December 3, 2020

The Council

A modern day council!

Over at T-blog a good conversation that I wish not to be lost in a comment section. Paul Manata and Peter Pike are two very intelligent men that had an interesting conversation about freedom and responsibility.

http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2009/06/divided-front-libertarians-at-odds-with.html

Peter said:

Paul said:

Mentally insane people choose “what they desire,” yet I wouldn’t call them free or responsible (at least civically responsible. Responsible before God would entail a larger story, Adam, the fall, headship, so forth).

Just to show that not all us T-bloggers are in lockstep…..

I would disagree in that I WOULD call such actions “free.” However, I would agree that an insane person would not necessarily be “responsible.”

In other words, I simply don’t view freedom and responsibility as going hand-in-hand. I believe you can be responsible for something you have no freedom in, in other words.

Paul said:

Peter,

The reason I say he’s not free is because freedom requires a kind of control over your actions. I don’t think severely mentally insane people have the relevant control required for freedom. As a semi-compatibilist, I’d say guidance control is sufficient. Furthermore, when you build in reasons-responsive constraints (and all the other goodies), the case becomes more compelling. Sure, the mentally insane person does what he or she wants to do, but the control and reasons-responsive mechanism make this useless for freedom (at least any freedom worth having). Finally, I view freedom and moral responsibility as flip sides of the same coin. If an agent S, did some action, A, freely, then S is morally responsible for A. Likewise, if S is morally responsible for A, S did A freely.

Or, to put it in a crass way: I’m not inclined to think that a man who mumbles the primes to himself while he repeatedly bangs his head into the wall, all while defecating on himself, doesn’t do those things of his own free will. 🙂

Put simply, his actions are not under his control, but, rather, the control of the illness.

Thoughts?

Peter said:

Well, let me give an example of where I think there is civic responsibility without freedom (since I think you’re wanting to look at it more civically than theologically, at least so far!). I have a responsibility to obey the laws of America because I was born in America, an action I had no control over whatsoever. Granted, you may argue that we do not prosecute children who break the law; but that we do not prosecute them does not imply they have no responsibility to obey those laws.

I will grant you, however, the general case that freedom and responsibility tend to be flip sides of the same coin, but with the caveat that there are very important (and, IMO, relevant) instances where this is not the case.

As to your example, I think we would need to distinguish between people who’s action lack “relevant control” due to an illness and those who lack “relevant control” due to other reasons (i.e., an alcoholic/pot-head who is unable to drive safely). In the second case, we of course still find the individuals responsible for whatever they did in an impaired state.

Perhaps a better example at this point would be the example of a diabetic who has a sugar low, because those symptoms are almost exactly like intoxication. Since the symptoms are the same, and the behavior is the same, yet we’d find the intoxicated man responsible for his actions while we’d not hold the diabetic responsible (barring, of course, finding out that he intentionally put himself into a sugar low or something of that nature), then I think at this point we cannot say that the inability to take control is sufficient.

More to follow…

(continued)

I think at this point it might be relevant to take a page from Edwards (although as I am going from memory, perhaps we can just call this a page from Peter’s Reconstruction of Edwards) and say that the difference is in terms of moral (in)ability and natural (in)ability.

In this instance, we would say that the insane person is doing what he wants but he lacks the full range of abilities that a normal person would have access to. Just as we wouldn’t hold someone responsible for being unable to flap his wings and fly, we wouldn’t hold the insane person responsible for being unable to pay his bills on time because he lacks the mechanism to understand the concept of monetary value, or whatnot. (Of course, I would maintain that he is still acting freely, but is not responsible at this point because of his inability to naturally choose the responsible course.)

On the other hand, a man who is fully aware of monetary value but who becomes a compulsive gambler and is addicted to that behavior remains responsible for his actions because he has the moral inability to refrain from wasting his money and causing ruin to his family, but he still retains the natural ability to stop at any time. In this case, though he is still bound to his addiction and is in that sense not free, he remains responsible.

I’m not sure that at this point I’ve fully developed everything that I want to say here, but as time is fleeting I hope it’s sufficient for you to at least find something to respond to 🙂

Paul said:

Peter,

My claim was that a mentally insane person was not free or responsible. You said he was free but not responsible. It seems, though, that you now agree with me about the specific case I brought up.

You wrote;

“I have a responsibility to obey the laws of America because I was born in America, an action I had no control over whatsoever”.

That doesn’t have anything to do with whether you’re a free agent. Place of birth is not relevant to the metaphysics of free will.

“As to your example, I think we would need to distinguish between people who’s action lack “relevant control” due to an illness and those who lack “relevant control” due to other reasons (i.e., an alcoholic/pot-head who is unable to drive safely). In the second case, we of course still find the individuals responsible for whatever they did in an impaired state”.

