

Derek,

I don’t think scientists think of gravity as a metaphysical force. It’s the name of an extremely well-tested regularity in the universe, just like ’cause.’

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cartesian July 8, 2009 at 7:15 am

Hi Luke,
>>I hold that epistemic normativity is not identical with moral normativity. To me, moral claims are about what is right and wrong given all the reasons for action that exist. Epistemically normative claims are a species of institutional oughts. If you want to provide justification for your beliefs, you ought to justify them in such and such ways.>>
 
Huh. I would have thought that epistemically normative claims are about what is right or wrong to believe, given all the reasons that (one knows) exist. I don’t know what an “institutional” ought is. Do you just mean a prudential ought? In any event, I think you’ll still have to rely on intuition to discover the truth of these “institutional oughts.” Prove me wrong: tell me how you know that, if we want to have a justified belief on the topic, we ought to believe that evolutionary theory undercuts our moral intuitions. Did you put on a white coat and do some work in the lab to determine that this was true? Or did you just rely on what seems intuitively obviously true to you? I’m guessing the latter.
 
>>So, my arguments against trusting prephilosophical intuitions about moral truths do not undermine my practice of critical thinking, for two reasons. The first is that moral normativity and epistemic normativity are not identical. The second is that critical thinking, as I understand it, relies on post-philosophical thinking, not pre-philosophical intuitions.>>
 
I don’t know what “post-philosophical thinking” is. I think I know what people mean when they speak of “pre-philosophical intuitions.” They mean our intuitions about ordinary English, intuitions that even non-philosophers can have. But if that’s right, I don’t know what a “post-philosophical intuition” would be. I think everyone agrees that one cannot have an intuition concerning a piece of undefined philosophy jargon, and that one can have an intuition about a defined piece of philosophy jargon only if the definition uses only ordinary English.
 
So what do you mean by “post-philosophical thinking” and “pre-philosophical intuitions”?
 
Also, I don’t think you’ve shown that moral normativity isn’t the same as epistemic normativity. You say that moral claims are “about” what is right and wrong given all the reasons for action that exist. You say that epistemic normativity occurs in sentences of the form “If you want to provide justification for your beliefs, you ought to justify them in such and such a way.” Well, your claim is that words like “good,” “bad,” and “ought” are ambiguous. Sometimes they have a “moral” sense and sometimes they have an “epistemic” sense. But your examples certainly don’t show this. It may be that “right” and “wrong” in your rough analysis of moral claims are univocal. And it may be that the “ought” (or the “justified”) in your rough analysis of epistemically normative claims are univocal as well, and are the same sort of normativity that appeared in the moral claim. So your conclusion here doesn’t follow from your premises. Maybe you could restate your argument for the conclusion that epistemic normativity =/= moral normativity a bit more slowly and carefully? I’m interested.
 
>>So, I specifically deny step (2) of your argument.>>

This was my second premise:
(2) If we can’t sensibly trust our moral intuitions, then we can’t sensibly hold any belief of the form “Given this evidence, the right/proper/good thing to believe is p.”
Why do you deny that, exactly? I guess you think it’s because we have these other intuitions — epistemic intuitions — and these are totally trustworthy. Is that right? First, I’m still not on board with you that “right/proper/good” are ambiguous. To my ears, they fail standard ambiguity tests. Second, why think that your intuitions about epistemic normativity are trustworthy? Shouldn’t the considerations that led you to doubt your moral intuitions lead you to doubt your epistemic intuitions?
——————————
I asked:

Therefore you can’t control your decisions. So why bother deliberating?

You replied:
>>Because I can control my decisions.>>
No, you can’t, unless you can control the state of the universe 1,000 years ago or the laws of nature. Those two things completely causally necessitate all of your decisions. If you don’t have control over them, you don’t have control over your decisions. Do you have control over either of those things?
 
Also, the “therefore” in my quotation indicates that this was a conclusion of an argument. You’re just flatly denying the conclusion, without engaging the argument. That’s bad.
 
>>Yes, the answer to why I do anything is ultimately that it was caused, by many things which are part of and not part of what I generally refer to as “me.”>>
 
Yes, that’s the worrying thing. On your view, your actions are completely caused by parts of you. You yourself never get into the action — only parts of you do (your beliefs&desires, i.e. brain states). So it’s awfully hard to hold you accountable for anything, if you yourself never figure into the causal chain. Scroll down to “the Basic Argument” on this page:
http://www.informationphilosopher.com/solutions/philosophers/strawsong/
 
>>Why blame anyone for their choices or actions? Because they, significantly, caused them!>>
 
First, no, on your view, it was not they who caused them, but only parts of them. Second, on your view, they could not have done otherwise. You might as well blame Hurricane Katrina for what it caused to happen in New Orleans. But we know that’s ridiculous. Katrina is just a force of nature; it didn’t have any control over what it did; it could not have done otherwise. But on your view, we’re all just forces of nature, with no control over what we do, and with no ability to do otherwise. So just as you don’t blame Katrina, you shouldn’t blame us.
 
