Aug 102015
 

5-compatibilist-straw-man-fallaciesStraw-man fallacies are interesting because they are almost always intentional, though sometimes they can be unintentional. I tend to think, when a compatibilist (a person who thinks free will is compatible with determinism) uses a straw-man fallacy, that most of the time they don’t do them intentionally – or at least I give the compatibilist the benefit of the doubt. Rather, I think it often comes from a profound misunderstanding or assumption of the free will skeptics position.

So what is a straw-man fallacy? Basically it’s a way of giving the impression that one is refuting another person’s position, all while actually refuting a point or argument that was never given by their opponent. The term “straw-man” most often points to building a person out of straw and easily knocking down or burning that “straw-man” as if it was knocking down or burning the real person.  The analogy is that when a person takes down a point that was never made by their opponent but suggests or insinuates that they have taken such down, they are basically building a “straw-man” and knocking it down. They aren’t actually addressing an actual point made by their opponent, but they are pretending or giving the impression that they are.

Or perhaps, in the case of ignorance, they actually think they are making a point that they imagine the other person made, but in actuality such a point never was made. In other words, they actually think the straw-man they just built is not made out of straw, but is the actual man.

It’s this second type of straw-man, the unintentional kind, that I see frequently by some (not all) compatibilists. In this post I’d like to go over just 5 straw-man fallacies that I’ve come across (though there are many others).

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straw-man-1STRAW MAN: The free will skeptic is suggesting that the compatibilists definition of free will doesn’t exist.

The first straw-man that I’ve noticed happens is not to address the free will skeptics definition of free will when they say “free will doesn’t exist”, and simply bypass such definition with a different definition that the free will skeptic isn’t using. They then show how their own definition of free will does indeed “exist” (or is possible) in order to disprove the free will skeptics claim that “free will does not exist”. And even when the free will skeptic clarifies their definition, points to things such as common intuitions about the free will ability most people “feel” they possess, and explains the reasons why such a semantic is important for so many other topics, the compatibilist simply ignores such and keep on with the use of their own semantic in order to “disprove” the free will skeptic.

It’s also important to note that such can happen in the reverse! A straw-man fallacy might be reading an article on some of the ways some compatibilists straw-man the free will skeptic, and assuming that the person who wrote the article is suggesting that straw-man fallacies cannot happen on both sides. We need to be careful about imagining things that were never argued for.

The free will skeptic, in fact, can often tell the compatibilist that they are wrong about “free will” existing, not by knocking down the compatibilists definition of free will, but their own – and assuming that’s sufficient to take out the compatibilists position. This is equally a straw-man.

Most free will skeptics, however, would agree that compatibilist semantics of free will such a Daniel Dennett’s actually do “exist”, they just disagree that such a semantic should be used. It’s better to have a semantic argument or discussion than to knock down a straw-man of their position and claim victory.

If the compatibilist agrees with the free will skeptic that their (incompatibilist) definition of free will doesn’t exist, and the free will skeptic agrees with the compatibilist that their (compatibilist) definition exists, the discussion then needs to move to the question about what definition is more appropriate – rather than talk past each other while burning straw-men.

And even if they never agree about the most appropriate definition, the discussion should then move to:

  • What does it mean that we don’t have the free will skeptic’s definition of free will?
  • What does it mean that we have the specific compatibilist definition of free will?

Both of these questions can be assessed, all without conflating the two or straw-manning each other’s position. Though I will indeed get pedantic with the compatibilist about the definition they use, if I cannot change their mind about such usage, the best thing that can be done is to try to explain to them why the ability that is displayed in the free will skeptics definition of “free will” is just so damn important (in regards to the majority of people understanding that they don’t have it and what it means) – regardless of the “free will” label. If you don’t know, I’ve written a book on why we don’t have such ability and about all of the implications of not having it: Breaking the Free Will Illusion for the Betterment of Humankind.

It seems to me that there is a lot of issues that many compatibilists look to avoid by bypassing the free will skeptic’s definition. As long as they don’t do this evasion I can look past the fact that their semantic doesn’t align with the special ability that the majority of people actually do feel they possess:

… and I can even look past all of the reasons not to redefine such words unnecessarily:

It’s when the evasions and straw-man fallacies happen that I refuse to look past these other indiscretions. 😉

straw-man-2STRAW MAN: The free will skeptic is knocking down “blame” and “responsibility” in the non-desert sense.