Those people put themselves in those circumstances freely, thus though they may not be free while blithering drunk, that is irrelevant to the freedom/responsibility point I’ve made.

Furthermore, my claim was about the “mentally insane.” So, I did make the distinguishment. You said that’s what you were responding to. Do you now deny that the mentally insane are free?

“I think at this point it might be relevant to take a page from Edwards (although as I am going from memory, perhaps we can just call this a page from Peter’s Reconstruction of Edwards) and say that the difference is in terms of moral (in)ability and natural (in)ability”.

I generally find Edwards unhelpful in this area. I think hypothetical compatibilism is false.

I find the moral inability and natural ability distinctions likewise problematic.

“In this instance, we would say that the insane person is doing what he wants but he lacks the full range of abilities that a normal person would have access to”.

Are you assuming that “doing what you want to” means “you’re free.” Are you claiming that the insane man who “wants” to defecate on himself is acting freely? Anyway, the abilities he lacks are control and the rational faculties required for freedom.

“Just as we wouldn’t hold someone responsible for being unable to flap his wings and fly, we wouldn’t hold the insane person responsible for being unable to pay his bills on time because he lacks the mechanism to understand the concept of monetary value, or whatnot”.

I’m not talking about responsibility. We agreed that the insane man wasn’t responsible, you claimed he was free.

“On the other hand, a man who is fully aware of monetary value but who becomes a compulsive gambler and is addicted to that behavior remains responsible for his actions because he has the moral inability to refrain from wasting his money and causing ruin to his family, but he still retains the natural ability to stop at any time”.

Well, it’s debatable about whether he has the “natural ability to stop at anytime.” At any rate, this doesn’t show that mentally insane people are free. In your case, the man may not be free, but he is responsible for freely putting himself in that position. If he cannot control himself, then he lacks a necessary requirement of freedom.

Here’s one reason to doubt the merits of Edwardsian compatibilism, or, hypothetical compatibilism, or, classical compatibilism:

Suppose Mary has been scarred by a terrible childhood accident involving a blond Labrador retriever. This accident rendered her psychologically incapable of wanting to touch a blond-haired dog. Imagine that, on her sixteenth birthday, unaware of her condition, her father brings her two puppies to choose between, one being a blond-haired Lab, the other a black-haired Lab. He tells Mary just to pick up whichever of the two she pleases and that he will return the other puppy to the store. Mary happily and unencumbered does what she wants and picks up the black Lab.

Was she free to do otherwise? It doesn’t seem so. Given her childhood experience, she cannot even form a want to touch a blond-haired Lab, thus she couldn’t pick one up. But in this case the hypothetical classical compatibilism, HCC, analysis would be true. That is: IF Mary had wanted to pick up the blond-haired Lab, then she could have done so. This is clearly false, though. The problem brought out here is that HCC isn’t enough. We need more than just: S could have done otherwise if S had wanted to do otherwise. We need, rather, something like this: …”and S could also have wanted to do otherwise.” And this pushes the question back to whether the agent could have wanted to do otherwise. To answer that requires another ‘could’ statement: S could have wanted or chosen to do otherwise. This requires another hypothetical analysis: S would have wanted or chosen to do otherwise, IF S had wanted or chosen to want or choose otherwise. The same question would arise about this analysis, needing another ‘could’ statement to be analyzed, and so on ad infinitum… (cf. Kane, Intro to Free Will, pp. 28-31).

Peter said:

Paul said:

My claim was that a mentally insane person was not free or responsible. You said he was free but not responsible. It seems, though, that you now agree with me about the specific case I brought up.

I’m not sure how you got that, since I’m still saying he is free but not responsible. 🙂

You said:

That doesn’t have anything to do with whether you’re a free agent. Place of birth is not relevant to the metaphysics of free will.

But it is relevant as to whether you can have responsibility without freedom, which was my point. You are responsible to follow the laws of the land regardless of whether you had the freedom to pick those laws.

You said:

Those people put themselves in those circumstances freely, thus though they may not be free while blithering drunk, that is irrelevant to the freedom/responsibility point I’ve made.

But I think it is quite relevant to the discussion, since we have people who are most assuredly not in control of their behavior being held responsible for their actions. That’s why I think the illustration of the diabetic is more germane to our discussion, because we have identical actions but with differing views of responsibility. In other words, I think it helps clarify what needs focused on by getting rid of ambiguities.

You said:

Are you claiming that the insane man who “wants” to defecate on himself is acting freely?

In a word, yes.

You said:

Anyway, the abilities he lacks are control and the rational faculties required for freedom.

But I disagree that those are required for freedom. I say they are required for responsibility, not freedom. [I think this is the heart of our disagreement.]

