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What drives all the squabbles about free will and determinism? Is it anything more than a desire to reward and to punish, especially to punish?

What you're asking is really an empirical, psychological question -- What motivates the various sides in a particular controversy? -- rather than a question that philosophers, as such, are well-equipped to answer. But I'll hazard an answer anyway. Take some carefully, even painstakingly, considered decision, such as U.S. president Obama's decision to order the May 2011 hit on Osama bin Laden. If that decision wasn't one for which the agent is morally responsible -- i.e., morally liable to praise or blame -- then I don't know what could be. But according to the incompatibilist side of the debate, if determinism is true then Obama bears no more responsibility for his decision than someone high on PCP bears for his/her decision to try to fly from the roof of an apartment building. According to incompatibilism, if determinism is true then all decisions are equally unfree, equally lacking in responsibility, regardless of how sober, well-informed, and deliberate the decision-maker is. The philosophical...

When a person, and especially a talented one, dies young, people sometimes mourn not just what they have in fact lost, but what might have been. But is mourning what might have been predicated on the belief that things could have been otherwise? And if someone is a thoroughgoing determinist and thinks that there's only one way things ever could have turned out, would it be irrational for such a person to mourn what might have been?

One way to interpret the mourner's state of mind is this: the mourner is thinking (optimistically) about the life the young person would have led had he/she not died young. That state of mind is consistent with believing that the young person's death was fully determined by the initial conditions of the universe in combination with the laws of nature. The deterministic mourner might even recognize that, in mourning the young person's death, the mourner is committed to regretting that the Big Bang occurred just the way it did or that the laws of nature are just as they are: for only if the Big Bang or the laws of nature (or both) had been appropriately different would the young person not have died young. Furthermore, determinism allows that they could have been different. Determinism doesn't say that the initial conditions and the laws of nature are themselves causally determined; that would require causation to occur before any causation could occur. Although the deterministic mourner's regret...

In my opinion, one of the reasons that we argue around determinism is that it seems to have some disturbing implications with regards to fatalism: if determinism is true, then everything is predetermined since the origin of the universe. That is to say that given enough information about the state of the original universe, it is possible to 'calculate' what is going to happen thereafter, because determinism means everything is strictly causally determined by its prior events. And because of this, in a strictly deterministic universe, there is only one 'fate' for anyone, and the disturbing implication that seems to follow is that since there is one fate for me, there is not much point for me make any decisions, because I'm not really making decisions, as everything I will do, or want, is already determined. How might a compatibilist, who thinks that humans are still capable of free will and are capable of making decisions, refute the above argument for fatalism? p.s.: this is a follow-up from the question...

Thanks for following up. I'm pleased that you found my earlier answer helpful. Above you wrote, "the disturbing implication that seems to follow is that since there is one fate for me, there is not much point for me make any decisions, because I'm not really making decisions, as everything I will do, or want, is already determined." I'd like to make two points in reply. (1) It's crucial not to confuse determinism with "your fate." Your fate is supposed to be the fixed outcome that you'll encounter regardless of anything you do in the meantime. So, according to the story, Oedipus is fated to kill his father and marry his mother, regardless of any actions Oedipus takes beforehand, including any attempts he makes to avoid that fate. Determinism is, if anything, the opposite doctrine. According to determinism, whom you marry (if anyone) depends crucially on your actions beforehand: every link in the causal chain is essential, no link is superfluous, and those links include your carefully considered...

My question arises in free will and compatibilism. Basically, according to the compatibilists, the actions driven by 'internal factors' can be considered as free. Is this truly the kind of free will that people want to establish in the first place? Isn't this more of a compromise, rather than solution? I would have thought that the free will we are trying to seek is the capability to do otherwise, but I think internally driven actions are still determined, i.e. the agent could not have done otherwise. Moreover, is it right to seek free will as in 'the capability to do otherwise'? Is this truly meaningful? I feel like the whole deterministic and incompatible theory is somewhat dodgy in its logic: what does it mean that we cannot have done otherwise?

I would have thought that the free will we are trying to seek is the capability to do otherwise... The capability to do otherwise, full stop, or the capability to do otherwise had we wanted to do otherwise? Today I saw my neighbor and gave him a friendly greeting because I wanted to. Even if determinism is true, had I wanted not to give him a friendly greeting -- imagine that he had rudely blasted his stereo and woken me at 3:00am -- there's no reason to think I would have given him a friendly greeting anyway. That is, determinism is compatible with the claim that my desire to give my neighbor a friendly greeting played an essential role in my actually giving him a friendly greeting. Indeed, I want my action to be under the effective control of my desire: I don't want indeterminism to pop up in between the two. For suppose that, despite my wanting to give him a friendly greeting, something indeterministic popped up and resulted in my screaming obscenities at him instead. I would hardly...

If living creatures, such as ourselves, are evolved biochemical mechanisms, and should free will exist, what natural neurophysiologic phenomenon could possibly give rise to it (that would not be as deterministic as, say, any other chemical process)? And if we are indeed biochemical structures (as biologists in general believe), why might not appropriately designed future machines (advanced AI) likewise have the capacity to exercise free will (should free will exist)?

Don't forget the compatibilist account of free will (see the entry here ), which says that we can make free choices -- i.e., choices for which we're responsible (including morally responsible) and properly subject to praise or blame -- even if our choices result from totally deterministic processes. In other words, free will doesn't require the falsity of determinism. I know of no cogent arguments against the compatibilist account of free will. According to compatibilism, then, we can make free choices without needing any mysterious, non-causal, or indeterministic neurological goings-on. By the same token, an advanced AI machine could also make a free choice, provided it's advanced enough to be able to entertain, appreciate, and evaluate reasons for and against making (in its own right) some particular choice and able to choose in accordance with that evaluation. As far as I know, such machines are a long way off, but I see nothing in the concept of free choice that rules out, in principle, their...

