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The constant denial that humans possess agency

Following on from the posting below about the “ISIS bride” is this comment from Brendan O’Neill at Spiked:

Indeed, the story of these three London girls who ran off in 2015 was always a very telling one. It contains lessons, if only we are willing to see them. Too many observers have focused on the girls’ youthfulness and the idea that they were ‘groomed’ or ‘brainwashed’ by online jihadists. Note how ‘radicalisation’ has become an entirely passive phrase – these girls, and other Brits, were ‘radicalised’, we are always told, as if they are unwitting dupes who were mentally poisoned by sinister internet-users in Mosul or Raqqa. In truth, the three girls were resourceful and bright. All were grade-A students. They thought their actions through, they planned them meticulously, and they executed them well. Far from being the passive victims of online radicalisation, the girls themselves sought to convince other young women to run away to ISIS territory. The focus on the ‘grooming’ of Western European youths by evil ISIS masterminds overlooks a more terrible reality: that some Western European youths, Muslim ones, actively sought out the ISIS life.

A point that comes out of this is how it is so common these days to downplay the fact that people make choices and have agency. Whether it is about young adults joining Islamist death cults, or people becoming addicted to drink, porn or social media, or falling into some other self-destructive and anti-social behaviour, very often people talk about the persons concerned as passive, as victims. “She was groomed to be a terrorist”…..”he suffered from alcoholism”…..”he was damaged by over-use of social media”……the very way that journalists write sentences or broadcast their thoughts seem to suggest that people don’t really possess volition, aka free will. (Here is a good explanation of what free will is, at least in the sense that I think it is best formulated, by the late Nathaniel Branden.)

Sometimes debates about whether humans really do have volition can sound like hair-splitting, an obscure sort of issue far less important than other matters of the day. I disagree. For decades, centuries even, different arguments have been presented to show that humans are pushed around by whatever external or internal forces happen to be in play, whether it is the environment, toilet training, parental guidance, economics, the class system, whatever. Over time, these ideas percolate into wider society so that it becomes acceptable for people to talk as if their very thoughts and actions aren’t really under their control. The self-contradictory nature of people denying that they have volition (to deny is, after all, a decision) is rarely remarked upon.

When people think about the problem of “snowflake” students, or identity politics, or other such things, remember that these phenomena didn’t come out of nowhere. We are seeing the “cashing in”, as Ayn Rand put it almost half a century ago, of the idea that people are not agents with will, but mere puppets.

Update: A lively debate in the comments. There is some pushback on the idea that the ISIS bride sees herself as any sort of victim but I think that charge is correct because of the entitlement mentality she is displaying by demanding that she returns to the UK to have her child, and no doubt fall on the grace of the UK taxpayer. And that mindset is all of a piece of thinking that actions don’t bring consequences.

After all, if she is the devout believer in creating a Global Caliphate, based on killing and enslaving unbelievers and all the assorted mindfuckery of such a goal, it is a bit rich, really, for her to come back to a country the prosperity of which is based on it being a largely liberal, secular place. She wants to have her cake and eat it.

Of course, some young jihadis can be brainwashed and are surrounded by a culture that encourages such behaviour, but it is worth pointing out that there are hundreds of millions of Muslims who, whatever the pressures, don’t do these things, and some are trying their best to move away from this mindset. And one of the best ways that liberal (to use that word in its correct sense) societies can resist the pathology of Islamist death cults is by resisting the “victim culture” and insisting on people taking ownership of their actions, with all the consequences for good or ill that this brings.

As an aside, here is an interesting essay by a Canadian academic debunking what might be called “apocalyptic ethics” and a rebuttal of the argument that as religious fanatics embrace death, they are beyond the rational self interest test of ethics. The article deals with that argument beautifully.

110 comments to The constant denial that humans possess agency

  • Rudolph Hucker

    It’s not just half a century. In Britain the question of “whether humans really do have volition” can be traced back 15 centuries at least.

    At the Synod of Brefi 560AD, held at Llanddewi Brefi in Ceredigion, we’re told that “The synod was apparently called in order to condemn the heretical teachings of Pelagius”. What was all the fuss about? Pelegius had upset the applecart with a doctrine of free will. Even worse, he apparently denied Augustine’s theory of original sin. Which is: “the Christian doctrine of humanity’s state of sin resulting from the fall of man, stemming from Adam’s rebellion in Eden. ”

    Pelagianism is the belief that original sin did not taint human nature and that mortal will is still capable of choosing good or evil without special Divine aid.

    People being able to exercise free will, and make their own choices, would clearly be bad for business for any organisation that depended on its customers believing they are all victims or have no free will.

    The very idea that we can make our own choices, or make a conscious choice over whether to be good or bad, is still a radical concept for many people.

  • CaptDMO

    Jake Blues: I ran out of gas! I got a flat tire! I didn’t have change for cab fare! I lost my tux at the cleaners! I locked my keys in the car! An old friend came in from out of town! Someone stole my car! There was an earthquake! A terrible flood! Locusts! IT WASN’T MY FAULT, I SWEAR TO GOD!
    “I was just following orders!”
    “Everybody knows/ does it!”
    “But…but…experts say…”

  • pete

    I’ve noticed that ‘liberals’ are sometimes eager to tell us how mature and knowledgeable young people are these days, and how they should listened to much more and allowed to vote earlier, and sometimes they remind us of the immaturity and vulnerability of young people and how they need special protection until at least the time they leave university.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Perhaps Johnathan Pearce sees more “constant denial” than i do, because he moves in journalistic circles. (I remember an article on the BBC site that was particularly idiotic on this issue.)

    I do not know personally any journalist, however, and do not see any constant denial that people have agency. What i see is a denial that people have agency ***when they make mistakes***.

    For instance, when i make the right choice, i never deny that i have agency and deserve credit for my choice: i only deny it when i make the wrong choice. In my experience, that is typical human behavior. (Besides, if you ask people whether they believe in free will, the vast majority will find it strange that you even ask; which doesn’t mean that they won’t find excuses for themselves when they screw up.)

    I am not just being facetious, however. I have a point to make: the problem is not the denial of free will, but the denial of compatibilism. If you deny that free will is compatible with determinism, then you are bound to interpret any factor affecting human choices as a factor reducing human free will. Then people can say: i made a mistake, but there was an external influence behind it, so i am not responsible.
    If you accept compatibilism instead, then there are no such excuses.

  • Johnathan Pearce (London)

    Snorri: well my remark is certainly aimed at much of the media, because that’s where so much of this narrative of passivity comes from. Try this experiment: the next time you watch a TV programme about obesity or some other health crisis, see how much of the underlying tone implies that government/business etc needs to “do something” and how much is given to the idea that it is up to individuals to get their lives in order.

    Well, when people “make mistakes” – such as joining a death cult or drinking oneself to death – that is usually when the issue of agency comes up.

    It is certainly true that people can and do have a bias about their own behaviour and role as an agent. We see this in investment and a whole area of study known as behavioural finance has arisen. For example, when a guy makes a killing on the stock market, he says he was wise and smart as an investor, but unlucky if the market collapses, and so on. We have lots of these biases, hardwired from evolution. But we can still, by introspection and study, overcome them. (To some extent, self-relection on one’s own biases is what free will is about).

    I don’t accept compatibalism – I see it as the philosophical case of having one’s cake and eating it.

    Check this out.

  • Jacques

    My all time favorite aphorism, I think attributed to Neils Bohr, is: “The opposite of a true statement is a false statement, but the opposite of a profound truth is another profound truth.”