You said:

In your case, the man may not be free, but he is responsible for freely putting himself in that position.

I think you misread my examples; the above was in reference to the person who was *NOT* insane, and thus was responsible because he freely put himself in that position.

Paul said:

Was she free to do otherwise? It doesn’t seem so. Given her childhood experience, she cannot even form a want to touch a blond-haired Lab, thus she couldn’t pick one up. But in this case the hypothetical classical compatibilism, HCC, analysis would be true. That is: IF Mary had wanted to pick up the blond-haired Lab, then she could have done so. This is clearly false, though.

I don’t think it’s clearly false at all. It is certainly the case that if Mary had wanted to pick the blond-haired Lab she could have done so. She’ll never want to do so, so the if will never apply; but that’s not the same thing as saying the if is false.

In other words: If I jump high enough, I will go into orbit. This is a true statement, even though it is impossible for me to ever jump that high. It is still a fact that if *DID* jump that high, I would be in orbit.

So I don’t see how your example works other than to say that Mary doesn’t have the ability to do otherwise, but that’s simply a denial of PAP anyway.

You said:

We need more than just: S could have done otherwise if S had wanted to do otherwise. We need, rather, something like this: …”and S could also have wanted to do otherwise.”

I disagree that “S could also have wanted to do otherwise” is relevant, and in any case the fact remains that she still wanted to do what she picked.

And while you don’t like Edwards, I think he applies here too. In other words, Mary most certainly has the ability to frame the words “I choose the blond Lab.” She doesn’t do so not because she is unable (physically) to do so, but because she is unwilling to do so.

As such, I think this question is irrelevant to our discussion 🙂 I also wonder how you synthesize total depravity with that concept of freedom/responsibility.

Paul:

Peter,

” don’t think it’s clearly false at all. It is certainly the case that if Mary had wanted to pick the blond-haired Lab she could have done so. She’ll never want to do so, so the if will never apply; but that’s not the same thing as saying the if is false”.

You may be missing the dialectical context. Right, if Mary had wanted to pick up the lab she could have. The problem, though, she couldn’t from the want to. The hypothetical analysis says people can do otherwise when they can’t. Mary cannot even form the want. So, the “if” makes it so she can, be the *fact* that she can’t makes the hypothetical analysis say that she can when she can’t. And so actually, if didn’t say that the “if” was false, I said it was true. But, the problem is that it tells us she could do otherwise (because if she had wanted to she could’ve), when she in fact could not have done otherwise (because she could not have wanted to).

So, hypothetical compatibilism needs to say that a person is able to want to do otherwise. But now we’ve pushed the question back. We have a new “ability” that we need to apply the hypothetical analysis to. And this brings up an infinite regress.

I grant that classical compatibilist will continue to press the point and dig heels in the sand and opt for the hypothetical analysis of “can do otherwise” (which is a response to the consequence argument). But given the massive amounts of arguments against it, and the fact that more and more compatibilists are dropping the classical model, with the fact that there are better stories out there (we’ve progressed in our analytic ability since Edwards :-), it seems to me more trouble than it’s worth to hold on to classical compatibilism.

The problem is, so many Reformed theologians thought learning ended with Edwards and Hume, that they continue to use the classical analysis in their works, and I’ve never seen a bibliography where they indicate that they are up on the current debate or state of compatibilism.

“So I don’t see how your example works other than to say that Mary doesn’t have the ability to do otherwise, but that’s simply a denial of PAP anyway”.

No, she doesn’t have the ability to want to do otherwise, which brings up the infinite regress.

“And while you don’t like Edwards, I think he applies here too. In other words, Mary most certainly has the ability to frame the words “I choose the blond Lab.” She doesn’t do so not because she is unable (physically) to do so, but because she is unwilling to do so”.

That ability is totally meaningless. She doesn’t do so because she is unable, not unwilling.

I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree. You’re free to hold to classical compatibilism. I’m of the opinion that it’s holding Reformed thinkers back in this area.

Peter said:

Hey Paul,

Yeah, in the end we’ll probably just have to agree to disagree. Still, it’s fun thinking about this, so I’ll throw out just a couple more points.

You said:

That ability is totally meaningless. She doesn’t do so because she is unable, not unwilling.

But this just is the crux of the matter. It is not a matter of ability at all, because once again Mary would have the physical ability to do so. It’s just like any other time someone is faced with overcoming a fear.

Suppose I have a deathly fear of heights (which is close to being true anyway). Suppose that I know a bridge that spans a chasm is sufficient to bear my weight and that I can safely walk across it. Because of my fear of heights, I may not go over the bridge. Suppose that there is a reward on the opposite side of the bridge. My fear may be greater than my desire to get the reward, so I would not cross the bridge. It is not that I cannot cross the bridge, but rather that under the circumstances I do not want to cross the bridge. (And suppose for the hypothetical that this “do not want” feeling makes it impossible to ever cross the bridge.) I think you would say that I am “unable” to cross the bridge, while I would say that I am “unwilling” to cross the bridge.