Friend A believes Friend B should try something before deciding not to like it. Friend B believes he shouldn't have to try something if he doesn't want to. Who is correct? Are they both correct? Who is more correct? Should Friend C help convince Friend B to try the thing or let him make his own choices?

I hope I don't come across as pedantic, but I think that your questions may contain what philosophers call "false alternatives." First, there's a sense in which both A and B can be correct. It might be that B is well-advised to try a particular something before rejecting it because the risks associated with trying it are small compared to the possible benefits. Nevertheless, it could be true that B "shouldn't have to " try something before rejecting it: that is, B might well have the right to refuse to do X even if he would be well-advised to do X. Second, C can help convince B to try the thing even while C lets B make his own choice. As I see it, giving B convincing reasons to make a particular choice needn't mean depriving B of a choice -- including a free choice -- in the matter.

Do philosophers really understand the concept of free will and have it formally defined? Dr. Maitzen in response to question 5711 was able to answer the question without asking what free will is yet for question 24592 he seemed not to know what free will is and seemed to treat is an abstract construction so is it just an abstract construction and if it is, why create the concept in the first place?

Thanks for your question and the chance to clarify. In Question 24592 , the questioner talked about philosophers "redefining free will" but never defined the term himself/herself. So I cited the definition of "free will" given at merriam-webster.com. I did so in order to indicate just how much neuroscientists would have to show before they could be said to have shown that we (routinely) lack free will as the dictionary defines "free will" . The merriam-webster.com definition treats free will as an ability. I'm not sure if that means treating free will as an abstract construction, but in any case if it's not a good definition then I suggest that you let them know. I myself see nothing wrong with their definition.

If neuroscience were to prove that one particular person has free will, does that imply that everyone else in the world would have to have free will as well? If neuroscience tests show that not everyone has free will, how would philosophers explain that other than redefining free will?

I notice that your question leaves "free will" undefined, so let me propose the definition found at merriam-webster.com: "the ability to choose how to act; the ability to make choices that are not controlled by fate or God." I presume that no one imagines that neuroscience will prove that some of our choices are controlled literally by fate or God. So if neuroscience is to show that some or all of us lack free will, neuroscience must show that some or all of us lack the ability to choose how to act or the ability to make choices. I don't think we need neuroscience experiments to show us that some people lack free will in the sense just defined: for example, people who are in the midst of drug-induced mania or a psychotic episode. To show us something we didn't already know, neuroscience would have to show that people in general typically or routinely lack free will. Some neuroscientists do claim to have shown that, but their arguments are woefully unpersuasive (in my judgment and in the...

I have a question about causality solely when it comes to human behavior. Suppose I argue that the presence of oxygen on Earth was the cause of an office building on fire. It is certainly true that if there had been no oxygen on Earth there would have been no fire. It is also true that if there had been no arsonists or negligent persons, nor any flammable material, there would have been no fire. So is it true that when it is assumed that one of several necessary conditions was the sole and exclusive cause of an effect, then the reasoning is fallacious due to the possibility that humans might have free will which somehow shifts responsibility away from nature or scientific processes?

Assuming I understand it, the reasoning you described is fallacious regardless of anything having to do with human free will. True, the presence of something combustible is a necessary (but fortunately not sufficient!) condition for the occurrence of a fire. But if I were to infer from that fact alone that the presence of something combustible was the sole cause of the fire , my inference would be laughably bad: indeed, onlookers would probably construe it as a joke. In any case, it would be evidence that I don't really possess the concept of causation. I think that a related but different fallacy is often committed by those who say that the physical necessitation of a human action always makes the action unfree. It's the fallacy of assuming that the physical necessitation of an agent's action always bypasses the agent's deliberations. If causal determinism is true, then my decision to respond to your question was physically necessitated by events that predated my birth. But that doesn't imply...

If we have no free will, then is the entire legal system redundant since no one can be held accountable for anything since no one has control over their own actions?

Those like me who are compatibilists take the view that the truth of determinism would have no consequences for law and morals. Like Jonathan, I too am a compatibilist, and I agree with what he says in the italicized statement above. However, the questioner asked about the effect on the legal system of (1) the total absence of free will, not (2) the truth of determinism. I agree with Jonathan that (2) has no consequences for law and morals. But (1) does. One consequence of (1) for morals is that no actions are morally right or wrong. Furthermore, our current legal system routinely assumes that defendants are morally responsible for their actions and able to conform their conduct to standards of right and wrong. If that assumption is false, then our current legal system is corrupt, or at least unfair, assuming that it's unfair to hold people morally responsible when in fact they're not morally responsible. Is hard determinism supposed to imply that nothing is unfair? If hard determinism...
If no one can legitimately be held accountable for anything, then I think the Anglo-American legal system (the only legal system I know at all well) is worse than redundant (and strictly speaking not even redundant): it's fundamentally corrupt. Indeed, it's hard for me to imagine any legal system that doesn't presume that we have control over at least some of our actions. Even a system that punishes solely for the sake of deterrence or rehabilitation needs to presume that we can control our actions, at least sometimes, in response to examples that are meant to deter us, or as a result of programs that are meant to rehabilitate us.

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