    A perfect example is: People have free will.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “Too many observers have focused on the girls’ youthfulness and the idea that they were ‘groomed’ or ‘brainwashed’ by online jihadists. Note how ‘radicalisation’ has become an entirely passive phrase – these girls, and other Brits, were ‘radicalised’, we are always told, as if they are unwitting dupes who were mentally poisoned by sinister internet-users in Mosul or Raqqa. In truth, the three girls were resourceful and bright. All were grade-A students. They thought their actions through, they planned them meticulously, and they executed them well. Far from being the passive victims of online radicalisation, the girls themselves sought to convince other young women to run away to ISIS territory.”

    There’s no contradiction there. Everybody learns their culture and morality from the society around them – from their parents, their friends and peers, their neighbours, their teachers, their priests and authority figures – in just the same way they learn their language.

    Children raised in a Christian society grow up Christian. Children raised in a Socialist society grow up Socialist. Children raised in a Western society grow up Western. Children raised in a Barbarian society grow up Barbarian.

    Having been inculcated with your society’s values, then the most intelligent people apply their intelligence to further the ends their society sees as good. Isaac Newton devoted a huge part of his intellectual talents to theology and alchemy. The Renaissance artists devoted their talents to the glory of the Catholic Church. Minds like Thomas Aquinas devoted their intelligence to proofs that God exists, and not a scientific treatise could be written without in some way tying it in to society’s extant worldview.

    65 years ago society was homophobic – you would quickly pick up from the people around you that homosexual perversions were immoral, disgusting, unacceptable. So when the police arrested Alan Turing, their attitudes were not entirely founded on their own ab initio moral reasoning, but on the values of the society they lived in. But they applied those values, investigating and prosecuting Turing, with all their intelligence. They were not forced into doing it – they really believed that what they were doing was good and right.

    65 years later, society teaches that it is their homophobic attitudes that are immoral, disgusting, unacceptable. And society prosecutes offenders against its new values with the same sort of zeal. The details of the rules change, but the fact that we have rules, the way we learn them, and the methods by which we enforce them never do. It’s how humans are able to organise into dense, cooperative communities without constant conflict.

    A massive flock of birds, thousands of them all flying in the same space without constant collisions and chaos, works by each bird just watching and following its closest immediate neighbours, trying to fit in. Humans form cultural flocks.

    Of course, people can and do rebel against the society they live in. Most a little bit, sometimes massively. It’s how cultures (and languages) change over time. You can choose not to conform. You can set your own moral standard, and try to live by it. Libertarians living in a non-libertarian society I’m sure know this well.

    But even as a rebel minority, how much of your libertarian moral worldview did you invent/discover yourself, and how much did you learn from reading books, or listening to libertarian friends, or from following the particular strand of libertarian values that history has introduced to our society? How much of it is your own choice? Do you think you could choose differently?

    The choice offered is too binary – the question demands that either you have 100% agency or 0% agency and can have nothing in between. But in reality your choices are partly your own, and partly a consequence of your environment. And how much of each it is depends on how you look at it, and where you draw the boundaries between the two.

    How much of our decision *not* to become jihadis and flee to Syria is because of our upbringing in British, non-Muslim society? Can we claim *all* the moral credit for our choice?

  • Johnathan Pearce (London)

    The choice offered is too binary – the question demands that either you have 100% agency or 0% agency and can have nothing in between. But in reality your choices are partly your own, and partly a consequence of your environment. And how much of each it is depends on how you look at it, and where you draw the boundaries between the two.

    I would not disagree with that and note, that my OP did not state that there is a sort of binary choice. To assert that people are able to understand that actions have consequences, and that they should take responsibility for those actions, isn’t the same as denying that people are influenced by all sorts of things.

    It should be pointed out that the current “victim culture” narrative we see in much of our life today creates its own positive feeback loop. The more that people buy this idea, the more such pathological behaviour occurs.

    As for whether I can claim all the credit for not becoming a member of a death cult, I guess not, but I also flatly deny the notion that I had no control over that process, either. And I absolutely deny the moral relativism that says that we cannot and should not judge people because their life experiences are so different from ours. Ideas about responsibility for one’s actions are not merely the product of, say, a comfy life in middle England.

  • The Pedant-General

    This is key: “For decades, centuries even, different arguments have been presented to show that humans are pushed around by whatever external or internal forces happen to be in play, whether it is the environment, toilet training, parental guidance, economics, the class system, whatever. “

    The problem is that these arguments are true, which is why it’s so persuasive and pernicious. It’s just not the whole truth. The whole truth is that these external factors are merely forces that provide incentives that inform our decisions. The incentive is not the decision, merely a component in the process and it’s failure to separate those two things that is the issue at hand and so rightly raised above the fold.

    NiV:
    Children raised in a Christian society grow up Christian.
    Sometimes. Ish. Though I grant you, there aren’t that many truly Christian societies around these days.

    Children raised in a Socialist society grow up Socialist.
    Definitely not universally true. I would argue that it’s only children growing up in safe, prosperous Western societies that can afford to grow up Socialist.

    Children raised in a Western society grow up Western.
    Absolutely true. At the risk of committing the no true Scotsman fallacy, where we are seeing children growing up not Western, it is because they haven’t really been raised in a Western society.

    Children raised in a Barbarian society grow up Barbarian.
    This is also, I think, largely true.

    If it’s possible to demonstrate that Socialism is hte outlier in this, that would be a powerful message.

  • The Pedant-General

    JP

    “To assert that people are able to understand that actions have consequences, and that they should take responsibility for those actions, isn’t the same as denying that people are influenced by all sorts of things.”

    This. In spades.

    The point here, related to my comment above, is that the decision making process appears not to take account of totally foreseeable consequences. Those consequences should be seen in exactly the same way as an incentive, but are portrayed as though they aren’t. That’s a particular failing of the journalism you bemoan.

  • The narrative ascribes agency or lack of it to whoever the narrative wants to hold responsible or irresponsible at any given moment. This double-standard can be attacked without risk of disappearing down some philosophical rathole.

    Before I was born, murderers were being recast as unfortunate victims of unfortunate circumstances, wholly lacking in agency, whereas any family of any of the actual victims most certainly had agency: the narrative despised their vindictive desire to see their child’s murderer hang, and demanded they use their moral will to overcome such violent retributive impulses.

    In Natalie’s post below, Mr Barrett clearly ascribes agency to the UK government, whom he holds morally responsible for their lack of concern about the ISIS bride, while as clearly feeling that her own lack of concern for ISIS victims is something for which we should not hold her overly responsible.

  • Flubber

    That BON article is excellent.

    I wonder however, when it will strike Brendan that for a Marxist, he’s getting very conservative in his older years.

  • Mr Ed

    The ultimate goal of this is to allow the criminal to say ‘Society made me do it.’, so the only person NOT GUILTY of the offence is the actual perpetrator, as the rest of us ‘acted’ upon the perp to cause him to do it, . As Peter Simple put it through one of his loonier characters, psychoanalyst Dr Heinz Kiosk, with his shout of ‘WE ARE ALL GUILTY!’.

  • Paul Marks

    Nullius in Verba – your account of morals and religion, essentially that we believe whatever we are taught to believe, would mean that CHANGE is impossible. That people are unable to use their reason to critically examine what they have been taught about morals and religion – to see if it makes sense or not.