The words “blame” and “responsibility” are ambiguous words. They can be used in a number of different ways. For example, I can say that a hurricane is “to blame” or is “responsible” for tearing the roof off of the house. This type of “blame” and “responsibility” is not the type that the free will skeptic is knocking down. Rather, whenever the free will skeptic uses a term such as “blame” or “responsibility”, they mean so in the “desert” sense.

Or, to use an analogy with a conscious person (so we don’t become susceptible to the #4 straw-man), we can say that the insane person is “to blame” or “responsible” for some harmful act they do, but they are not “blameworthy” or “responsible” in the “desert” sense. Likewise, the free will skeptic would suggest neither is the sane person responsible in this sense.

So what is this “desert” sense that the free will skeptic is referring. Basically, it refers to a person’s worthiness or entitlement to punishment, etc. This gets into how we might prevent someone from doing a harm: deterrence, rehabilitation, incarceration, and so on. The free will skeptic doesn’t necessarily reject actions that deter, or incarceration that prevents, or rehabilitation that fixes, by rejecting “blame” or “responsibility” in the desert sense.

Rather, the free will skeptic almost always agrees with the compatibilist that there are good reasons to enact procedures that prevent a dangerous person from being a harm to others. They only reject the idea that the harmful person actually “deserves” such. Rather, any notion of desert is thrown out of the window, and utility takes hold. This is no different from, for example, quarantining a person with a harmful contagious disease. Sure, if the person inadvertently spreads the disease to another, we can say they are “to blame” or “responsible” in the type of “non-desert” sense that we would give to a rabid dog, but they obviously aren’t “blameworthy” or “responsible” in the notion that they actually deserve to be quarantined against their wishes. The quarantine is simply done for the sake of utility, that being not spreading the horrible disease to everyone else.

Likewise, to enact a deterrence such as a monetary fine, loss of a privilege, or even incarceration, might be something that will cause people to behave a certain way. For example, fining people, loss of license, jail-time, or other “punishments” might work to deter someone from driving while intoxicated. This doesn’t mean that the person actually deserves such if they drive drunk, only that the cost of not inflicting those punishments don’t out-weigh the costs of doing so.

This prevents us from using any excessive punishments beyond an appropriate amount of deterrence, and leans us more to rehabilitation over punishment when possible. It also takes away any forms of retributive justice.

For more information on why the words “blame” and “responsibility” are ambiguous read here:

To help understand why we’d still enact preventative measures even without blame or responsibility in the “desert” sense, read here:

When talking about “blame” and “responsibility”, keep in mind the sense that such words are being used in by the free will skeptic, otherwise you’ll find you have built yourself a nice straw-man to knock down. A straw-man built upon the ambiguity of language.

straw-man-3STRAW MAN: The free will skeptic suggest that the lack of “free will” implies the lack of freedom in any other sense.

Many compatibilists assume that the free will skeptic is asserting that the word” freedom” cannot be used in various other ways. For example, they will insist that people have “freedom” of speech, or that the person who doesn’t have a gun to his head is “free” to decide without coercion of another person, and so on. Most free will skeptics are not rejecting the distinctions used here. They are only suggesting that “freedom of the will” is different from social, political, or rights granted freedoms, as well as freedom from certain types of human coercion. Rather, the free will skeptic is saying the “will” isn’t free from the variables that produce it, and that those variables ultimately stem to variables that are outside of the willer’s control (they are not “free” either). The compatibilist, however, will often just ignore the type of freedom being referred to in light of their own usage, and do so as if they are knocking down the position of the free will skeptic (when in fact they aren’t addressing it at all).

No free will skeptic is saying that the word “free” can’t be used to describe someone who is not in prison, someone who is free from a gun being pointed at their head, someone who is free from drug addiction, and the numerous other ways that the word “free” can be used. Rather, for “free will” the word “free” is used to qualify “will”. When someone argues that people are “free” in some other sense, and think they are combating the “free” that the free will skeptic uses for the term “free will”, they have built a straw-man to beat upon.

straw-man-4STRAW MAN: The free will skeptic suggests that consciousness is not part of the causal process (unconscious robots).