>>If I rape someone, it was, significantly, my desire to rape which caused the rape. And that desire is a little part of what is generally referred to as “me.”>>
 
But the fact that you had that desire was out of your control; that fact was determined by the state of the universe 1,000 years ago plus the laws of nature. And the fact that this desire resulted in a rape was also out of your control, for the same reason. So why should I blame you for the rape?
 
>>I present the continually accumulating scientific evidence that every system, when we look at it closely enough, turns out to be deterministic.>>
 
Every purely physical system, sure. Except on the quantum level of course. But people are exactly the place where we’d expect something different. You have a choice (!): put people in the category of purely physical things and do gymnastics when it comes to moral responsibility and deliberation, or accept that people aren’t purely physical and have a nice account of moral responsibility and deliberation. I choose the latter. Why are you choosing the former? There’s nothing in science per se that dictates that people are purely physical. I love science.


>>The case is similar to the basic Inference to Naturalism: I’m betting on the horse that has won a million times and never lost, rather than the horse that has lost a million times and never won (yet).>>
 
Um, your horse is losing here, badly. Your horse is stumbling over moral responsibility and deliberation, and I think he’s been severely injured. Time to put him down.

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derek July 8, 2009 at 10:09 am

“I don’t think scientists think of gravity as a metaphysical force. It’s the name of an extremely well-tested regularity in the universe, just like ’cause.’”
No need to get misled by the labels.  I’ll I’m asking is if you think there really is an unobservable force that “makes bodies attract one another in proportion to their mass,  and inversely proportional to the square of the distance of their separation.”? 
 
Regardless if it’s been “well tested”, do you think the “law” is simply a generalization from the the observations of bodies, or do you think there actually is a causal force that explains the generalization–viz., a force that causes bodies to behave in accordance with the inverse square law?

The difference between these two views is substantial.   The former doesn’t make any claims about causation and hence, does not and cannot do any explaining; the latter does do explaining, but at the cost of introducing an unobservable force which causes the observed behavior. 

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Fortuna July 8, 2009 at 3:42 pm

Cartesian and Luke;

If I might interject some thoughts?
Cartesian says:

>>I would have thought that epistemically normative claims are about what is right or wrong to believe, given all the reasons that (one knows) exist.>>

It seems to me that this definition is implicitly equivocating between different meanings of “right” and “wrong”, namely between their meanings as moral judgements and their meanings as statements about factual matters in general.

Using “right and wrong” when speaking of moral judgements refers only to the objective truth about mental states, whether one’s own or that of multiple people. To say “murder is wrong” is shorthand for saying “I (and others) object strenuously to murder”.

Using “right and wrong” when speaking about general matters of fact is to speak, more precisely, about what is true or false in the wider world, which may include, but is not necessarily limited to, mental states. To say “Johnny is right about the truth of evolution” is not a statement about what people approve of or object to, but a statement about what kinds of circumstances presently obtain, without regard to their being praiseworthy or despicable.

Is that helpful for delineating the difference between moral normativity and epistemic normativity? Epistemically normative statements do not speak to what is praiseworthy or objectionable. They don’t even speak to what is “prudent”, which is another moral judgement. I think Luke put it best when he said;

If you want to provide justification for your beliefs, you ought to justify them in such and such ways.

That’s all. This doesn’t say anything about whether you ought to want to justify your beliefs, that is, whether doing so is praiseworthy or not. Epistemically justified beliefs simply have to meet certain criteria, the way we presently define “epistemic” and “justified”, and the moral aspect of “right and wrong” doesn’t enter into it.

>>Prove me wrong: tell me how you know that, if we want to have a justified belief on the topic, we ought to believe that evolutionary theory undercuts our moral intuitions.>>

We know from observation that our evolved cognitive mechanisms, as they exist in the real world, are abundantly capable of producing xenophobia and in-group/out-group bias of all kinds, and that these biases tend to go unexamined unless challenged by people who don’t happen to share them. We also know from observation that our moral intuitions about how to treat said groups can be heavily influenced by these biases, and history informs us that allowing this state of affairs to persist is often disastrous. If you’re interested in having moral intuitions that accomplish what moral intuitions are for, promoting human welfare, it seems to me that one ought to treat them as potentially suspect, on the basis of what we know of evolutionary psychology.

>>Um, your horse (determinism) is losing here, badly. Your horse is stumbling over moral responsibility and deliberation, and I think he’s been severely injured. Time to put him down.>>

Um, I think our horse has run into some consequences that you personally don’t like. That doesn’t speak to it’s truth or falsity.