    In short you are echoing David Hume “reason is, and OUGHT TO BE [my stress], the slave of the passions” that really is utterly dreadful – an intellectual and moral dead end, it needs to be rejected, utterly rejected.

    “Ah but Paul – your father came from the Jewish tradition and you mother from the Anglican one, so of course you believe in the absurd doctrine of human agency (free will) – you were taught believe in this silly doctrine”.

    If anyone comes out with that (on something similar) then please go jump in the nearest deep lake, with heavy weights chained to your legs.

  • Paul Marks

    Turning to this specific case…..

    It is true that mainstream Sunni Islam (although not some subsets of Sunni Islam – and not Shia Islam) is Determinist – it denies Free Will (human agency) and declares (or sort-of declares) that everything is decided by God – atheist Determinists declare that everything is decided by the laws of cause and effect, going back to the Big Bang.

    A mainstream Sunni theologian, rather like Martin Luther (the great enemy of Erasmus) holds that to say “here I stand I can do no other” is NOT a proud statement of moral conscience – it is just saying “I am a flesh robot (not, properly speaking, an “I” at all) who has been pre programmed to stand here and say these words – I have no CHOICE (no Free Will) over whether or not I stand here and say these things”.

    Rather than go for a long philosophical debate one can cut short the conversation.

    “You say that you have no choice about attacking infidels – that you are pre programmed by God to do so. Very well then – but we are also pre programmed, we are pre programmed to KEEP OUT people who say they are going to attack us infidels, and if you find someway to come back we are pre programmed to HANG you”.

    A Determinist should have no problem with such a response.

    “There is no such thing as Free Will – I could not choose NOT to commit these terrible crimes, it is not my fault I-can-do-no-other-than-I-do”.

    Response.

    “If there is no such as thing as Free Will – then we can NOT choose not hang you for your terrible crimes, it is not our fault we-can-do-no-other-than-we-do”.

    If human reason is really just a “whore” (Martin Luther) or a “slave of the passions” (David Hume) and humans really are utterly vile and totally evil (Martin Luther) then it is difficult to see what argument Dr Luther would have had about he himself being tortured to death or burned alive, other than to say “God does not want that to happen”. Certainly he could not have, logically, have blamed anyone who tortured him to death or burned him alive – as (according to the doctrine of Martin Luther) humans are utter evil and totally base, and we have no choice over what we do anyway – we can do no other than we do (CHOICE, Free Will, being some sort of “illusion” – that the nonbeing, nonagent, flesh robots have).

    How a nonbeing, nonagent (non “I”) can even have illusion, is one of the flaws in this. Even having a false idea (an illusion) is still to have an idea – and only a being can have ideas (thoughts). Contrary to David Hume a thought does (not does not) mean a thinker.

    A thinker is an agent (a reasoning “I”) – agency (Free Will) is inherent in being, in existence as an “I”.

    As for Martin Luther – if the human will is utterly evil (willing only what is vile) and all things are decided by God (including what the human will wills) then God is the author of sin. After all, in the scheme of Dr Luther, only God can choose His actions – no one else can do other than they do.

    If we can not do other than we do, then we have no moral responsibility for our actions (as we could not have otherwise) – only God (as the only being – the only Free Will Agent) is morally guilty of anything, indeed (under this scheme) God is morally guilty of EVERYTHING.

    The logic of Dr Luther’s position (and the position of mainstream Sunni Islam) is that God is the author of sin – morally guilty of all the bad things that are done, as he makes people do them (as he created the wills that will them – with certain pre knowledge of what they would do).

    If there is no Free Will, no capacity to CHOOSE to do other than we do, then God (if He exists) is guilty of everything – and we (whether God exists or not) are morally guilty of NOTHING.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Before replying to Johnathan, let me note a minor disagreement with Mr Ed (and others, but Mr Ed put it succintly).

    The ultimate goal of this is to allow the criminal to say ‘Society made me do it.’, so the only person NOT GUILTY of the offence is the actual perpetrator, as the rest of us ‘acted’ upon the perp to cause him to do it, .

    I see this as an intermediate purpose, not an ultimate purpose.

    The ultimate purpose is to keep down the middle class, who are a threat to the power of the ruling class. The criminal underclass are no threat to the ruling class: only to themselves, the non-criminal underclass, and the middle class.

    If you doubt that, ask yourself: would anybody make any excuses for fraud or sexual harassment by a member of the middle class?

    Once you start thinking in terms of ruling class vs ruled classes, you see everything in a different perspective.

  • mila s

    The current so called ‘culture wars’ are in a large part a disagreement between biological determinists and social constructivists. There is an argument, popular amongst certain cirlces, that the primary influence on an individuals place in the socio-economic hierarchy (their ‘life chances’) is their genetic inheritance.
    Yet this obviously contradicts to some extent the conservative or classical liberal principle of ‘personal responsibility’ and the agency of the individual to determine their own conditions of existence.

  • just a lurker

    Snorri Godhi
    February 15, 2019 at 5:50 pm

    No new observation.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lumpenproletariat

    a declassed strata in an antagonistic society (including vagrants, beggars, and criminal elements) [which] has become particularly widespread under capitalism. It is recruited from various classes and is incapable of organized political struggle. It constitutes, along with the petit bourgeois strata, the social basis of anarchism. The bourgeoisie makes use of the lumpen proletariat as strikebreakers, as participants in fascist pogrom bands, and in other ways. The lumpen proletariat disappears with the abolition of the capitalist system.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “I would not disagree with that and note, that my OP did not state that there is a sort of binary choice. To assert that people are able to understand that actions have consequences, and that they should take responsibility for those actions, isn’t the same as denying that people are influenced by all sorts of things.”

    Sure. They should take responsibility to the extent they are responsible. That’s a variable.

    “And I absolutely deny the moral relativism that says that we cannot and should not judge people because their life experiences are so different from ours.”

    Agreed. It is the function of a moral system to judge. You judge them by your moral system. They judge you by theirs.

    But it’s a simple observation of the world that there are multiple moral systems that come to different judgements on the same set of facts. One of the reasons for insisting that freedom of belief means allowing people to espouse doctrines we find objectionable is so that we can thereby retain the right to express our own doctrines that other people find morally objectionable. Talking about it allows us to raise and examine the arguments for and against them. Banning it from our shores and enforcing silence on the subject doesn’t persuade anyone they’re wrong, it merely leads them to hide their opinions.

    “In Natalie’s post below, Mr Barrett clearly ascribes agency to the UK government, whom he holds morally responsible for their lack of concern about the ISIS bride, while as clearly feeling that her own lack of concern for ISIS victims is something for which we should not hold her overly responsible.”

    No, I don’t think so. He’s arguing that she has an opposing moral standard she tried to live by, (and which despite the temptation to show fake contrition to get better treatment, she is principled enough to still stand by,) but the British government also has its own and very different moral standard that it should also stand by, which includes respect for freedom of belief of its own citizens, even beliefs it opposes, and protecting its own citizens simply because they are its citizens. We don’t descend to their level.

    We should hold her responsible under the law, as we hold all of our own citizens responsible, but it’s our responsibilty to do so. You can bring her home to try her in a court of law and if necessary jail her. But leaving them out there and hoping they’ll die or disappear is not moral according to *our* standards. To some degree, we made the mess, we need to clean it up.

    It’s the same as with domestic criminals. Even murderers and rapists get protection under British law. They have rights. They get a fair trial. They’re not inhumanely treated. That doesn’t mean we’re not judging them, or not holding them accountable.

