June 3, 2020

The Council

A modern day council!

Philip Jackson and the Search for Compatibilist Answers

Another post on the infamous Philip Jackson’s attempt to take down Compatibilism. This time we have a special answer from Grant Hageman: 

Philip Jackson:

My argument against the Compatibilist view of “free will”

1. If the only criterion for human freedom is that a person acts in accordance with their strongest desire even if the desire itself is determined by another person, then Bob must be considered to be free in the case where I put a chip in his brain that determines him to desire to torture an infinite amount of infinitely sentient beings.
2. The only criterion(given Compatibilism) for human freedom is that a person acts in accordance with their strongest desire even if the desire itself is determined by another person.
3. Therefore, Bob must be considered to be free in the case where I put a chip in his brain that determines him to desire to torture an infinite amount of infinitely sentient beings.

Keep in mind that Compatibilism says that men are free so long as they act in accordance with their greatest desire, regardless of where that desire comes from. It could be a decree of God that gives someone their desire, or a mad scientist who puts a chip in someone’s brain and implants desires into them. So the Compatibilist would have to bite the bullet and say that Bob is freely torturing an infinite amount of infinitely sentient beings. Moreover, since Bob must act in accordance with this desire, Bob would necessarily have to torture these beings and therefore be responsible for doing so regardless of how he felt about torture before the desire was implanted into his brain. This is what Compatibilists are logically obliged to accept, and it’s totally absurd. If you reject the conclusion of the argument, be prepared to tell me which premise you reject, and why

Grant Hageman:

Your argument probably deals with a different understanding of what constitutes a “desire”. I wouldn’t personally use the term “strongest desire” but one’s “ultimate intention”. But this is really what Calvinists are trying to say…that we do what we ultimately intend (which would include all of our thoughts, desires, wants, inclinations, etc).

Secondly, any compromise of our very nature also compromises our freedom. So a chip that alters our brain activity would certainly destroy free will, even on the LFW position. Compatibilism holds that God establishes and preserves our nature as a primary cause. He doesn’t destroy our nature.

And a third clarification is that compatibilists need not reduce to naturalism. We’re not committed to reducing all desires or wants into brain states. So I reject the idea that a chip in one’s brain would have the ability to create an “ultimate intention” within the agent. Instead, our only required commitment is that the agent (however defined) sufficiently determines his choice. This is rejected by LFW.

Given these clarifications, I really see nothing concerning about the following, amended statements:

1. free will is established by an agent sufficiently determining their choice by acting in accordance with their ultimate intention, even if the intention itself is determined by God’s decree (a decree which establishes and sustains man’s nature and freedom). Therefore, Bob cannot be considered to be free in a case where another human puts a chip in his brain that destroys the proper functioning of his will by compromising his nature and determines him to intend evil.
2. Compatibilism holds that free will is sufficiently determined by the agent even if that agent’s nature is determined by God (as God establishes and sustains man’s nature).
3. Therefore, Bob mustn’t be considered to be free in the case where I put a chip in his brain that determines him to intend to do evil, because this act does not establish or preserve Bob’s nature; it comprises Bob’s nature.

However, the fact that these statements are so far from your own shows how many misrepresentations you’ve employed in your arguments.

What you need to do is establish an argument that 1) utilizes precision (the argument above is quite messy and not even a valid syllogism) and 2) uses the language and commitments of compatibilism. If you can use language and commitments that compatibilists agree to AND establish a valid syllogism, perhaps you have something we should consider. But given the mess of an argument you’ve presented above, I doubt it would affect even a semi-knowledgable compatibilist.

Philip Jackson:

so you want to start out the conversation with being deceptive, huh? You are either being deceptive, or you are just really ignorant of logic. There’s not one problem whatsoever with my syllogism. It’s a deductively valid Modus Ponens. You are just trying to appear smart to the people who don’t understand logic in depth. I won’t entertain a conversation with someone who acts like this. So if you want to engage in a fruitful conversation, then quit with the deception and trying to make yourself look smart.

There are also a few other issues with your comment. The first part is you just trying to get out of the language of desire. If you want to use the term ultimate intention, you can just use that instead of the strongest desire and my argument goes through just fine. You are the only Compatibilist who I have ever come across that says this, so I’m guessing you are one of those people who try to weasel out of arguments by burying the conversation in nuance and big terms that are irrelevant to the argument.