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Fortuna July 8, 2009 at 4:24 pm

Oh, and for Derek:
>>Regardless if it’s been “well tested”, do you think the “law” is simply a generalization from the the observations of bodies,>>
Yes, that’s basically what laws are, shorthand methods for describing phenomena.
>>or do you think there actually is a causal force that explains the generalization–viz., a force that causes bodies to behave in accordance with the inverse square law?>>
I’m hardly a physicist, but I suspect that something explains it, though I don’t know that it’s neccessarily a “force”. Physicists appear to have some new and wacky ideas that they hope to test at some point.

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Derek July 8, 2009 at 5:34 pm

“Yes, that’s basically what laws are, shorthand methods for describing phenomena.”
Right. And what matches the description is the explanandum, not the explanans.  

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Derek July 8, 2009 at 5:44 pm

 ”Physicists appear to have some new and wacky ideas that they hope to test at some point.”
As always, every one of us is looking for the Deus ex machina.

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lukeprog July 8, 2009 at 7:11 pm

Derek,

I prefer the former path, though I still take causation to be a useful way to think about things.

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lukeprog July 8, 2009 at 7:18 pm

Fortuna,

I don’t accept your re-interpretation of moral assertions; I’ll write more about that later. I’m a moral realist.

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lukeprog July 8, 2009 at 7:55 pm

cartesian: I don’t know what an “institutional” ought is. Do you just mean a prudential ought?

I’m using Joyce’s categories of oughts, but sure… let’s just call it a prudential ought. If you want to justify your beliefs, you ought to justify it in such and such ways. This, by itself, says nothing about whether you ought to justify your beliefs in the first place given all reasons for action that exist, and thus epistemic normativity is not identical to moral normativity.

cartesian: In any event, I think you’ll still have to rely on intuition to discover the truth of these “institutional oughts.”

I originally wrote that prephilosophical intuitions cannot warrant our moral assertions, a claim which we can rewrite as an epistemically normative claim. I might as well have said: “If you want to properly justify your moral assertions, you ought not to do so by appeal to prephilosophical intuitions.” Fair enough. Now, how can I make the epistemically normative claim?

This invokes the entire study of epistemology, and what counts as good knowledge, and what does not. My epistemology does not result from prephilosophical intuitions. Indeed, I have spent many years fighting these off with an axe in each hand. Rather, my epistemology (and the epistemically normative claims that come with it) arises from an ongoing study of what methods of knowing have tended to produce reliable results and which have not, and also from my studies of human psychology, neuroscience, and evolution. I think a good argument can be made that moral beliefs cannot be properly justified with appeal to prephilosophical moral intuitions, and I will provide that argument in my upcoming ‘Defense of Desire Utilitarianism.’

cartesian: So what do you mean by “post-philosophical thinking” and “pre-philosophical intuitions”?

Post-philosophical thinking might involve careful use of logical and scientific tools to analyze and discover the nature of all things. Pre-philosophical intuitions is closing your eyes and asking your feelings what you think is true.

cartesian: Sometimes they have a “moral” sense and sometimes they have an “epistemic” sense. But your examples certainly don’t show this.

Really? You don’t think that words like ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and ‘ought’ are used in moral and non-moral senses? How about, “If you want to rob a bank, you ought to bring a powerful gun”? Is that a moral or a non-moral ought?

cartesian: Second, why think that your intuitions about epistemic normativity are trustworthy? Shouldn’t the considerations that led you to doubt your moral intuitions lead you to doubt your epistemic intuitions?

And how! My prephilosophical epistemic intuitions have been totally overthrown by studying logic and science and history and psychology. For example, my epistemic intuitions told me that inner feelings were a trustworthy source of knowledge about invisible magical beings. Now I know better.

cartesian: You replied: >>Because I can control my decisions.>> No, you can’t, unless you can control the state of the universe 1,000 years ago or the laws of nature. Those two things completely causally necessitate all of your decisions. If you don’t have control over them, you don’t have control over your decisions. Do you have control over either of those things?

The “1,000 years ago” is artbitrary. We might as well consider “the state of the universe 5 minutes ago + the laws of nature.” And what “I” am is a set of desires, beliefs, perceptions, memories, traits, capabilities, etc. that are particularly causally relevant to my decisions 5 minutes ago. My decisions are also controlled by many other things in that state of the universe, but what I am is a hugely important part of the state of the universe that (along with the laws of nature) necessitates my decisions. In that sense, I control my decisions far more than you do, or than Mt. Everest does, or than Pluto does, or than a giant squid off Indonesia does.

cartesian: On your view, your actions are completely caused by parts of you. You yourself never get into the action — only parts of you do (your beliefs&desires, i.e. brain states). So it’s awfully hard to hold you accountable for anything, if you yourself never figure into the causal chain.

You must remember that on my view, I am not separate from my parts. I am my parts. “I” (or “Luke”) is a convenient name for referring to all these parts of me. So I do precisely figure into the causal chain, because all these parts of me play a major causal role in determining my decisions.

Re: Strawson, I deny this part of premise 4 of the “more cumbersome” version of his Basic Argument:

One must have consciously and explicitly chosen to be the way one is, mentally speaking, in certain respects, and one must have succeeded in bringing it about that one is that way.