    (Frankly, I think his main concern as part of MI6 is that it’s creating a pool of potential terrorists with reason to be especially vindictive against their home country, with a deep knowledge of how our society works. For someone fighting terrorism, that’s scary. It’s considered safer to put them some place you can keep eyes on them, where you have your own controls in place, and where their incentives are to not rock the boat. It’s far harder to hide from the authorities living in Britain than it is in lawless Syria. Spies tend to be extremely pragmatic about such things.)

    “Nullius in Verba – your account of morals and religion, essentially that we believe whatever we are taught to believe, would mean that CHANGE is impossible. That people are unable to use their reason to critically examine what they have been taught about morals and religion – to see if it makes sense or not.”

    Forgive me. I thought I’d given a sufficiently extensive discussion of the way society *DOES* change and *HAS* changed, and said that over the past centuries that Islam *HAD* changed. That people learn their morals from society as children is why it changes so slowly; it doesn’t imply it doesn’t change at all. Children learn their language from society too – but language certainly changes over time. Would it be your argument that if we are taught to speak by our parents, that language change is impossible too? Every generation invents its own slang, but if it wasn’t 99% the same as the previous generation’s, it wouldn’t function.

    And I doubt reason has much to do with moral rebellion against society in most cases. There are usually other more emotional motivations.

    “If anyone comes out with that (on something similar) then please go jump in the nearest deep lake, with heavy weights chained to your legs.”

    Is that considered morally superior to calling for somebody’s beheading for expressing opinions contrary to one’s own belief system? 😉

    “If we can not do other than we do, then we have no moral responsibility for our actions”

    Some moral systems use that as a principle. Others don’t. It’s worth questioning it. I don’t think it’s quite as obvious as many seem to think.

  • bobby b

    “That people learn their morals from society as children is why it changes so slowly; it doesn’t imply it doesn’t change at all.”

    I continue to believe that a society’s morals and cultural beliefs change primarily when people die. We begin absorbing them the day we are born, they form the very basis of our personalities, and they are not changed without great intellectual violence.

    If we can be said to lack agency, the lack lies mostly in our inability to shrug off a lifetime of training and choose to act in a way that is outside of our cultural mores but still allows us to feel honorable and moral. It’s very hard to find that combination.

  • Eric

    Whether free will really exists or not is a great subject for a dorm room bull session. But no more than that – any society based on the negative is doomed.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Indeed. It’s still worthwhile pointing to the contradiction when a person claims we can’t choose how we act, when the very fact of denial is a choice. It’s too easy to shrug our shoulders and dismiss criticism of bad thinking as something like a “dorm session”. Collectivists keep winning because they know more reasonable people would rather do something else with their time.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    NIV writes that people have different standards. Up to a point. Murdering people who disagree with you is evil: I absolutely refuse to play the moral relativism card and and say “who am I to judge”?

    Determinism when applied to morals is the end of morality since responsibility is taken out of the equation. A person who commits an evil act and says a sky fairy made him do it isn’t acting but abdicating moral agency, and I have no problem condemning such cowardice for what it is.

    Sometimes things aren’t more complicated than people want them to be.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Actually with Islam it’s notable to the extent that it hasn’t changed although I certainly hope it does, or better still, declines as a force generally.

  • bobby b

    “Murdering people who disagree with you is evil: I absolutely refuse to play the moral relativism card and and say “who am I to judge”?”

    Most people will agree with your statement of principle, but many will then bypass it by arguing the definitions of “murder” and “people.”

    You can easily justify a lot of life-taking while still claiming to live by that principle, which leaves it a very morally-relative statement.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Johnathan: once again, you have misunderstood what i was saying (@12:06 pm). But i won’t rephrase it, since at this point i suspect that your misunderstanding is intentional. I’ll ask a yes/no question instead: do you think that a chess player has agency/free will in choosing a move during a match?

    The link that you provided in your reply to me, looks like one of those books designed to give the illusion of understanding while leaving people empty-headed. Sorry about this, but i am a terrible snob when it comes to philosophy, even more than in music or malt whisky. (To compensate, i despise snobbery in food, wine, cinema, and literature.)
    Besides, the author is clearly an Objectivist heretic, which might be even worse than being an orthodox Objectivist.

    It does not help that the links that you provided a few years ago, when we discussed the same topic, said the opposite of what you thought they said.
    Let me suggest that you read Samuel Clarke and Anthony Collins on this issue: they were serious thinkers, not Objectivists.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Lurker (@8:25 pm): what i said is certainly not an original idea, but with equal certainty it is very different from what you say. What you said might or might not have been true at the time of Marx, but it isn’t today.

  • staghounds

    The entire modern criminal justice system in the west is based on the belief that people lack agency.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    If you cannot even agree what “murder” is then there’s precious little point wasting time on this further.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    I understand well enough – I’m not intentionally “misinterpreting”.

    Where free will applies in chess is that the player chooses to focus on what plays he wants to make, and choose to learn if he makes a mistake and if his opponent wins. That’s the essence of what free will is. Learning chess isn’t automatic or predetermined .

    I’ve not heard of Clarke or Collins.

    Whether Locke is an “official Objectivist” or not I found his broad formulation convincing. And whether he is a “serious thinker”: how do you judge that? By having letters after ones name? Is there a club he has to join?

  • Nullius in Verba

    “Indeed. It’s still worthwhile pointing to the contradiction when a person claims we can’t choose how we act, when the very fact of denial is a choice.”

    Let’s illustrate that idea with some software examples. Consider first:

    PRINT “We can’t choose how to act.”
    STOP

    Is that a denial? Does the software have a choice about printing it?

    Now try:

    IF “We can choose how to act” IN MyBeliefsList THEN
    PRINT “We can choose how to act.”
    ELSE
    PRINT “We can’t choose how to act.”
    END IF
    STOP

    Is that a choice now?

    Well, it looks like a choice, but either the belief is in the list or it isn’t. If it’s in the list, the program will definitely print the first statement, and if it’s not, it will definitely print the second. The program on its own can go either way, but the program combined with the list of beliefs can go only one way. Whether the software has a choice depends on where you draw the boundaries around it.


    “NIV writes that people have different standards. Up to a point. Murdering people who disagree with you is evil: I absolutely refuse to play the moral relativism card and and say “who am I to judge”?”

    Moral relativism is making an error in thinking that because there are multiple moral systems that make different judgements, that we can’t or shouldn’t judge. That makes no sense. You *can* judge, by picking a moral system and using that one. And you *cannot* say you “should” or “shouldn’t” judge without picking a moral system with which to make such judgements. The question “Should I?” only makes sense in the context of a single moral system.

    “Determinism when applied to morals is the end of morality since responsibility is taken out of the equation.”

    I don’t think it does. People make choices subject to a set of constraints: moral rules. It doesn’t matter whether the choice is made deterministically, randomly, or by magic. The only thing you’re really interested in is whether the people around you are operating with the same set of constraints, and if they’re not whether you can do anything about it.

    When you see someone take an action that violates one of the collectively agreed constraints, that could indicate that they don’t use that rule. Or on the other hand, they may say “I didn’t have a choice. It was physically impossible for me to comply.” The person *does* have the rule, but you couldn’t tell because of the circumstances.