The unconscious robot or billiard ball straw-man is a common one. An assumption made by some people is that the free will skeptic is suggesting that consciousness is not part of the causal process. That asserting the lack of free will is like saying that we are no different that billiard balls bouncing around. This will often be claimed without any such argument ever being made by the free will skeptic.

And though it could be the case that some free will skeptics think that consciousness doesn’t really play a causal role (mental causation), I think the vast majority of free will skeptics probably don’t. When such is assumed, it’s the building of a straw-man fallacy.

I, for one, think consciousness is an important causal factor.

Sometimes this straw-man stems from the incorrect notion that free will is required for consciousness. Of course I don’t believe that nor do most free will skeptics:

In regards to my own position as a free will skeptic, I think all evidence points to consciousness being an output of brain states, none of which require “free will”:

Regardless, combating the claim that the free will skeptic is suggesting that consciousness does not exist or that, if it does, it is not a part of the causal process, is a straw-man unless the free will skeptic has actually asserted such.

straw-man-5STRAW MAN: The free will skeptic supports fatalism and defeatism.

A very common straw-man is when compatibilists battle fatalist or defeatist notion of lacking free will that most philosophical free will skeptics don’t adhere to. This, I’m fairly sure of, is a straw-man that is based on confusions between “determinism” and “fatalism”, usually not differentiating the two.

To understand the difference between determinism and fatalism, check out this infographic I made:

Also read here:

Hard determinists and hard incompatibilists are, most of the time, not fatalists. In fact many, such as myself, think fatalism is not only a poorly thought out assessment, but also a harmful one that does indeed lead to defeatist attitudes (e.g. why bother doing anything at all – or care about anything at all).

Combating fatalism or fatalist notions is not combating most free will skeptical positions, and hence, a straw-man fallacy if you think it is.

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There are so many other straw-man fallacies that I’ve come upon in discussions. Some of these fallacies constitute ideas about inevitability, morality, nihilism, knowledge, reductionism, and so on. All of ’em stem from (incorrect) assumptions about the “no free will” position of the free will skeptic. And you all know what they say about assumptions, aye?

Straw-man fallacies don’t always come from compatibilists either. For example,  free will proponents that site indeterminism as their free will saviour (called “libertarians”) quite often make the assumption that the position of the free will skeptic is necessarily that of hard determinism rather than hard incompatibilism (which addresses indeterminism as well). However, most modern free will skeptics, even if personally they may side with determinism or call themselves “determinists”, will address how indeterminism doesn’t help grant free will as well.

Also, this article is not saying or suggesting that some compatibilists don’t actually attempt to combat the actual case that the free will skeptic is making. Some actually do make such attempts, which tends to lead more into a discussion over semantics – the definitions that people should be using. These types of discussions are perfectly reasonable. It’s when, however, a compatibilist suggests that a free will skeptic is mistaken, by simply changing semantics around or making assumptions about positions that the free will skeptic isn’t actually taking, that all of the straw-men get built.

This is a cautionary tale. If you are unsure of a position your opponent is actually taking, don’t just make assumptions and knock down those assumptions. Your assumptions are probably wrong, and you’d be wasting much time burning down straw-men. Instead: please quote in context, ask for clarifications, and address actual points made. And though this article is exposing a few particular straw-man fallacies I’ve seen some compatibilists make with me, it applies to anyone with any position at all.

One last thing. Nothing is worse than when someone claims that another is using a straw-man fallacy without actually pointing to what was said that was the straw-man. The word “straw-man” sometimes gets thrown around willy-nilly, so quoting in context here is important before the claim of such a fallacy is made to another.

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'Trick Slattery

'Trick Slattery is the author of Breaking the Free Will Illusion for the Betterment of Humankind. He's an author, philosopher, artist, content creator, and entrepreneur. He has loved and immersed himself in philosophy since he was teenager. It is his first and strongest passion. Throughout the years he has built a philosophy based on analytic logic and critical thinking. Some of the topics he is most interested in are of a controversial variety, but his passion for the topics and their importance drives him to want to express these ideas to others. His other passions include pen and ink line art and digital artwork.