Next, you say that any “compromise of our nature also compromises freedom”…well, you are missing the point. I could alter the argument to take this into account, and the conclusion will be just as bad for the Compatibilist. That’s what’s amazing about hypothetical scenarios. I can take everything you are saying into account and create a scenario where the argument still reaches the same conclusion. You understand exactly what my objection is, but you are way too committed to your theology to take the objection seriously. If God can manipulate people desires and humans still be free, then theoretically, a human can do the same thing. If you say God can do it but humans cant, then be prepared to give me the distinction with a difference between the two cases that makes it okay for God to manipulate peoples desires and them still be free versus a human manipulating peoples desires and them still be considered free…

Where does naturalism come into this conversation? That’s wholly irrelevant. Even if you dont think desires are brain states, however God implants desires into people is what I’m talking about. If a human did the same thing, you would presumably NOT say that tree he person is free who’s desires are being manipulated. So you can reject the chip analogy, but you are still missing the principle of what I’m getting at, sir. Can you give me a citation of any theistic compatibilist who claims that “the agent sufficiently determines his choice” and/or one proponent of LFW that rejects that claim? I would really like to see that…

You said “However the fact that these statements are so far from your own shows how many misrepresentations….” yadda yadda. Well, my friend…that just might be because you completely took it upon yourself to change my argument into something it’s not based on your misunderstanding of Compatibilism. Moreover, I find it very ironic that your syllogism is the one that’s not formally valid and is a mess. So maybe your right…if most compatibilists are logically illiterate like you, then maybe they wont be affected by the argument. I’m happy to grant that.

Lastly…I have some clarification questions.

1) Can you very clearly show me why you think my argument isnt valid?

2) What is your definition of Compatibilism?

3) Can you cite me a source for your claim that Compatibilists say that the agent sufficiently determines their own desire(this just sounds like LFW)?

4) Can you provide a distinction with a relevant difference between God giving someone desires and them remaining free, and me giving someone desires and them not remaining free? I’m looking for an in-principle answer, not a pragmatic one like “a human doesn’t have the power to give someone desires” that answer is orthogonal to what I’m looking for

Grant Hageman:

I believe the below quote from Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy answers your 3rd question and will support some my response to your other questions:

“The second main compatibilist model of sourcehood is an identification model. Accounts of sourcehood of this kind lay stress on self-determination or autonomy: to be the source of her action the agent must self-determine her action. Like the contemporary discussion of the ability to do otherwise, the contemporary discussion of the power of self-determination begins with the failure of classical compatibilism to produce an acceptable definition. According to classical compatibilists, self-determination simply consists in the agent’s action being determined by her strongest motive. On the assumption that some compulsive agents’ compulsions operate by generating irresistible desires to act in certain ways, the classical compatibilist analysis of self-determination implies that these compulsive actions are self-determined. While Hobbes seems willing to accept this implication (1656 [1999], 78), most contemporary compatibilists concede that this result is unacceptable. Beginning with the work of Harry Frankfurt (1971) and Gary Watson (1975), many compatibilists have developed identification accounts of self-determination that attempt to draw a distinction between an agent’s desires or motives that are internal to the agent and from those that are external. The idea is that while agents are not (or at least may not be) identical to any motivations (or bundle of motivations), they are identified with a subset of their motivations, rendering these motivations internal to the agent in such a way that any actions brought about by these motivations are self-determined…Lippert-Rasmussen (2003) helpfully divides identification accounts into two main types. The first are “authority” accounts, according to which agents are identified with attitudes that are authorized to speak for them (386). The second are authenticity accounts, according to which agents are identified with attitudes that reveal who they truly are (368).”

Regarding your other questions:

1) I’m on my phone and can’t review the OP while writing a response. I’ll answer this question in a separate post.

2) Compatibilism is the belief that free will is compatible to determinism. This position can take many variations…but all conclude that something about the agent is what determines the choice.

4) If God creates a person with the ability to choose, I find this completely different than a created person changing the nature of a fellow-creature. God’s act of designing man is distinct from man’s corrupting this design. This is really what your analogy boils down to and I’m having trouble seeing why it’s a problem.

…okay; so regarding your first question:

Your syllogism is as follows:

“1. If the only criterion for human freedom is that a person acts in accordance with their strongest desire even if the desire itself is determined by another person, then Bob must be considered to be free in the case where I put a chip in his brain that determines him to desire to torture an infinite amount of infinitely sentient beings.
2. The only criterion (given Compatibilism) for human freedom is that a person acts in accordance with their strongest desire even if the desire itself is determined by another person.
3. Therefore, Bob must be considered to be free in the case where I put a chip in his brain that determines him to desire to torture an infinite amount of infinitely sentient beings.”

A valid syllogism needs consistency in language between each point…the final point being a combination of prior points. I’ll see if I can tidy this up.

1) Compatibilism holds that free will is established when an agent acts in accordance with the strongest desire.
2) Greg installs a chip in Bob’s brain that creates in Bob the strongest desire for evil
3) Therefore, Compatibilism holds that free will is established when Bob acts in accordance with the strongest desire evil created by the chip installed in his brain.

If you noticed, I could not include any possessive language to describe the “desire” in point 1 as point 2 discusses a foreign desire. In the SEP article quoted above, some compatibilists argue that the desire that determines one’s action must be identified to the agent. In other words, the agent’s identity must be tied in some way to the choice-determining desire. A desire stemming from a computer chip isn’t an agent identifying desire.

Contrast this with God establishing an agent. God’s establishment of an agent would entail an establishment of their entire identity. Man cannot establish the identity of a fellow man. So point 1 of the corrected syllogism is wrong. Compatibilists are not committed to freedom being established by an agent acting in accordance with just any strongest desire…but that the agent himself (as identified by certain desires) determines their own choice.

Further Suggestions: 

Traditionalist Intuitions

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