    So if you kill someone because somebody else taped your finger to the trigger and then tasered you, that’s not your fault. You’re programmed with the rule against murder, but you wasn’t able to apply it. But if you’re raised from birth in a society where murdering your society’s enemies is considered good and proper, then there *is* a moral problem with your behaviour. It doesn’t matter whether you had a choice in how you was raised. It doesn’t matter if you’re a deterministic robot. The only question is whether your decisions are constrained (in so far as is possible) by the same moral rules as the rest of society? If not, can we get you to change your programming and add the rule by punishing you until you do?

    Morals are not some sort of ineffable divine magic. They’re an evolved system allowing humans to live in dense cooperative communities without territorial conflicts by collectively negotiating a set of internal rules constraining our behaviour, and enforcing them. The function of the enforcement is so that a community converges on the *same* set of rules, or at least close enough to live with. However, we’re not doing it purely out of fear of enforcement, but because we also have the in-built desire to have and follow such a set of rules.

    You could program robots to do the same. It’s the sort of thing that the field of “swarm robotics” is in the process of developing.

    “If you cannot even agree what “murder” is then there’s precious little point wasting time on this further.”

    The classic example of that was of course Moses, who came up with the original “Thou Shalt Not Murder” and then left a trail of blood and slaughter all the way across the wilderness. It’s about “us” and “them” again. Murder is when you kill one of “us”. This is why the lawyer said to Jesus “Who is my neighbour?” – because in old-style Jewish morality only “neighbours” (i.e. other Jews) got that protection.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Going back to the case of this “ISIS bride”, I can judge not just within my context of being a Western middle class male but much more broadly because murder is considered a crime across a variety of moral traditions. Definitions of specific cases vary but the underlying horror at murder tends to be a constant going back centuries. Rationalisations of murder vary but that’s what they are seen to be: tawdry excuses.

    This woman can claim what she was doing was justified by reference to a Diety, like a mentally ill person can blame voices in his head. But in both cases the excuse fails because of the denial of others as beings as ends in themselves. The religious fanatic or ideologue of any stripe removes themselves from being entitled to an excuse by their fanatical denial of others as autonomous beings.

    She may have thought she was in a war. But she plainly is a hypocrite even within her own mental context because she wants to return to the comfort of a society she despises. As such, she has outlawed herself. She acted: she takes the consequences.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “Definitions of specific cases vary but the underlying horror at murder tends to be a constant going back centuries. Rationalisations of murder vary but that’s what they are seen to be: tawdry excuses. […] She may have thought she was in a war. But she plainly is a hypocrite even within her own mental context because she wants to return to the comfort of a society she despises.”

    OK, so let’s consider the case of British and American soldiers, who went over there and killed ISIS terrorists – it was the deliberate and premeditated killing of other human beings. They thought they were in a war. They now want to come home. Should they be allowed to?

  • William H. Stoddard

    I certainly think that humans possess agency. On the other hand, I don’t think that we need the metaphysical, and indeed often theological, construct of “free will” to account for this.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Yes, because they were destroying people pledged to destroy and enslave us, and demonstrated such by their actions. As such it counts as self defence. IS actions don’t. The chain of cause and consequence is pretty clear. ans the situation is even clearer considering how the principal victims of IS are other Muslims.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “Yes, because they were destroying people pledged to destroy and enslave us, and demonstrated such by their actions. As such it counts as self defence.”

    And wouldn’t Muslims see that as a ‘tawdry excuse’?

    They would argue they’re pledged to convert you to Islam, not destroy or enslave. That’s only for if you resist. You could end the conflict without deaths, if only you wasn’t so stubborn about freedom of belief.

    Moral systems routinely allow (indeed, demand) the premeditated killing of others to defend one’s own belief system from destruction. Muslims argue that contact with the West is destroying orthodox Islam. They argue furthermore that failure to submit to God’s will puts the souls of mankind, and God’s plan for the world at risk. That’s their belief. Whether it’s a valid justification or a tawdry excuse always depends on whose belief system is being defended. It’s always about “Us” versus “Them”.

    We should, of course, live by our own moral system. I’d support killing to defend freedom myself, and I’d oppose killing to convert the world to Islam. But it’s worth being aware that this is how all human moral systems work.

  • Johnathan Pearce (London)

    And wouldn’t Muslims see that as a ‘tawdry excuse’?

    Depends on the Muslims you mean. The hundreds of thousands of Muslims brutalised in Iraq and elsewhere by these savages would not agree.

    They would argue they’re pledged to convert you to Islam, not destroy or enslave.

    How very amusing. Actually, they support enslavement of those who, for whatever reason, don’t go along, such as imposing extra taxes on unbelievers, as happened for centuries under the rule of the Ottomans. They can be pledged to convert the Earth into a giant spaceship – what goes inside their ears has no bearing on it being just or logical.

    Moral systems routinely allow (indeed, demand) the premeditated killing of others to defend one’s own belief system from destruction

    Some moral codes don’t insist on this calculus of destroy or be destroyed. Such as: “Do unto others what they would do unto you” or “it is wrong to initiate violence against another unless in self defence”. I don’t seek to destroy Muslim society, all we are asking is for them to leave us alone. The morality of the liberal West doesn’t state that we are “demanded” go around killing people who worship certain deities, last time I checked.

    Not all moral systems work in the way you describe – the very fact that we are debating that on this blog proves that some people don’t subscribe to that murderous, zero-sum code.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “Depends on the Muslims you mean.”

    I’m sure you know which Muslims I mean. 🙂

    “How very amusing. Actually, they support enslavement of those who, for whatever reason, don’t go along, such as imposing extra taxes on unbelievers, as happened for centuries under the rule of the Ottomans.”

    Like I said. Only non-believers.

    “How about “do unto others what they would do unto you” or “it is wrong to initiate violence against another unless in self defence”.”

    Yup. “to defend one’s own belief system from destruction”.

    But you’re just quoting from your own moral code. People with different moral codes justify it on different grounds, citing different principles, but they still assert there are moral justifications for killing.

    “I don’t seek to destroy Muslim society, all we are asking is for them to leave us alone.”

    That’s what Osama bin Laden said about the West, too! To get the Westerners out of Saudi Arabia. Simply existing is a corrupting temptation that will inevitably destroy Islamic orthodoxy. The only way it can survive is to eliminate freedom of belief. Islam cannot coexist with the West.

    Muslim society hasn’t practiced offensive jihad against the West for centuries. ISIL set up their new Caliphate in Muslim lands. So how come the Americans and British turned up and destroyed their nascent nation?

    “The morality of the liberal West doesn’t state that we are “demanded” go around killing people who worship certain deities, last time I checked.”

    Didn’t say it did. 🙂

    “Not all moral systems work in the way you describe – the very fact that we are debating that on this blog proves that some people don’t subscribe to that murderous, zero-sum code.”

    You agreed that killing in self-defence, in defence of your freedom of belief, can be justified. That’s all I was saying.

    There are other completely pacifist moral codes that forbid using violence under any circumstances, but the West doesn’t subscribe to any of those.

  • Johnathan Pearce (London)

    NIV, you are tying yourself in knots here: People with different moral codes justify it on different grounds, citing different principles, but they still assert there are moral justifications for killing.

    There is a world of difference between killing to prevent oneself from being killed, like shooting an armed burglar high on crack, and a religious nutjob killing someone to force them to believe in a deity, or whatever. Again, context means everything, and over time, people can and do work out the difference. Not all motivations for action are the same. Way back up on this comment thread, m’learned friend Paul Marks pointed out the nonsense of the David Hume contention that morality is often nothing more than rationalisation of passion. That’s crazy: how can one, on that basis, draw a distinction between a person who shoots a killer in self defence and an assassin who kills for hard cash, for example? This leads to moral imbecility. And actually, people of all kinds of views would probably agree that is the case.