  8 Responses to “5 Straw-man Fallacies by Compatibilists (When Addressing Free Will Skeptics)”

  1. I’d like to briefly address the first straw man, the definition of free will. When you and I have discussed this topic we both believe in determinism and neither of us believes in ghosts or the supernatural. We are in general agreement that reliable cause and effect is a truth of the real world, and that there is no such thing as “freedom from causation”. My position is slightly stronger than yours, since I believe that this reliability of cause and effect is perfect, while you are a bit agnostic, holding that some indeterminism may exist.

    From both our positions, the only “real” definition of free will must be totally consistent with determinism. And that is why I define free will as nothing more and nothing less than us making our own choices for ourselves. The opposite of free will is when someone forces us to act against our own will, making us choose or act according to their will rather than our own.

    This simple distinction between free and unfree will gives relevant and practical meaning to the term “free will”. It is sufficient to satisfy the concepts of moral responsibility and assignment of blame. And it is especially essential to the concept of rehabilitation, which attempts to provide the criminal offender with better options so that the offender can operate autonomously within the law after release.

    From my perspective, the magical or supernatural notions of free will are so easily dismissed as to be the real “straw man” in the argument. But I understand that many of these beliefs about free will are popular.

    The phenomenon of free will is pretty much identical for everyone, regardless of their rational or irrational beliefs about it. A person faces an important decision, considers the options, and chooses the one that seems best. The choice is their will at that moment. And if they were not coerced to make that choice against their will, then it is a choice of their own free will.

    I believe that attacking “free will” in general, without specifying that you mean to attack the supernatural ideas about free will, ends up undermining a person’s sense of moral responsibility for their own actions. And that is not a good thing to do.

    • “My position is slightly stronger than yours, since I believe that this reliability of cause and effect is perfect, while you are a bit agnostic, holding that some indeterminism may exist.”

      I’d suggest that your insistence on what you call “perfect determinism” is actually a weaker position, is it doesn’t address at least the possibility of acausal events. My position addresses both a “perfectly deterministic” universe, as well as an indeterministic universe.

      “From both our positions, the only “real” definition of free will must be totally consistent with determinism.”

      This is just an ascertion you are making. It would be like me saying the only “real” definition of geocentric is one in which the earth actually orbits the sun.

      “From my perspective, the magical or supernatural notions of free will are so easily dismissed as to be the real “straw man” in the argument. But I understand that many of these beliefs about free will are popular.”

      It’s not a strawman unless the person is using that definition to reject the free will in your definition (which is a different definition). Since you understand that many of these beliefs about free will are popular, you must then understand that such justifies the use of the semantic.

      “And that is why I define free will as nothing more and nothing less than us making our own choices for ourselves.”

      As I said in the article, you can define such that way, and if you do, I certainly agree that we “make choices for ourselves”. And I think you agree that people couldn’t have, of their own accord, done otherwise. Or in present tense, that they can’t choose between more than one viable option, is which that choice was “up to them”. If we both agree, then the discussion then reverts to why we are using such definitions (which I give support for).

      This simple distinction between free and unfree will gives relevant and practical meaning to the term “free will”. It is sufficient to satisfy the concepts of moral responsibility and assignment of blame. And it is especially essential to the concept of rehabilitation, which attempts to provide the criminal offender with better options so that the offender can operate autonomously within the law after release.

      It seems we don’t need the word “free will” to simply say “people make choices or they are forced by others”. As for the terms “moral responsibility and assignment of blame“, as #2 suggests such are very ambiguous terms that needs defining before you use them. Most people use these terms in the basic desert sense, and we don’t have that type of free will. But again, it’s important that such get’s clarified, otherwise you are straw manning the position I and other free will skeptics are taking. In your usage, is a person more to blame than a clinically insane person is for something their brain configuration causes them to do? If you think so, then that is where we disagree.