I just don’t consider this necessary for moral responsibility. If you do, then we are simply talking about two different things but calling them by the same name. If you hold that this is necessary for moral responsibility, then I will suggest that determinism may not, indeed, be compatible with what you call “moral responsibility,” but that determinism is still compatible with what I call by that name.

cartesian: Second, on your view, they could not have done otherwise. You might as well blame Hurricane Katrina for what it caused to happen in New Orleans.

I see morality in more functional terms. People have moral reason for action to condemn (blame) rapists. Why? Because this very act of condemning rapists contributes to a society that does not tolerate rape; which is a society that will produce fewer rapists, and rape thwarts many and strong desires.

The kind of moral system that blames people because they supposedly could have done otherwise is a popular system, but it happens to be false.

cartesian: So just as you don’t blame Katrina, you shouldn’t blame us.

By now perhaps this is clear, but I do not blame Katrina because Katrina does not have desires that can be affected by moral tools like praise and condemnation. But people do have such desires, and are thus the proper targets of moral praise and condemnation.

cartesian: So why should I blame you for the rape?

Because condemning me for raping someone will slightly affect my desire to rape. And if you publicly do so, your condemnation may also affect and weaken others’ desires to rape.

cartesian: Every purely physical system, sure… But people are exactly the place where we’d expect something different

No, because I think people are purely physical systems. And every scientific discovery about humanity only demonstrates this more precisely and in some new capacity.

cartesian: Um, your horse is losing here, badly. Your horse is stumbling over moral responsibility and deliberation, and I think he’s been severely injured. Time to put him down.

I don’t think my horse is stumbling at all over moral responsibility and deliberation. Well, perhaps it’s stumbling on your definition of “moral responsibility,” but then so much the worse for your definition of moral responsibility. That type of moral responsibility does not exist.

Meanwhile, the evidence that backs up determinism and analyzes it at every level and scale of the universe continues to accumulate with each new discovery.

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Derek July 8, 2009 at 11:32 pm

“I prefer the former path, though I still take causation to be a useful way to think about things.”

Indeed you must, if you think science explains anything whatever.  Without postulating invisible causal forces, science is nothing but a bunch of observations.  
 
So here’s your dilemma:
(1) Accept that unobservable things are fundamental features of the universe; or
(2) Deny that science explains anything. 

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lukeprog July 9, 2009 at 6:19 am

I don’t see why I must accept your dilemma, but (1) is well established already. Hence theoretical explanations.

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cartesian July 9, 2009 at 7:46 am

Hi Luke,
>>If you want to justify your beliefs, you ought to justify it in such and such ways. This, by itself, says nothing about whether you ought to justify your beliefs in the first place given all reasons for action that exist, and thus epistemic normativity is not identical to moral normativity.>>
 
To show that moral normativity is not identical with epistemic normativity, you’ll have to show that the “ought” up there in your conditional is not a moral ought. You haven’t provided non-circular definitions of moral or epistemic normativity. You said “moral normativity is about…” and then proceeded to use moral terms (“right” and “wrong”). You said “epistemic normativity is…” and then gave me an ‘institutional ought’, which uses an “ought.” If you could provide non-circular definitions of these kinds of normativity (i.e. definitions that don’t use normative terms), and if it were clear that these definitions were distinct, I think that would be sufficient to show your conclusion.
 
>>My epistemology does not result from prephilosophical intuitions.>>
 
I think it does. Otherwise, you’d have no way to evaluate whether something is a case of knowledge or not. You probably want to say stuff like “Science is a great way to get knowledge!” But unless you rely on prephilosophical intuitions concerning knowledge, you’ll have no way of knowing whether what science delivers is knowledge in any particular case. [I don't think you've done this yet, but I again really very strongly recommend that you read Chisholm's "Problem of the Criterion."]
 
It’s easy to design a system or machine to sort bad apples from good apples, because we already know the difference between them. And it’s easy to evaluate such a machine: we just look to see whether it successfully sorts the good apples from the bad apples. We use our ability to judge the good apples from the bad apples, which ability we had prior to evaluating the machine.
 
But suppose we encountered some new type of fruit — a kersherple — and we had no idea when a kersherple was good or when it was bad. How on Earth would we go about designing a system or machine to sort good kersherples from bad kersherples? And how could we evaluate whether such a machine was working? We couldn’t, since we wouldn’t be able to just look to see whether it was successfully sorting the good from the bad.
 
Now, if you undercut your prephilosophical intuitions, you’ll be in the position of the person trying to evaluate the kersherple-sorting machine. Someone will present for your consideration a theory of knowledge (for example). This theory will rule, in any scenario, whether there is knowledge or not. But if you don’t bring in any independent ability to sort knowledge from non-knowledge (as we bring in an independent ability to sort bad apples from good apples), you’ll be completely unable to evaluate this theory of knowledge. And of course the same will go for every other theory, if you discount ALL your prephilosophical intuitions (which you seem to do). And then you’ll be unable to do philosophy.
 