    Anyway, thanks for the discussion. I am done here. Let’s return some other time. Brgds

  • Julie near Chicago

    I will preface my forthcoming long comment by quoting myself, quite a bit more succinctly. In a nutshell:

    ‘[W]e do experience ourselves as having free will, much as we often (conventionally!) say otherwise (“I had no choice”).

    ‘Along with that, however much we might be constrained by the fullness of circumstance to choose A and not B, that totality of circumstances includes ourselves as we are at the time we make the choice. It’s our recognition of the fact that we ourselves are the final determinant of the choices we make that entitles us to claim our free will.’

    –From the discussion at

    https://www.samizdata.net/2016/04/a-mathematicians-take-on-free-will/

    where I had a bit more to say on the topic.

  • Julie near Chicago

    With regard to statements above by Snorri and Johnathan:

    I was moved to follow Johnathan’s link to what turns out to be an Amazon page on a book by Edwin Locke. I thought I vaguely remembered the name as being involved with ARI, and so it turns out to be. Snorri, you say he’s an “Objectivist heretic.” Interesting. But not enough to follow up on ….

    In any case, I quote from the start of Amazon’s quote of Dr. Locke’s statement from the book:

    Determinism is the doctrine that everything we think, feel, believe, and do is caused by factors outside our control— ….

    I have to observe that I never thought of this as the definition of the term “determinism.” Perhaps that’s because when it’s put in such a stark way, it’s instantly dismissable on its face.

    .

    The quoted sentence continues:

    — that we have no choice regarding our character, our thoughts, our actions, our lives.

    “We have no choice.”

    For heaven’s sake, forget about the strict definition of “determinism” as stated by Mr. Locke, above. Even if the brain operates according to strict laws of chemistry and physics, as I contend it does, that doesn’t mean that “we have no choice” about what we do.

    That understanding of the meaning of the word “choice” has the strict implication that true “choices” are not available to us. This meaning, however, is very much too narrow. First, because in very many cases, the existence of choices is obvious. Two alternatives are available to me: to take my umbrella with me when I go out today, or to leave it at home. To use fill up the last of my available cargo space with one more shrimp from the buffet table, or to use it instead on just a final sliver of the pecan pie, or to forgo both in favor of avoiding that dreadful overstuffed feeling.

    Et cetera, et cetera, ad infinitum.

    The existence of alternative actions is clear to the external observer. And this is what is usually meant by the word “choice,” most of the time. “Choices” means “alternative actions,” which are finally taken according to the totality of the conditions existing in the given person at the instant when he acts upon one of them.

    It is not “society” or any other existent external to the human that (in either of these particular scenarios, precisely as described) dictates what the person cannot avoid doing, that he must do, that he is compelled by external circumstance alone to do, with no input from factors existing at the instant of “deciding” what to do.

    I cannot think of any way to get around using the notion of “deciding,” which is synonymous in this context with the word “choosing,” to say what I’m trying to say at the end of the preceding sentence. And this, unless I’m being even more obtuse than usual, is a clue.

    There is another way in which the word “choice” is often used, in which only one alternative (or perhaps no alternative) is acceptable to the given person at the given instant. “Yes. I gave the bandit all my money. His gun was pointed right at me, and he said, ‘Your money or your life!’, and I was sure he meant it. I couldn’t see any way around giving him the dough, save dying. I had no choice.”

    But of course, the choice did exist. What did not exist at that moment was the possibility that the victim would choose the alternative of death. But this impossibility was strictly internal to the person of the victim.

    Another person might have preferred death to giving in to the demand. And a third might have seen a possible alternative, and taken it.

    In all three cases, the final action depended on what choice the victim made. And this choice depended solely on the internal state of the victim at the instant of choosing.

    In contrast, there are obviously situations in which no choice is available to a person. For instance, none of us has a choice as to whether to submit to the force of gravity. (Physically, not metaphorically!) If we stand naked and unprotected in the rain, we have no choice — literally — but to get wet. But — another clue —

    Sometimes we have already chosen to go out in the wonderful warm spring shower, although–or because–we fully expect to get wet.

    .

    So, What?

    I stick to my former assertions that the human being is a complete system, which consists of all of its characteristics, some of which are physical in the strict sense of operating according to the laws of physics, and others of which result from the state of or the processes going on within the physical substrate or foundation of the system, such as the person’s mentations, emotions, and moods. In particular emotions and moods and what we call physical sensations — of touch, of flavor, of pain or pleasure, etc. — are the way we experience the various states of our physical bodies.

    External factors impinge on our bodies, and very often we become aware of them because the impingement triggers a physiological (electrochemical) change in the state of our physical substrate, which gives rise to a sensation — pleasure, pain, smoothness, color — or to a mood or an emotion. And what we call the “ideas” of others also sometimes impinge on us, and they can cause our brains to form new circuits or connections, which we apprehend as new ideas.

    .

    Now. Will is an observable phenomenon: We experience it directly, as one aspect of our awareness of our self. A person’s will is free in that it is specifically not determined by any factor external to ourselves. It is not under the control — in the strict sense — of any external person or other force. No Master sits at the controls anywhere within the system that is Me, “running me” so to speak, like a computer operator running a computer system. The computer person, after all, has the power of direct intervention in the operation of the machine.

    .

    There’s more to say about all this, but it’s probably too long already. Suffice it to say:

    “Determinism” in the definition of E. Locke is balderdash. “Free will” most certainly exists, as does Choice, but one’s conceptions of both need care in their formation and their formulation. “Responsibility” is a term that denotes that a condition or happening results from the actions (broadly understood) of one or more persons; one may be wholly or partially responsible for a given outcome while deserving neither praise nor blame for it.

    (If I unknowingly serve to a guest wine that has been poisoned by my mistress, Lucrezia Borgia, I am in part responsible for his death, though in no way to blame or at fault for doing it. On the other hand Ms. Borgia is both responsible for and guilty of “furnishing the cause of death,” as Richard (Epstein) puts it, and is therefore the sole guilty or blameworthy party. But if I know that the wine is poisoned, I am guilty along with my lady*.)

    *(The law may or may not take note of such circumstances as that L.B. has taken my infant son and will poison him unless I follow her orders.)

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Julie, I’m surprised at your attack on what Locke says as “balderdash”.

    He writes that all of us are influenced by internal and external forces but that doesn’t meant we don’t have agency in settling on a course of action, reflecting on why we think about A or B, introspection about a decision we are about to make, etc etc.

    As far as I can see the starting point is that consciousness is volitional by nature. It’s hard to see how we can even think of ourselves as selves without it. Which is why I find determinism not just mistaken but incomprehensible and contradictory. All else flows from that point IMHO.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “There is a world of difference between killing to prevent oneself from being killed, like shooting an armed burglar high on crack, and a religious nutjob killing someone to force them to believe in a deity, or whatever. Again, context means everything, and over time, people can and do work out the difference.”

    Yes. Everyone has their own moral code. Everyone believes their own moral code is the only possible one, the only true one, and obvious to all. And they seem bewildered that much of the rest of the human race – both geographically and historically – doesn’t see it the same way. The Catholic Church burned heretics, and for a thousand years everyone thought they were the absolute pinnacle of morality.