      The phenomenon of free will is pretty much identical for everyone, regardless of their rational or irrational beliefs about it. A person faces an important decision, considers the options, and chooses the one that seems best. The choice is their will at that moment.

      I think you are leaving a whole lot out about the feeling people experience here. The person feels that all of the options are real possibilities. They don’t see or feel the variables that lead to their “will”, so they think it isn’t constrained, or at least it is more free that it actually is. And most people think they or others could have done otherwise, regardless of a deterministic universe. There is much evidence that supports people intuitively feel this. What you said is true, but it’s way too convenient to leave out these important details about intuitions that do not coincide with actual reality.

      “I believe that attacking “free will” in general, without specifying that you mean to attack the supernatural ideas about free will, ends up undermining a person’s sense of moral responsibility for their own actions.”

      I agree that for any “attacking of free will” or “supporting of free will”, the free will definition needs to happen first and foremost (one of the first things I do in my book, devoting a whole chapter to it). That being said, the definition I’m attacking isn’t a “supernatural” definition, but it is a logically incoherent definition. It, however, is a logically incoherent ability that most people intuitively “feel” they possess – and such beliefs are not benign (they are harmful in many ways). And that is why it’s so important to “attack” it.

      I also agree that we need to educate people on what we mean when we say “moral responsibility” and the types that are incompatible (the desert kind) when we couldn’t have done, of our own accord, otherwise. People can also understand what actions are moral or immoral, all without assigning blameworthiness (in the desert sense) if they or another acted immoral.They can understand that they couldn’t have, at that time, made a different (more moral) decision.

      My next book will be on ethics without free will.

      • Ordinary “free will” is us making our own choices for ourselves, without being forced by someone else to choose or act against our own will.

        Whatever other definitions may be offered up, that one will stand.

        Trick: “The person feels that all of the options are real possibilities.”

        And he has a right to feel that way at the outset, when he does not know yet which choice he will make. That is perfectly rational.

        The fact that his decision will turn out to be deterministically inevitable, such that, technically speaking, only one of his options is “really” possible, is useless information. It will not help him make his decision in any way.

        Trick: “And I think you agree that people couldn’t have, of their own accord, done otherwise.”

        The meaning of “could have done otherwise” is actually true from that initial point of uncertainty up to the point where that option was ruled out of consideration during his mental deliberations.

        Again, the fact that his choice was technically inevitable since the time of Big Bang is irrelevant and useless information. Unless you have some way to go back and make minor subatomic changes to the Big Bang that would produce a different decision, this technical inevitability is totally useless.

        The language, just as it is, works just fine in the real world.

        Trick: “It seems we don’t need the word “free will” to simply say “people make choices or they are forced by others”.”

        But since everyone understands the difference between making a choice of their own free will versus being forced to act against their will by someone else, the phrase “free will” works just fine to communicate this relevant and useful information.

        Trick: “As for the terms “moral responsibility and assignment of blame“, as #2 suggests such are very ambiguous terms that needs defining before you use them. ”

        An airplane crashes, killing everyone on board. Crash investigators will try to find every direct, relevant cause of the crash (often crashes result from multiple system failures). The plane and its instruments, the pilot, the weather conditions, and other factors will be taken into account.

        Each direct and relevant cause will be held responsible for its part in causing the crash. And each of these causes will be subject to correction, if possible, to reduce the likelihood of future crashes.

        Finding which causes “are to blame for” and “are responsible for” the crash is the first step in correction. This tells us what to correct (but not how to correct it).

        The same applies to our system of justice. The court hears evidence that the offender actually committed the crime. If guilty, the judge attempts to give the offender a “just” penalty.

        The point of justice is to protect and restore rights. It is concerned with the rights of the victim, society (potential victims), and the offender.

        A just penalty will seek to (a) repair the harm to the victim if possible, (b) correct the future behavior of the offender, (c) protect society from the offender until he is corrected, and (d) do no more than is reasonably necessary to accomplish (a), (b), and (c). Any harm to the offender or his rights beyond this cannot be justified.

        Before the penalty phase of the trial, the judge collects information about the offender, his prior record and behavior, his job prospects, his attitude about what he did, extenuating circumstances, and anything else that might help her to determine what penalty will be needed to correct this offender’s future choices.

