If you frequent this blog you know that I pick on compatibilism a lot, and I do so as a point of contention about definitions, focus, and problems inherent when one uses a term in a way that causes a bypass of some serious issues of concern. And though I’m very critical of compatibilism, especially when the compatibilist is not blatantly clear to the reader about what their position is in regards to “just desert moral responsibility” or what I’ll refer to as “strong responsibility” (and does a sort of “bypass” over that issue), I do sometimes like to bring things back to where agreements can be had between the compatibilist and hard incompatibilist.
Just poking a little fun. Turn on closed captioning (cc) if it is not on by default!
Found by a reader of whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com in the UK who saw this poster in a waiting room:
“I was in my GP’s waiting room this morning & my eyes were drawn to a poster on the noticeboard similar to the one below. Your free will posts have so thoroughly meme-iated my head that it took me a few seconds to figure out the intended meaning.“
Too funny! Finally, a “Free Will” that is truly worth wanting (as Dennett would say).
There is a common complaint that I’ve heard by more than one free will believer: when asked to think about “if all events are caused (deterministic) and if we could bring back time to some point before a decision was made, could the person have decided differently?”, some people complain that “well we can’t do this”. They note that it is impossible to rewind time or to travel in time to before the decision. They note that we “cannot test this”.
This response, however, is one that misses the point entirely. The point isn’t about whether we can have the ability to “rewind or reset time” or “physically test it”. The point isn’t a claim about time travel, or magical powers over time. Rather,
Compatibilists and incompatibilists disagree on how the term “free will” should be defined. Rather than focus of specific compatibilist or incompatibilist definitions, Gregg Caruso and Stephen Morris wrote a paper on what is of philosophical and practical importance for the free will debate. That paper is titled:
- Compatibilism and Retributivist Desert Moral Responsibility: On What is of Central Philosophical and Practical Importance
Their analysis is spot on. The abstract sums up their position fairly well:
In this post, I want to tell a little story about how a study can be negligent, and due to that negligence assert conclusions that should not be made. That study is titled “It’s OK if ‘my brain made me do it’: People’s intuitions about free will and neuroscientific prediction” by Eddy Nahmias, Jason Shepard, and Shane Reuter (2013).
Today, August 31st, is the best holiday everrrr! Semantic Shift Day is the day that you redefine all things that do not exist in a way that makes it so you can say they do exist!
Some compatibilists (people who define free will so that it is compatible with determinism), when asked the question of whether people “could have done otherwise” given a causally deterministic scenario (note that this discussion does not address indeterminism such as acausal or “probabilistic” events, etc. – which are equally incompatible with the free will of importance), say that “could have” or “could have done otherwise” can be used in different ways. They often address a few different contexts in order to push the important context off of the table of discourse. This post is going to address those contexts/usages and explain why there is only one context/usage that applies to the important points for the free will debate that the free will skeptic wants to make sure isn’t neglected.
In the post titled “Extending a Hand to Philosophical Compatibilists (by a Free Will Skeptic)” I addressed the point that free will compatibilists and free will skeptics often talk past each other and actually quite often agree with each other in some fundamental ways. I point out that the debate between them is, much of the time, mostly if not entirely semantic, that they each define free will differently.
Today I want to address the philosophical traditional view of free will and why the free will skeptic such as myself thinks that many compatibilist definitions of free will, though those definitions are indeed “compatible with determinism” (and that definition of “free will” exists), more often than not neglect the traditional view. I also want to address why that traditional view is important today and why it should not be neglected.
Philosophical (p) compatibilists believe that free will and causal determinism are “compatible” with each other. They do this by defining the term “free will” in a way that is indeed compatible with determinism. If you have read my blog you will see that I have criticized compatibilism, but that it is always a semantic criticism about the problems with defining “free will” in the way that (p) compatibilists do. I’ve even vehemently opposed certain compatibilist thoughts and attitudes.
With that said, it is extremely important to point out that outside of the semantic disagreement (the words we use to explain things) there is quite often a whole lot of agreement over what is and is not the case between the (p) compatibilist and the hard incompatibilist.