    “But to those of you who will listen, I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone takes your cloak, do not withhold your tunic as well. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what is yours, do not demand it back.”

    How long did it take for people to work out the context telling them that they really needed to shoot the burglar, and get their cloak back that way?

    It always reminds me of the stereotypical English tourist abroad, utterly convinced that foreigners should be able to understand English IF. YOU. SPEAK. IT. LOUDLY. AND. SLOWLY. ENOUGH!

    But as you say, we’re getting nowhere, so that’s enough.

    Julie,

    “Determinism is the doctrine that everything we think, feel, believe, and do is caused by factors outside our control”

    I agree, that’s balderdash. Determinism is the doctrine that any present state of the universe is completely determined by any of its past states. Choices are something else entirely – trouble is, they’re not quite what we usually think they are.

    The world is extremely complicated, and does not come with an instruction manual, so brains have to approximate its behaviour to be able to have any chance of knowing what’s going on fast enough to do something about it. The brain first builds a predictive model of how the world around it works. These models are usually of the form: given these input conditions, this bit pushes on that bit which turns the next bit which results in that outcome. They’re quite general, they can predict fairly accurately what will happen in a huge range of circumstances. But they’re approximate, based on just the bits of reality you have seen and guessing at all the hidden machinery behind the scenes.

    Then when it faces a new situation, it runs the model using the current circumstances and a range of different possible actions as inputs, to see which ones lead to desirable outcomes. This process yields a tree of choices, and an evaluation of their probable desirability.

    Then the brain chooses the best option based on their predicted outcomes, level of confidence in the model, it’s own long-term goals, likes and dislikes, and yes – moral rules. It picks the one that comes top.

    A system that works this way has “agency”. It generates an internal list of choices, applies an evaluation function, and does the one that comes top. It’s completely irrelevant whether the evaluation/choice is deterministic, random, or magic. What matters for freedom is that the evaluation allows you to pick what’s in your own best interests. What matters for morality is that the evaluation applies society’s agreed moral rules, eliminating options that break them.

    The reason it’s so hard to accept determinism is that brains don’t normally model the decision-making process like this. They model it as a black box – choices and preferences go in, and a decision comes out. What goes on inside the box is out of scope. The only sort of determinism this model considers is when the box is given only one viable choice. The agent has no freedom, and if the only action available breaks the moral rules, no responsibility. External circumstances have forced the outcome. The decision-making box has no function, here. We’re used to thinking of a situation with only one possible outcome as contrary to freedom and moral responsibility.

    So when we extend our model of the world to include what’s going on inside the black box, we tend to assume that finding determinism there still has the same effect. I don’t think it does. Our improved model hasn’t just got rid of the magic, it’s also gotten rid of the reasons why determinism is so bad.

    All our mental models of the world are approximations – and in the context of the purposes for which it is used may be true enough to be useful. ‘Black box’ concepts like “free will” are perfectly valid to be used in arguments and explanations, so long as you don’t go beyond the limits for which the approximation applies.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    “Everyone believes their own moral code is the only possible one”.

    Up to a point, Lord Copper. A person might think their code is the only right one but also think that enslaving and slaughtering people,forced conversion etc, is also wrong because the use of force is immoral. Not everyone thinks a code has to be proactively enforced by violence.

    Part of the divide is between those who ground morality in what’s required in this Earthly life, and those who think what counts is the afterlife. This arguably remains the great issue

  • Julie near Chicago (February 17, 2019 at 1:34 am), that notorious pedant Niall Kilmartin has a trivial objection to your example. Of his own free will, without any external-determining cause to excuse it, he will make the following petty comment. 🙂

    As described in your comment, the robber’s “Your money or your life” seems not to be a choice because it is actually “Your money (also your life?)”, i.e. the target hands over the money or else is shot and their cooling body rifled for the money. If we postulate the robber pursuing their target to the edge of a cliff, then there is a choice: the target can choose to hand over the money (and also, in real life, choose to trust the robber’s assurance that in that case he will not then silence someone who might later be an inconvenient witness, but we could contrive the scenario to give the target some reason to think that compliance will mean survival), or the target can throw himself over the cliff, depriving the robber of ill-gotten gains but at the expense of his own life.

    Except for this pedantry, I see no need for deep philosophy to support the OP’s point. Abstractly, a person might believe in determinism, and therefore necessarily believe their belief was itself determined, and so true (if it were true) only by coincidence, but also then believe in the possibility of that coincidence. Concretely, the PC pretend to believe and disbelieve in determinism on the spur of the moment, sometimes almost simultaneously excusing their proteges as determined and demanding that we use exert our free will to be nice to them. Justifying disobeying them needs no resort to philosophy.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “(and also, in real life, choose to trust the robber’s assurance that in that case he will not then silence someone who might later be an inconvenient witness, but we could contrive the scenario to give the target some reason to think that compliance will mean survival)”

    If you’re planning to kill them anyway, why would you bother with all the “Money or your life” stuff? Just shoot them and rifle the body. Anyone who asks “Your money or your life” is probably trying not to kill you. Although people can do illogical things in the passion of the crime.

    “Abstractly, a person might believe in determinism, and therefore necessarily believe their belief was itself determined (so true – were it true – only by coincidence)”

    Why a coincidence?

    “but I think that charge is correct because of the entitlement mentality she is displaying by demanding that she returns to the UK to have her child, and no doubt fall on the grace of the UK taxpayer.”

    Dunno. I don’t see any ‘entitlement’ in what she said. Would you rather live in Britain, or a squalid refugee camp in Syria? In Britain, obviously. ‘Want to’ is a statement of the obvious. What’s she supposed to say when journalists come asking? That she wants to stay where she is? And her family have already made clear that if she goes to jail the grandparents would raise the kid, rather than have the taxpayer pay.

    “After all, if she is the devout believer in creating a Global Caliphate, based on killing and enslaving unbelievers and all the assorted mindfuckery of such a goal, it is a bit rich, really, for her to come back to a country the prosperity of which is based on it being a largely liberal, secular place.”n s

    True. Although presumably the preference list is 1) Global Caliphate, 2) Live in Britain, 3) Get summarily executed by angry extremists in squalid Syrian camp. You just blew up option noumber 1 under her. Time to go for Plan B.

    She’s a British citizen: right to a fair trial, all that sort of stuff. Do we believe in all that sort of stuff?

    And what about the baby?

    “And one of the best ways that liberal (to use that word in its correct sense) societies can resist the pathology of Islamist death cults is by resisting the “victim culture” and insisting on people taking ownership of their actions, with all the consequences for good or ill that this brings.”

    Right. Fair trial for her crimes back in Britain it is, then.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Abstractly, a person might believe in determinism, and therefore necessarily believe their belief was itself determined, and so true (if it were true) only by coincidence, but also then believe in the possibility of that coincidence.

    Hmm … a person might believe in determinism, and therefore necessarily believe that the action of a thermostat is itself determined; but any sane person of normal intelligence is unlikely to believe that the thermostat keeps the room at the desired temperature only by coincidence.

    I trust that you see the analogy.

  • Paul Marks

    Snorri Godhi “a person might believe in determinism”.

    If determinism is correct then there are no “persons” – no beings.

    Of course Martin Luther is famous for the harsh language he uses (in his war-of-words with Erasmus) for denying human personhood, but one need not use harsh language. David Hume uses very gentle language – but is really supporting the same position as Martin Luther and Thomas Hobbes.