        And the penalty may need to be more severe for someone whose history suggests his behavior will be more difficult to change.

        Rehabilitation may provide education, counseling, job training, and other programs to help the offender to see more possibilities, better options, and make more appropriate choices when released. Upon release, he will be on his own again, making his own choices of his own free will, with only temporary supervision.

        There is nothing wrong with people getting their “just deserts” so long as we all understand that what everyone “deserved” is actual justice.

        • “Ordinary “free will” is us making our own choices for ourselves, without being forced by someone else to choose or act against our own will.”

          If you are going to qualify your semantic with the word “ordinary” which implies being the norm, then we have a huge problem, because that is not the “ordinary” usage of the word “free will”.
          Free Will Intuitions: Fred and Barney Case Study – InfoGraphic
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_will

          “And he has a right to feel that way at the outset, when he does not know yet which choice he will make. That is perfectly rational.”

          No, it’s not.

          “The fact that his decision will turn out to be deterministically inevitable, such that, technically speaking, only one of his options is “really” possible, is useless information. It will not help him make his decision in any way.”

          You keep ascerting things like “it’s useless” when in fact it’s a very useful understanding.

          “The meaning of “could have done otherwise” is actually true from that initial point of uncertainty up to the point where that option was ruled out of consideration during his mental deliberations.”

          No, it is not true nor does uncertainty make it true. This is a conflation of the ontic with the epistemic.

          “Again, the fact that his choice was technically inevitable since the time of Big Bang is irrelevant and useless information. Unless you have some way to go back and make minor subatomic changes to the Big Bang that would produce a different decision, this technical inevitability is totally useless.”

          Again, making statements is not making an argument. You making the ascertion that such is “useless” information is the very falsity that the free will skeptic is trying to explain.

          “But since everyone understands the difference between making a choice of their own free will versus being forced to act against their will by someone else, the phrase “free will” works just fine to communicate this relevant and useful information.”

          I’m pretty sure most people would say they were “forced against their will” in the situation where someone else forces them, rather than “forced against their free will”. That is because they cannot even do what they have in their will to do. Again, it’s the important distinction between “willing” and “freely willing”. Your semantic only addresses the “will” word.

          The Distinction Between X and Free X (choice vs. free choice)

          “An airplane crashes, killing everyone on board. Crash investigators will try to find every direct, relevant cause of the crash (often crashes result from multiple system failures). The plane and its instruments, the pilot, the weather conditions, and other factors will be taken into account.”

          So if a weather condition took out a plane, there was no “free will” involved, yet per your usage of blame the weather was still “to blame” for the crash. That was the “cause” of the crash. This is the very semantic of “blame” that the free will skeptic is not using. And I’d argue just using it to mean “a cause of x” confuses it with the desert sense. If you want clear language, you are better of saying that “person X caused Y” rather than “is to blame for Y” – and your entire rehabilitative process can run on the fact that person X was a cause. Afterall, we don’t “blame” the clinically insane in any “desert” sense, but we for sure stop them and try to rehabilitate them.

          “There is nothing wrong with people getting their “just deserts” so long as we all understand that what everyone “deserved” is actual justice.”

          There is no “just deserts” in any sense. The notion of “deserve” is one that needs to be dropped when we understand that someone could not have done, of their own accord, otherwise (at the time they were making or made a decision). At best they were causally unfortunate to have the variables they had at that time.

          • (1) “Ordinary” is the opposite of “extraordinary”. To claim that one’s will could be somehow “free from causation” would be an “extraordinary” claim. One requires causation to implement one’s intent. Therefore to be “free from causation” would make the will impotent.

            Ordinary free will makes no extraordinary claims. It is simply us making choices for ourselves, free from anyone else forcing us to choose or act against our will. That is all that “free will” is “free” from. And this is a meaning that everyone understands, regardless of any other notions about free will that they also hold.

            (2) The notions that we can be free from causation, or free from ourselves, or free from reality are all impossible, irrational claims. The concept of “freedom” can never imply any of those imaginary freedoms. So it never really does. When a bird is freed from its cage, nobody claims it is also free from causation. And yet the bird is said to be free.

