I am going to start a “Bad Free Will Logic” series of articles, this first starting with a sort of “responsibility therefore free will” argument.
For each article I am going to point to either part of an argument that has been made by some free will proponents, or an entire argument. A single “Bad Free Will Logic” post may only address one part and why it is illogical, or if the argument is condensed enough I may be able to complete the entire criticism in one post. There also may be different versions of a similar argument that will be addressed in individual posts.
For many people the bad logic will be obvious, but for others it needs to be pointed out. The point in doing this is to create a sort of repository of bad arguments that, when someone brings up a specific bad argument, can be pointed or referred to, or used to address the poor reasoning inherent within the argument.
We will start with this one, what I call the “responsibility therefore free will” argument:
- Premise 1: Free will is incompatible with determinism
- Premise 2: Moral responsibility is incompatible with determinism
- Premise 3: We have moral responsibility
- Conclusion 1: Since we have moral responsibility, determinism is false
- Conclusion 2: Since determinism is false and we are morally responsible, we have free will
This is a libertarian (person who thinks indeterminism helps with free will) argument that makes a few different errors. Also keep in mind that the “moral responsibility” that is used is in the strong sense, not merely the idea that we need to hold people accountable for the sake of utility, but the idea that they are really, truly morally responsible. To understand this distinction see this infographic:
First, both the libertarian and free will skeptic (the hard incompatibilist and the hard determinist) would agree on premise 1 and premise 2. Only compatibilsts would disagree with the first premise, through a semantic shift away from the free will definition that most people intuit. Some compatibilists would accept premise 2 and others would not.
This post will not be getting into compatibilism since this is a libertarian argument.
For the sake of this post, premise 1 and premise 2 will be accepted, under the understanding that there are arguments for why they are the case.
That brings us to premise 3, which the libertarian that makes this argument accepts axiomatically (meaning it is, per them, “self-evident”). And yes, given premise 1, 2, and 3…conclusion 1 follows logically.
Premise 3, however, is a question begging premise. It isn’t something we should just accept as being “self-evident”. Is it intuited by people who already are raised with a free will psychology, sure. Do people not like the idea that perhaps we aren’t really morally responsible in the strong sense? Of course they do.
None of these psychological or emotional states, however, logically infer the acceptance of premise 3. Premise 3 is the big whopping error here.
But let’s imagine that premise 3 was all fine-n-dandy, at least for a few seconds until it comes crashing down! In fact we will accept premise 1, 2, and 3, and the conclusion “Since we have moral responsibility, determinism is false”. Conclusion 2 says that “since determinism is false and we are morally responsible, we have free will”. First, just because determinism is false doesn’t imply free will. Premise 1 says that free will is incompatible with determinism. It doesn’t say that free will is compatible with indeterminism. That is for some reason being assumed by the libertarian.
But should it be assumed? Of course not. There is no indeterministic event that grants any more free will than deterministic events. If anything these events make “willing” in general even more problematic, and certainly not something in anyone’s conscious control.
And how does indeterministic events make us “more responsible”? Well, they don’t, of course.
To understand why free will is incompatible for both causal determinism and indeterminism, you can scour through numerous articles in this blog and/or pick up a copy of Breaking the Free Will Illusion.
We have new premises that are potentially being neglected by the argument above:
- Premise 1A: Free will is incompatible with determinism
- Premise 1B: Free will is incompatible with indeterminism
- Premise 2A: Moral responsibility is incompatible with determinism
- Premise 2B: Moral responsibility is incompatible with indeterminism
- Premise 3: We have moral responsibility
And also new conclusions:
- Conclusion 1A: Since we have moral responsibility, determinism is false
- Conclusion 1B: Since we have moral responsibility, indeterminism is false
- Conclusion 2A: Since both determinism and indeterminism is false and …
Both determinism and indeterminism cannot be false. One or the other needs to be the case. Either all events have a cause or some do not. There is no other option here.
But if free will is incompatible with both, and moral responsibility is incompatible with both, and one or the other must be the case. Then both free will and moral responsibility need to be thrown out.
Premise 3 simply cannot be the case. Of course if we reject premise 2A, moral responsibility can be compatible with determinism. But the free will skeptic agrees with the libertarian that premise 2A is true. Where they disagree is in the idea that indeterminism can in some way help here. The free will skeptic also agrees with premise 1A, that free will is incompatible with determinism, but they disagree that indeterminism can help grant free will. See the pattern.
The free will skeptic such as myself sees no good reason for the libertarian to assume that indeterminism helps in any way for these matters. And
just assuming they do is a non-argument that does not follow to the conclusion of “since determinism is false and we are morally responsible, we have free will”.
A more coherent argument would leave determinism out and simply assert that “we are morally responsible, therefore we have free will”…a trite mantra that might as well just say “we have free will, therefore we have free will”.
The main problem with the argument, however, is that premise 3 should not be accepted as “self-evident”. It is anything but this, and to postulate it as “self-evident” question begs the entire purpose of the free will debate.
An important point about the free will debate is that, if there is no free will, then this type of moral responsibility (in the strong sense – do not confuse this with a weak sense that isn’t really about “responsibility” in so much as it is about what we need to do for the sake of utility) is out! It is kaput. It is irrational. It is nonsense. And the belief that it is “self-evident” is causing so many problems in the world!
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