Phillip McKay



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If there is no free will can we be held morally responsible?

Perhaps free will exists only in the choices we have as the compatabilitists claim , but if (as recent evidence suggests) all our actions are neurollogically determined, what does this mean for moral responsibility and the very fabric that holds together our undestanding of right and wrong and their consequences?

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    Oct 6 2011: We have as much free will as a chess-playing computer, which is none. But both brain and computer give the ILLUSION to have freedom of choice. What we call a chess-playing computer is one with a programm aiming for victory, with the ability to figure out the right piece to move.
    You're morally responsible when your brain has the ability to figure out the right thing to do.

    Nothing has free will, not even me erasing words, looking for the right ones to write right now. It looks like I could write anything, but this is an illusion given by sofisticated computation. The result you read is the result of this effort. I wouldn't have written anything different even if I wanted to. It's just the programm unravelling.

    Ok hey never mind. Here's the definition :

    -> A morally-responsible brain requires the ability to create the illusion of free will. That's it.
  • Oct 8 2011: Apparently acting without morality railroads us into eternal damnation. Alternately if one accepts, via rationalism, that he has no free will, not even in his thoughts about it, he is finally on the edge of freedom. ALL judgements, thoughts and beliefs can then be reframed as selfish automated internal projections that merely 'work' for the benefit of one's own survival. This selfishness must sit at the nucleus of my every thought. All of one's judgments can therefore be dismissed as subjective. Though this 'self dismissal' first demands deep thought, immense courage then great humility. Who would ever be so wise or so humble or be so courageous to do such a thing to himself? Who would make such a sacrifice? There is no 'gain' in it, not in real sacrifice. There is only loss. And the more passionately that this primate holds it beliefs, be they moral or otherwise, the more at risk he is of a devastating implosion of logic upon relinquishing said beliefs. This, difficult to contemplate, emotional reversal makes it doubly hard for all passionate believers of any belief set to let go since going 'mad' appears the only other option. It seems those least able to let go of their own irrational 'belief set nuclei' are the most critical of the madness of their opposition and the most demanding of their opposition to do so. Notable examples being the likes of Richard Dawkins and say, Pat Robertson. Neither will give up the 'nuclei'. One insists 'evidence and reason are the only path to truth' and the other says faith is. Nether has proof since 'the truth' is as elusive as ever, yet neither will yield and fall. There is the commonality. Fear creates a strong dam wall inside each mind. So damned we are after all.
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    Oct 6 2011: Yes. I think the problem is that when we argue about free will and come to the conclusion that there is no such thing, we still discuss everything else as though free will was there. By that I mean that people still separate the action from the person. Often the person is described as some sort of helpless observer of his deterministic actions. Not so. Lack of free will necessitates a reintegrating mind and body together so that they are one. There is no 'you' without your body, actions and decisions.

    The other view that I have heard expressed is that to imprison morally reprehensible people is much like banning dangerous substances.
  • Oct 6 2011: The concept of moral responsibility is still useful, although one that requires reexamination when we accept the premise of illusory free-will.

    That is to say, we it may serve us to repurpose 'moral responsibility' to mean a form of social pressure which encourages us to act in a manner that accords with morality.

    Without this social pressure, we would not feel as keenly the need to act in a manner that is pro-social.
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      Oct 6 2011: please define the following terms in a world with no free will:

      "useful", "encourage", "act"
      • Oct 6 2011:

        I know you're trying to be pithy, but that came off as rather flat-footed. I don't see why the meanings of those words would significantly alter - it's not as though recognizing the illusory nature of free-will changes the nature of reality.
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          Oct 6 2011: i have explicitly said that "in a world with no free will". if you are not interested in participating in the debate, you don't have to.
      • Oct 7 2011: @ Kris

        My reply is an invitation to you to clarify your position; why you think those words would be fundamentally altered by thinking of free will as illusory - because I don't see a problem with their definitions in either context.
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          Oct 7 2011: actually, i wanted to invite you for some thinking about the issue. fruitlessly, it seems.

          in a world with no free will, things happen as nature dictates. it is either random, or deterministic, or some combination of the two. but individuals has no way to change what is going to happen.

          in such a world, there is no "choice". there is a theoretical choice, we can analyze the possible what-ifs, but these speculations has no bearing to the reality. but we have other words for that: "possibility" or "path".

          with no choice, things can have no "use". what is the difference between "use" and "consequence"? "use" is the result we can get by consciously choosing some behavior over another behavior. in a world with no free will, "use" and "result" or "consequence" would be the synonymous.

          in the same manner, we can compare "encourage" to "influence" or "cause". with no free will, encourage is an empty word.
      • Oct 8 2011: So choice, use and consequence disappears if we come to understand the mechanism by which they are decided?

        Been a person that understands some of the minutiae of the operation of the mind (from a neuro-cognitive perspective), this doesn't strike me as the correct view to take.

        It simply means that we would need to reconsider the nuance of those words in the context of this new paradigm.

        Also, going off by the definitions I linked;

        being of use or service; serving some purpose; advantageous, helpful, or of good effect: a useful member of society.
        of practical use, as for doing work; producing material results; supplying common needs: the useful arts; useful work.

        I don't see how in a free-will as illusion environment how those definitions are obviated.

        Similarly with encourage - actions or ideas that influence another. In a free-will as illusion environment - those 'encouragements' form part of the complex matrix of inputs internal and external that help to determine the action that emerges.

        Also, you should reduce the level of snark in your posts. It engenders you to no one.
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          Oct 8 2011: i'm repeating myself, but it seems necessary, to give more emphasis to it:

          what is the difference (nuance if you will) between "use" and "beneficial consequence"?

          ah, btw, you started "snark". i tried to engage in genuine discussion, and you dropped in dictionary definitions. so stop being that sensitive, ok?
      • Oct 8 2011: I don't know. Why don't you tell me what you think the difference between usefulness and beneficial consequence is in the context of free will and no free will?

        You may have an answer - but I am unable to guess at it, in large part because we're not on the same page or wave length on this issue.

        We've had a few back and forths on this issue - I think at this point, it should be clear that whatever you're trying to get at, you'd get it across better without trying to get me to guess at it. Just state what you mean in a clear straight forward manner.
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    Oct 6 2011: yes, because there is no free will. i'm not kidding. if you think about it, the answer is accurate.