            (3) I do continue to assert that the fact of inevitability is not only useless, but also leads to mental errors when we try to draw any useful implications from it. You and others have demonstrated that it leads to discarding the useful concepts of free will, responsibility, autonomy, and justice. And I have had to explain to you what all of these concepts actually mean when used correctly.

            (4) We do blame the weather when a tornado rolls through a town destroying houses and schools. We may not be able to correct the weather, but we can devise early warning systems that save lives. We take responsibility for the lack of such a system and act of our free will to implement it.

            (5) Both determinism and free will are present simultaneously in every decision we make. The mental process of choosing is a deterministic process. But that process is authentically us. It is our own reasons and feelings, our own beliefs and values, our own genetic dispositions and live experiences, and all of the other things that make us uniquely us, that determine what happens next.

            Our choice becomes our will at that moment. And if no one forces us, against our will, to make a different choice, then we have acted of our own free will.

            (6) There are two undeniable facts about that choice. It was deterministically inevitable and it was made of our own free will.

            Our specific reasons for making that choice are relevant and meaningful, because circumstances may be different the next time. But the single fact of inevitability is useless. It tells us nothing that we don’t already know about every decision that is ever made.

            The fact that it was authentically our own decision is important. Unless we were coerced against our will, then we are the final, responsible cause of our own action. If we chose to commit a crime, to harm someone or violate their rights, then we are to blame for that harm. And we are at least one of the contributing cause that needs to be addressed and corrected in order to prevent future harm to others.

            But the criminal is not the only cause. The community (example Ferguson) that failed to provide education, employment, counseling, recreational facilities, and other requirements for raising an ethical child is also morally responsible for the bad outcome. They too require blame and correction.

            (7) But if we place all our emphasis upon the fact of inevitability, and hold everyone blameless and free from any responsibility for the bad outcome, then we have tossed out the toolbox that was created specifically to handle matters of justice.

          • (1) There is a difference between “ordinary X” and “ordinary definitions of X”. We are talking about which definition of free will is ordinary and which is not…not if such free will existing is actually ordinary or not. An important distinction.

            (2) The concept of “freedom” can apply to imaginary freedoms in the sense that people imagine they have those freedoms (not in the sense that it actually exists)

            (3) We disagree on the “correct” usage of these words. “Correct” doesn’t imply that it is “actual”, only that it is or was believed. The correct usage of geocentric is planets orbiting the earth (The earth being at the center). This is the “correct” usage, even though geocentricity is not correct. Don’t confuse the important difference here.

            (4) Different type of blame. No one is saying we can’t assess the object or thing that is a primary cause:
            No Free Will and the Ambiguity of “Responsibility”

            (5) In your definition of free will, of course they are present. It’s just a problematic definition that avoids the issues of concern.

            (6) Neither of these are “undeniable”. Inevitability depends on a deterministic universe (which may or may not be the case), and free will depends on how it’s being defined. My semantic of free will (the commonly intuitive one) is very “deniable”. I agree with you that our specific reasons for making choices are relevant and meaningful. If inevitability happens to be a “fact”, it’s not “useless”…as it plays into various other understandings (such as the bad notion of being more or less deserving than another).

            (7) It’s a bad toolbox. The only thing that needs to be considered is the action that protects people from future harms and increases wellbeing for a society. This can and should be done without notions of blame and responsibility in any “desert” sense. Pinpointing a cause is just showing a fact about where a problem is coming from, which no free will skeptic denies that such should be accounted for.

            There is a whole lot of talking past each other in these comments. The fact of the matter is, we agree with a whole lot, we just disagree with how certain words need to be used. There are some other things that we disagree with (for example the usefulness or uselessness of certain understandings), but they pale in comparison to our semantic (definitional) disagreements.

            Later good sir.

  2. I have some unique background for discussing the 2nd straw man, blame and responsibility. I was an Honor Court chairman at Richmond Professional Institute (now VCU). Over the summer I had to come up with a student orientation speech explaining what the Honor Court was about. While thinking through this I discovered the meaning of Jefferson’s words in the Declaration of Independence, “to secure these rights, governments are instituted”. We constituted our state and federal governments to protect a set of rights for each other.