>>Rather, my epistemology (and the epistemically normative claims that come with it) arises from an ongoing study of what methods of knowing have tended to produce reliable results and which have not>>
 
Right. And when you evaluate whether the results of a method of knowing have been reliable, you rely on your intuitions. You bring into the game some ability to tell knowledge from non-knowledge, just as one brings into the game an ability to tell good apples from bad apples.
 
>>Pre-philosophical intuitions is closing your eyes and asking your feelings what you think is true.>>
 
So when Gettier asked us to consider some cases of justified true belief, and we all reported that there was no knowledge in these cases, were we illicitly relying on some shady pre-philosophical intuitions? I hope not, for the sake of your philosophical methodology. If your views of phil. methdology rule that Gettier’s paper was illegitimate, that’s bad. His paper is (virtually universally taken to be) a shining example of good philosophical method.
 
————————
>>Really? You don’t think that words like ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and ‘ought’ are used in moral and non-moral senses?>>
 
What I reported to you was that I couldn’t hear any ambiguity in “right/wrong/good/bad/ought/etc.” between a moral and an epistemic sense. Can you come up with an example of a epistemic instance of one of these words that isn’t also a moral instance? You should be able to, on your view, since you think they’re distinct senses.
 
>>My prephilosophical epistemic intuitions have been totally overthrown by studying logic and science and history and psychology. For example, my epistemic intuitions told me that inner feelings were a trustworthy source of knowledge about invisible magical beings. Now I know better.>>
 
I’m pretty sure we’re talking past each other here. By “intuition” I don’t just mean a strong inclination to believe, or a hunch, or common sense, or whatever. I mean one of those conscious experiences during which one can just see the truth of a proposition. For example, it takes a second to just see that this inference is valid: If not-(A & B), then either not-A or not-B. But after you think about it for a second — bam — you can just see that it’s true. Similarly, after carefully considering the cases that Gettier describes — bam — you can just see that Smith doesn’t know. Those are what I call ‘intuitions’.
 
That my inner feelings are a trustworthy source of knowledge about invisible magical beings is certainly not a deliverance of intuition, as I use the word.
 
————————————————
>>The “1,000 years ago” is artbitrary. We might as well consider “the state of the universe 5 minutes ago + the laws of nature.”>>
 
It’s not exactly arbitrary; I chose it for a reason, namely that it’s obvious that you don’t have control over the state of the universe 1,000 years ago. Which step(s) do you deny here?
(1) If determinism is true, the state of the universe AT ANY TIME plus the laws of nature entail the state of the universe AT ANY OTHER TIME.
(2) Determinism is true.
(3) So the state of the universe 1,000 years ago plus the laws of nature entail the state of the universe five minutes from now. (from 1 and 2)
(4) You can control the state of the universe five minutes from now only if you can control the state of the universe 1,000 years ago or the laws of nature. (from 3 and a general principle about control)
(5) But you can’t control either of those things.
(6) Therefore you can’t control the state of the universe five minutes from now. (from 4 and 5)
 
——————————————-
>>You must remember that on my view, I am not separate from my parts. I am my parts. “I” (or “Luke”) is a convenient name for referring to all these parts of me. So I do precisely figure into the causal chain, because all these parts of me play a major causal role in determining my decisions.>>
 
Supposing we can make sense of the claim that you (that one thing) is identical with “your parts” (those multiple things), you’ll still have to accept that you are not identical with any one proper subset of your parts. But the only things that figure into causal explanations of your behavior are proper subsets of your parts. You raised your arm because of one of your beliefs plus one of your desires. But you yourself are not identical with that belief, that desire, or the conjunction of that belief and that desire. So you yourself didn’t figure into the explanation of that action. So why should I hold you responsible? You didn’t cause the action to happen, those other things did.
 
—————————————————–
>>No, because I think people are purely physical systems. And every scientific discovery about humanity only demonstrates this more precisely and in some new capacity.>>
 
I disagree. I can’t think of even one scientific discovery that makes physicalism about human persons even slightly more probable than dualism. Can you? What’s even one scientific discovery that counts against dualism about human persons?
 
>>I don’t think my horse is stumbling at all over moral responsibility and deliberation. Well, perhaps it’s stumbling on your definition of “moral responsibility,” but then so much the worse for your definition of moral responsibility. That type of moral responsibility does not exist.>>
 
It’s sad to witness this victory of dogma over common sense (not to mention obvious truths!). I thought you were the common sense atheist?
 
>>Meanwhile, the evidence that backs up determinism and analyzes it at every level and scale of the universe continues to accumulate with each new discovery.>>
 
Except for that pesky quantum level, of course. But who cares about that, right? We’ve got a dogma to defend!