Suppose however that I do not have any fear of heights whatsoever, but rather that I am paralyzed and cannot walk, nor is the bridge able to carry a wheelchair across. Now I would say that I am “unable” to cross the bridge, because I cannot do so even if I want to do so. In this case, I would say that I am “unable” to cross the bridge, and I would expect that you would agree.

The problem I find with your view is that it treats the inability of me to cross the bridge due to a mental desire as opposed to a physical inability as identical, when IMO these things should be considered as two different things. The effects will be the same–in both cases I remains on the opposite side of the chasm. But the reason why I do so is different; hence I think there is great use in distinguishing between physical inability (i.e. “natural inability”) and mental inability (i.e., “moral inability”).

You also said:

The hypothetical analysis says people can do otherwise when they can’t.

I understand where you’re coming from with this, but again I am of the opinion that it doesn’t really apply. Again, I maintain that Mary has the natural ability to pick the blond Lab, and because she does then (at least in regards to whether her choice was genuine) then it doesn’t matter why she does not want to do so.

In the end, I think that the example of Mary would, if anything, prove too much. Because unless you end up with some kind of random aspect to a choice, all choices will become an “impossible to have chosen otherwise under the circumstances” choice. In other word, if I choose chocolate ice cream over vanilla ice cream, it is because at time t I wanted chocolate for whatever reason. In this case, you could say that it is “possible” in the abstract that I “could” have chosen vanilla, but the fact remains that I did not choose vanilla and I would maintain that under those circumstances I would have always chosen chocolate, which would seem to me to be the same as Mary’s inability to choose other than the chocolate Lab.

Now I suppose you might be able to say that if you change the externals then I could have chosen otherwise; but if you do that, then I would maintain that you could also change the externals with Mary (e.g., she could go through therapy and get over her fear of blond Labs).

Anyway, we’ll probably still just agree to disagree, but thanks for the time I’ve spent in thought this weekend 🙂

Paul:

P,

I’ll just end with two things:

1. No one’s denying that people choose according to desires, character, etc. My claim, however, is that this is not robust enough to ground freedom. It’s not enough, one’s analysis needs more. It would be like saying ‘belief’ is enough for knowledge since everyone who has knowledge obviously believes what is known. (However, even this “desire” thing is in doubt due to cases of akrasia, but we can forget that debate for the our purposes.)

I tried to make that case with the mentally insane and in my responses to your various examples from drunks and diabetics and such. If your position allows the mentally insane to be acting of their own free will when yelling the primes all day long while urinating on themselves, I guess I don’t have much more to say. Seems to me that that’s self-evidently false. Heck, I’m not even sure that dogs and cats don’t “do what they want”, hence granting them freedom. The bottom line here is that most good analysis of freedom are going to include more than just “doing what you desire or want.” However, you said that since the mentally insane person does what she wants, then she’s free. And so I think your view is false for at least that reason.

2. To do otherwise you have to be able to want to do otherwise (and free will is about abilities, it’s about a certain kind of power that agents have to act). If a person cannot even form a want to do otherwise, if she lacks that ability or power, then the CC hypothetical analysis says she can do something other when she clearly can’t (notice here the modal language and not the hypothetical language of “ifs”). So, the hypothetical analysis needs to throw in that she be able to want. This new ability is now given a hypothetical reading and suffers from the infinite regress argument I made above.

I know I may have largely repeated myself, but I wanted to relay the story in more succinct language so that what I think is the truth of the matter maybe becomes more apparent this time around (hopefuly). As I said, I think the Reformed as a whole are really missing the boat here by thinking Edwards is the final say. He says some good things, but his view is largely wrong, and that’s because hypothetical compatibilism is wrong, IMO. I also just wanted to recap.

Peter:

Thanks Paul 🙂

I guess I would just sum up my own view as reiterating once again that freedom and responsibility, in my position, are not always flip sides of the same coin, whereas in yours they are. Which is why I think you say that freedom needs more than just acting according to desires, because you have freedom linked to responsibility.

I, on the other hand, would say that freedom just is acting according to one’s desires. And I wouldn’t have a problem saying that animals have that freedom too (assuming they have desires). Responsibility, on the other hand, entails those things that you’ve brought up in addition to acting according to one’s desires.

I guess maybe one way to examine this would be to ask, What is the difference between freedom and responsibility? As I read your position, I think you view the two as almost synonymous.

In any case, no need to drag this out further since now we’re just repeating ourselves.

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