    But that wasn’t what the Honor Court was about. It was about protecting the honor of the student body by expelling anyone who lied, cheated, or stole. That was the only possible penalty. The purpose of the penalty was to secure student honor, which is a respect bestowed upon us by others (administration and faculty) as well as our own self respect (personal honor). The penalty was not about achieving justice.

    The purpose of a system of justice is to do what Jefferson had said, to secure a set of rights for each other. We create laws that prohibit behaviors that violate a specific right. Stealing, for example, violates a right to property. Murder violates a right to life. Through government we create laws, police, courts, and correctional facilities to deal with the criminal offender who violates the rights we have agreed to respect and protect for each other.

    The penalty is naturally limited by the primary objective of the justice system: to protect everyone’s rights, the rights of the victim, society, and even the offender. Therefore, a just penalty seeks to (a) repair the harm to the victim, (b) correct the offender’s future behavior, (c) protect society from the offender until corrected, and (d) do no more than is reasonably necessary to accomplish (a), (b), and (c).

    The court applies a penalty that usually is mild on a first offense, more severe for a repeat offender, and may be life in prison for the incorrigible. The judge may take into account the background of the offender to assess what might be sufficient to correct his behavior.

    Hopefully, the offender can be rehabilitated. This might include education, counseling, job training, and a follow-up system while on parole. Ideally, the offender will make more appropriate choices in the future, autonomously, of his own free will. That is the goal of rehabilitation.

    Blame/responsibility is determined during the trial. If he didn’t do it, then there’s no need to correct him. If he did in fact do the damage to the victim, then he does deserve the blame and is held responsible (assuming no mental illness).

    During the penalty phase the judge will consider his prospects for correction. The offender may refuse opportunities for rehabilitation while in prison, but this will diminish his chance of parole.

    The possibility of rehabilitation rests in the idea of an autonomous individual who chooses good or bad behavior of his own free will. Rehabilitation gives him new options and new choices through education, job training, counseling, and so forth. And the negative aspects of being imprisoned, the loss of freedom to choose for himself when to eat or when to sleep, gives him something new to think about before making another bad choice.

    None of this rests upon anything magical or supernatural. There is no suspension of reliable cause and effect (determinism). There is just the ordinary free will of all the players making reasoned choices for themselves. The community chose to create laws, courts, and penalties to correct the harm of criminal behavior. The criminal made a bad choice to commit a crime. The community chose to redeem those who may be redeemable through rehabilitation.

    And every choice we made of our own free will was also deterministically inevitable. Both are facts and both are simultaneously true in every decision. There is no logical reason to sacrifice either concept on the alter of the other.

    • You had me agreeing up until this sentence, then you went downhill:

      “Blame/responsibility is determined during the trial. If he didn’t do it, then there’s no need to correct him. If he did in fact do the damage to the victim, then he does deserve the blame and is held responsible (assuming no mental illness).”

      The notion that someone “deserves” the blame is the very type of blame that becomes irrational if the person couldn’t have, of their own accord, done otherwise. This is different than the other type of “blame” that you used earlier, which simply addresses the person as part of the cause that we need to consider to fix the problem. It makes no difference regarding “deserve” if there was or wasn’t a “mental illness”, as such is just a different brain configuration. The mentally healthy person is not any more deserving of the blame than the mentally ill person.

      The possibility of rehabilitation rests in the idea of an autonomous individual who chooses good or bad behavior of his own free will.

      No it does not rest on this. We rehabilitate mentally ill people all the time. The only thing required for rehabilitation is an understanding of the effects of doing so. We don’t have to assign “free will”. If we had a robot that was going crazy and doing bad things, the only thing to fix the robot is an understanding that we want to prevent the bad things in the future. We don’t need to assign “free will” to the robot to fix the robot. Rehabilitation is just a way to “fix” a problem.

      There is no logical reason to sacrifice either concept on the alter of the other.

      There are many reasons to sacrifice the word “free will” to the alter, given the ability that most people feel they possess (the incoherent one’s) and the harms that such beliefs cause in the world.

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