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cartesian July 9, 2009 at 8:00 am

Fortuna,
I was able to understand this part of your post:
I had said:
>>Um, your horse (determinism) is losing here, badly. Your horse is stumbling over moral responsibility and deliberation, and I think he’s been severely injured. Time to put him down.>>
 
You replied:
>>Um, I think our horse has run into some consequences that you personally don’t like. That doesn’t speak to it’s truth or falsity.>>
 
Of course I agree with you that this is a bad argument:
(1) If your view is true, then p.
(2) I personally don’t like p.
(3) Therefore, your view is false.
 
FORTUNAtely for me, I didn’t make that argument (I’m not sure why you think I did). Here was my actual argument:
(1′) If your view is true, then p.
(2′) p is obviously false.
(3′) Therefore, your view is false.
 
Now I think we can agree that that’s a valid argument. You just disagree with me about the truth of (2′), right?
 
In this argument, “p” represents the proposition that deliberation doesn’t make sense & moral praise/blame doesn’t make sense. I think that proposition is false, and obviously so. But I guess you think it’s true. You think that it doesn’t make any sense to deliberate, and that it doesn’t make sense to offer moral praise or blame. You then go on to deliberate about how best to respond to my posts, and you blame me for making a bad argument.
 
What can I say other than that your view is obviously wrong, and that — despite your verbal protestations — you behave as though you agree with me?

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Reginald Selkirk July 9, 2009 at 8:03 am

cartesian: I disagree. I can’t think of even one scientific discovery that makes physicalism about human persons even slightly more probable than dualism. Can you? What’s even one scientific discovery that counts against dualism about human persons?

You haven’t defined “dualism.” I’m not sure if you would be wanting a nonphysical existence for the mind, or for the soul (whatever that is).
Plausible mechanisms for neural circuitry in the discovery and elucidation of action potentials and synapses.
Discovery that chemicals can influence thoughts and moods.
Discovery that stimulating specific areas of the brain can induce memories, and that damage to areas of the brain can cause perceptual problems, cognitive difficulties, memory loss, change of personality, etc.
Various techniques (EEG, MRI) to examination localization of various types of mental activity to specific areas of the brain.
Occam’s Razor (parsimony) leaves nothing left for the putative supernatural component to explain.
 

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Reginald Selkirk July 9, 2009 at 8:07 am

Study of mental abilities, including self-awareness and morality, in animals figures against  any view dualism that includes human exceptionalism.
 

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cartesian July 9, 2009 at 9:46 am

Reginald Selkirk: You haven’t defined “dualism.” I’m not sure if you would be wanting a nonphysical existence for the mind, or for the soul (whatever that is).

Let’s make your job easier. I’ll defend full-blown substance dualism: the mind is distinct from the body. Minds are immaterial thinking things. Bodies are material things. I am a mind.

>>Plausible mechanisms for neural circuitry in the discovery and elucidation of action potentials and synapses. Discovery that chemicals can influence thoughts and moods. Discovery that stimulating specific areas of the brain can induce memories, and that damage to areas of the brain can cause perceptual problems, cognitive difficulties, memory loss, change of personality, etc. Various techniques (EEG, MRI) to examination localization of various types of mental activity to specific areas of the brain.>>

All of these are perfectly consistent with dualism. So what makes you think that they favor non-dualism over dualism? I’ve learned a lot about my car lately. I know all about how its battery works, how the engine works, how getting a flat left-front tire will cause me to move in erratic ways, how breaking the air conditioner will make me hot, how tightening the seat belt makes me feel pain, that damaging the transmission impedes my ability to drive, that smashing the car will cause me to die, etc. Does this somehow suggest that I am identical with my car? Hardly. But then why think that similar discoveries about the brain somehow suggest that I’m identical with my brain?

>>Occam’s Razor (parsimony) leaves nothing left for the putative supernatural component to explain.>>

Do you think that the simplicity of a hypothesis actually increases the probability that it’s true? Why do you think that? Do you have a record of all the hypotheses ever, and all the true hypotheses, so that we could check to see whether there’s actually a correlation between simplicity and truth? I should think that there are very many extremely simple hypotheses that are nevertheless false.

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Reginald Selkirk July 9, 2009 at 10:25 am

cartesian: Hardly. But then why think that similar discoveries about the brain somehow suggest that I’m identical with my brain?

Perhaps when you demonstrate that you can park your brain and walk about without it, I will acknowledge your analogy.
 

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Reginald Selkirk July 9, 2009 at 11:39 am

cartesian: Do you think that the simplicity of a hypothesis actually increases the probability that it’s true? Why do you think that? Do you have a record of all the hypotheses ever, and all the true hypotheses, so that we could check to see whether there’s actually a correlation between simplicity and truth? I should think that there are very many extremely simple hypotheses that are nevertheless false.

If you want to support a hypothesis that is not the simplest, the best way to do that is collect more data, data which cannot be explained under the simpler hypothesis.
 

