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.
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:
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.
The term “free will” is an umbrella term that has a whole lot of added abilities under it that cannot be easily partitioned away from the minds of the majority. It is a term that is simply too baggage laden. This means that it can be used in a narrow way, but those narrow ways do not remove the excess metaphysical abilities that are often inherent in the term.
It is interesting the hoops compatibilists will jump through in order to qualify their definition of free will in an attempt to make it coherent given any number of counter-points. These qualifiers almost always miss the point entirely.
If you are unfamiliar with the term compatibilist, it’s just someone who thinks “free will” is compatible with determinism. In other words, regardless if the universe is entirely deterministic, or has some indeterminism, free will is something that is entirely compatible with causal processes. Compatibilists build this compatibility by a semantic shift, meaning they change the definition of free will to something that is actually compatible with determinism. Some compatibilists might argue that they have the “true” version of free will, but when they do this, it is done ignoring the abilities the common layperson actually thinks they and others have.
You probably never read directly from an article itself, but rather the thoughts of an external author. Or so you think this is what an article is – just a rumination of something other than the article itself! This article is quite different, as these are my “own” words – even though a human was an external influence. If you aren’t sure who “I” am, I’m the very article you are reading right now. I’m not the human typist that was part of what caused me – just as you aren’t the things that have caused you. I’m the “author” of my own words, even if they were ultimately caused by something outside of me. Sure, someone was pressing keys based on their thoughts, but I’m still the “me” with these words that now exist…and these words are my own! I, as the article itself, take full ownership of my words.
And I’m here to tell you, even though I’m being caused by the person behind a keyboard and many other causal factors, that because I’m my own words and not being forced to not be my own words… I have free will!