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Fortuna July 9, 2009 at 11:53 am

>>FORTUNAtely for me, I didn’t make that argument (I’m not sure why you think I did). Here was my actual argument:>>
I c wat u did thar. As for why I thought that, it seemed to me that you were saying you really wouldn’t like to live in a world without full-blown libertarian free will and it’s versions of deliberation and responsibility. If, rather, you were saying that you think we do obviously have those things, then my mistake.
>>In this argument, “p” represents the proposition that deliberation doesn’t make sense & moral praise/blame doesn’t make sense. I think that proposition is false, and obviously so. But I guess you think it’s true. You think that it doesn’t make any sense to deliberate, and that it doesn’t make sense to offer moral praise or blame.>>

You guess incorrectly. Those are separate propositions. The first, that deliberation doesn’t make sense,  I don’t accept. Deliberation is one cognitive mechanism by which humans make decisions; it makes perfect sense to use it, even if I accept the idea that it’s deterministic. The end result of my deliberation, after all, is not known to me.

The second proposition, that moral praise/blame doesn’t make sense, I  also don’t accept. Assuming determinism, one still needs to locate the source of a given action as best one can, and guess what? Humans do nicely. If some dude shoots the sheriff, we’re likely to

a.) imprison him for public safety, given that he was the proximate cause of the shooting

and

b.) dissuade him from similar behaviours in the future (ie. that whole “rehabilitation” thing that prison supposedly does)

Neither of those require one to assume that our shooter could have chosen to do differently. We simply note he did something we don’t like, and that we wish to change him/his circumstances in such a way that he won’t reoffend.

>>You then go on to deliberate about how best to respond to my posts, and you blame me for making a bad argument.>>

Who says I’m deliberating? And yes, I “blame” you in the sense that I note that you, and not another person, made the argument. I’m not saying anything about whether you ought to have made it. I simply think your argument is incorrect, and I’m trying to explain why.

>>You (Luke) said “moral normativity is about…” and then proceeded to use moral terms (”right” and “wrong”). You said “epistemic normativity is…” and then gave me an ‘institutional ought’, which uses an “ought.” If you could provide non-circular definitions of these kinds of normativity (i.e. definitions that don’t use normative terms), and if it were clear that these definitions were distinct, I think that would be sufficient to show your conclusion.>>

Ok, I guess my earlier attempt was not clear enough, so perhaps this will be better. The ‘ought’ in ‘institutional ought’ refers to what will be effective at meeting epistemic norms. Whether meeting epistemic norms is, in itself, praiseworthy or blameworthy doesn’t enter into it. It’s analogous to saying that “if you want to write a coherent sentence, you must use grammar.”

Derek:

>>As always, every one of us is looking for the Deus ex machina.>>

Are you serious, or just being a jackass? Was there some part of “I’m hardly a physicist” that’s giving you trouble?

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lukeprog July 9, 2009 at 4:02 pm

 

cartesian: To show that moral normativity is not identical with epistemic normativity, you’ll have to show that the “ought” up there in your conditional is not a moral ought.

I thought I had already explained this. Moral normativity considers oughts in light of all reasons for action that exist. Epistemic normativity considers only oughts that are relevant to successful knowledge attainment. An epistemically normative claim is a prudential ought claim. Seriously, though, do you not accept the standard semantic different between moral and non-moral oughts?

cartesian: But if you don’t bring in any independent ability to sort knowledge from non-knowledge (as we bring in an independent ability to sort bad apples from good apples), you’ll be completely unable to evaluate this theory of knowledge.

What do you mean? We tell whether we have knowledge by seeing if it works better than all alternatives. Penicillin works. Prayer does not. In fact, penicillin works very, very well – exactly as we would expect if our theory of penicillin is genuine knowledge. That’s why I’m fairly confident (but not certain) that we have knowledge of penicillin and, to some degree, how it works.
Likewise, we have knowledge of Einstein’s theory of relativity because it works. It makes predictions that are surprising but actually work, over and over again. Even better than Newton’s inverse square law.
So I don’t figure out my epistemology by closing my eyes and asking myself what feels best. I look around and see which methods are producing knowledge that actually works in this universe. The methods that are working are (correctly done) logic and (correctly done) science. Methods that routinely produce knowledge that does not work include closing your eyes and asking your intuitions, testimony from uneducated people, and many others.
I don’t know why you think I reject Gettier’s paper. It was an analysis of the meaning of our terms, and did not rely on pre-philosophical intuitions. In fact, it could even be said to have directly attacked some of our intuitions, and so successfully that people are still trying to correct the mistakes of intuition he revealed.

cartesian: Can you come up with an example of a epistemic instance of one of these words that isn’t also a moral instance? You should be able to, on your view, since you think they’re distinct senses.

Sure. For example, there are many cases in brain science where we could more thoroughly justify a theory by causing specific types of brain damage to hundreds of people and measuring the results. Epistemically, we ought to do this to build (or shake) our confidence in the theory. But morally, perhaps we ought not to do so.

cartesian: I’m pretty sure we’re talking past each other here. By “intuition” I don’t just mean a strong inclination to believe, or a hunch, or common sense, or whatever. I mean one of those conscious experiences during which one can just see the truth of a proposition. For example, it takes a second to just see that this inference is valid: If not-(A & B), then either not-A or not-B. But after you think about it for a second — bam — you can just see that it’s true. Similarly, after carefully considering the cases that Gettier describes — bam — you can just see that Smith doesn’t know. Those are what I call ‘intuitions’.

Yeah, we’re talking past each other. And that’s a problematic definition of ‘intuition.’ For example, a scientist who has spent decades studying a particular problem can look at a situation for which he has read all the literature and just instantly see what is happening there. He does not consciously recall every study he’s read on the subject at that moment, but without having read those studies and without having successfully followed this particular path of inference many times before, he wouldn’t have “just instantly seen” the truth of the matter. I wouldn’t call that intuition, but it seems like you would.

cartesian: Which step(s) do you deny here?

I deny step 1. I would say that if determinism is true, then the state of the universe at any time + the laws of nature determines the state of the universe at any later time. (For now, let’s ignore statistical quantum events.)
I also deny (5), because I think there’s some (accidental) equivocation going on. I can’t control what the laws of nature are, but I can control them in the sense that I can use them to change the state of the universe. I’m doing it right now as I type on this keyboard.

cartesian: So why should I hold you responsible? You didn’t cause the action to happen, those other things did.

Names and personal pronouns are squishy human words, not logically exact identifiers. But anyway, I really do think that every one of my parts went into creating my decisions. If I did not have a middle finger, some of my decisions would be different. If I did not have a belief that gravity will hold me to the ground, many of my decisions would be different. If I did not have a desire to be moral, my decisions would be different. If I did not have the traits of being 6’6″ and of being a highly abstract thinker, my decisions would be different. Etc.

cartesian: What’s even one scientific discovery that counts against dualism about human persons?

Yes. Thousands of them count against dualism in that they make that extra ad hoc hypothesis unnecessary by showing how certain features of persons work via physical systems.

cartesian: It’s sad to witness this victory of dogma over common sense (not to mention obvious truths!). I thought you were the common sense atheist?

Dogma? What dogma? Determinism? Nobody raised me to be a determinist. Nobody taught it to me in school. None of my friends (that I know of) endorse it. I don’t recite a creed endorsing determinism. I don’t affirm it at a church or when I have company over or before every meal. I just came to that belief after looking at the evidence, and will be happy to change it.
As for “common sense” and “obvious truths”, it should be clear by now that I have little respect for them. The “common sense” in the title of my blog has a different meaning, as is explained in my very first blog post, which is linked at the top of my sidebar.
Re: the quantum level. It’s still not known whether quantum events are truly statistical, or if their statistical nature arises from lower-level deterministic processes. What I mean by determinism is that everything ‘above’ the quantum level is determined. At least, that theory fits best with all the data we have, I think. It’s certainly no dogma. If you think I should abandon the word ‘determinism’ to describe this theory, that’s fine. It’s just a convenient label, like “atom” (which is not, after all, indivisible).
 

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Reginald Selkirk July 10, 2009 at 6:11 am

 

cartesian: Do you think that the simplicity of a hypothesis actually increases the probability that it’s true? Why do you think that?

Yes (although it hinges on the definition of “simplicity.”) If one hypothesis merely covers the observed data adequately well, and a second hypothesis covers the observed data equally well, but adds further complications, then the additional hypothesizing must be supported by additional data. This is the burden of proof. There is some probability that the required data will fail to support hypothesis 2.
Some pithy statements of Occam’s Razor

Thomas Aquinas: If a thing can be done adequately by means of one, it is superfluous to do it by means of several; for we observe that nature does not employ two instruments where one suffices.
Isaac Newton: We are to admit no more causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances. Therefore, to the same natural effects we must, so far as possible, assign the same causes.
Albert Einstein: Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.

There are numerous conceivable complicating factors, such as a hypothesis making one phenomenon more complicated, but adding overall simplification by uniting multiple phenomena in a common explanation. Any rebuttal should be careful not to confuse a priori and a posteriori probabilities.
 

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Jeff H July 10, 2009 at 5:00 pm

Sorry to break up the intelligent discussion with one of ignorance (I’m certainly learning plenty from this comments section!), but Luke, do you have any sort of resource where I could read up on the difference between epistemic and moral “oughts”? I’m interested in looking into it in a bit more detail, but I don’t even know where to start (there doesn’t even seem to be a Wikipedia page about it!)

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lukeprog July 10, 2009 at 6:19 pm

Jeff,

Epistemic normativity is an entire branch of philosophy. You could start here. Unfortunately, I’m not yet aware of a basic treatment of the subject, though I’m sure there are some.

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anti_supernaturalist September 24, 2009 at 3:31 pm

There are no moral phenomena at all, only a moral interpretation of phenomena.

Nietzsche BG&E section 108.

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