    David Hume uses all the sophistry at his command to deny (for example) that a thought means a thinker – why does he do that? He does that because one has accepted the existence of a thinker (a being – a reasoning “I” and AGENTG as in AGENCY) determinism collapses. Therefore, to preserve determinism David Hume must deny (in very gentle language – but still essentially deny) the existence of the human person.

    Thomas Hobbes describes humans in terms of machines – flesh robots, there is (famously) no “ghost in the machine” in the view of Thomas Hobbes. In this Hobbes is really working out to its logical (yes logical) conclusion of Martin Luther – Dr Luther still referred to the human soul (he had to – or abandon theology and embrace atheism) but he made the concept of the soul meaningless (denying the soul any ability to CHOOSE between moral good and moral evil) – Thomas Hobbes then takes the quite logical step of just dispensing with the concept of the soul entirely (although Hobbes formally denied the charge of atheism – in Dr Luther the soul does not do anything of have any real existence, in Hobbes the soul clearly does not exist at all).

    What David Hume does is accept all this (hence his de facto denial of the “I” as in the agent – a BEING capable of choosing between moral good and moral evil), but then put it all in very gentle, friendly and philosophical language. I actually prefer the way Hobbes and Luther put things – the evil (and it is evil) is out in the open with them. And no “Compatibilism” (a hollow fraud – as Kant pointed out).

    Lastly Alexander of Aphrodisias (the great “Commentator” on Aristotle) reminded people almost two thousand years ago that the arguments from self knowledge (one’s knowledge of one’s own existence – the “I”, the moral agent, knowing one’s self) prove nothing in relation to the immortality of the soul.

    One can hold (with total consistency) that there humans are indeed beings (persons) who can CHOOSE to do other than we do (choose between moral good and moral evil), AND hold that all this dies with the death of the body.

    That our free will (our existence as persons – beings) does exist – but it is MORTAL and that the death is the end of it. To David Hume death is nothing – because nothing special dies (having never existed in the first place). If people (actual human BEINGS, free will agents) do not exist, they can not die.

    Of course in this view killing (or whatever) humans is, logically, nothing of great importance – as they are not beings (there being no such thing as beings).

    To tell people “yes you are people (BEINGS) you have agency – but this may all end with death” is, in a way, to impose a terrible BURDEN on humans. I am reminded of an old story of an old German Professor trying to understand some young Nazis celebrating the coming to power of Mr Hitler in 1933.

    “Why are you so joyful?” asked the old professor – “because now we are FREE” replied the young students. “But I do not understand”, replied the old Professor “surely the National Socialist position is to REJECT freedom – in both the political and the philosophical sense” – “but that is exactly the point” replied the young students “now we are free NOT to be free”.

    They were freed of the terrible burden of MORAL CHOICE – the burden of “Colonel Blimp and the old school tie”, the triumph of evil leads to great JOY as the struggle against most base desires of humanity (to rape, torture, murder and so on) is over, no more pain of resisting evil (instead the open embrace of evil). As one can tell one’s self that it is “impossible to do other than we do” Free Will “not existing” – no more agency, no more “one”, no more “I”.

    And the alternative to this “freedom NOT to be free” is the end of all the terrible burden of moral CHOICE (the embrace of being the “blond beast” without any such burden of choice).

    “You offer nothing but a terrible burden of moral choice in life – that ends only with the cold grave, we offer all the savage joys of the BEAST”. Exactly the same view of human nature as that of Martin Luther – but with the God bit cut off.

    So you do – but you will be opposed on the battlefield as you have been since the humans were created or emerged.

    Karl Barth used to say that the British were “hopelessly Pelagian” even if they had never heard of Pelagius – and that is indeed true of “Colonel Blimp and the old school tie” – accepting the terrible burden in life, and with (perhaps) nothing but the Cold Grave to look forward to.

  • I trust that you see the analogy. (Snorri Godhi, February 17, 2019 at 7:31 pm)

    (Since you ask) yes and no. I can see an analogy that would imply you are agreeing with me and another analogy that would imply your are disagreeing with me (and an analogy that is an indirect comment on the ‘everyone believes their own moral code’ equivalence arguments in some of the comments above), and am not sure any are a strong analogy. As the point of my comment was to say we can avoid engaging with this (because PC arguments have a more trivial contradiction), I certainly don’t want to discuss what might not be the analogy you had in mind.

    FYI, I was commenting on

    “Indeed. It’s still worthwhile pointing to the contradiction when a person claims we can’t choose how we act, when the very fact of denial is a choice.” (Johnathan Pearce, February 16, 2019 at 8:47 am)

    and on the pseudocode (i.e. computer, i.e. determinist) counter-argument offered by Nullius in Verba (February 16, 2019 at 3:15 pm). Before I condemned the concrete contradiction of how the PC exploit determinism, I granted the abstract possibility of a determinist evading Johnathan’s argument without being wholly self-contradictory. Someone who claims to believe in determinism should believe they were externally-determined to reach that conclusion, whether it were true or not. However they are not strictly self-contradictory if they then remark that it might nevertheless be coincidentally true. In a world of determined thoughts, such abstract philosophical thoughts have no claim to be weeded towards truth and, in their own terms, less than no claim to be truely reasoned thoughts. But by the same token they have no absolute claim to being false.

  • Johnathan

    NIV doesn’t see any “entitlement” mentality in this wretch’s preference for the UK over Syria. Well of course she wants to go home after her escapades: but that just proves my point that she refuses to see that her actions will have consequences far harsher than she’d like. Welcome to reality, ladies and gentlemen.

    She wants to slip back into obscurity rather than a trial and being placed on a watch-list. She’s alao failed to show any genuine remorse. Maybe that will come in time.

  • bobby b

    ” . . . but that just proves my point that she refuses to see that her actions will have consequences far harsher than she’d like.”

    I’ll lay odds that she’ll end up back in the UK, free of any charges and consequences, secure in her obedience to Allah and basking in the admiration of her friends and co-religionists.

    In which case, her “refusal to see” will have been shown to be, rather, a clarity of vision.

    Due to the form and foundation of my country’s government, I am guaranteed due process in my interactions with that government. Do my expectations that I will receive that due process mean I have an entitlement mentality? Do this girl’s expectations – that, as a citizen of the UK who has not transgressed against it, she will be repatriated – indicate an entitlement mentality, or merely a realistic expectation?

    Because you live in a free country of laws, she will get to have her cake and eat it too.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “(and an analogy that is an indirect comment on the ‘everyone believes their own moral code’ equivalence arguments in some of the comments above)”

    Do you mean moral equivalence? No, it’s not one of those. The moral status of situations is only comparable when using the same moral code. Under either of the codes under discussion, they’re not equivalent.

    “Someone who claims to believe in determinism should believe they were externally-determined to reach that conclusion, whether it were true or not.”

    Someone who believes in determinism would believe they were externally determined to reach that conclusion, *because* it is true. If you build a deterministic machine for looking at the world and figuring out how it works, and the world is really deterministic, then the machine will inevitably and unavoidably see that and say so. The conclusion follows deterministically from the observation which follows deterministically from how the universe is. It couldn’t happen any other way.

    “Well of course she wants to go home after her escapades: but that just proves my point that she refuses to see that her actions will have consequences far harsher than she’d like.”

    She says she’s well aware of the possible consequences. She knows she might not be allowed home. She knows if she gets home she might be investigated by the police. She doesn’t think they’ve got any evidence she has done anything that poses a danger. She says she married an ISIL fighter, lived there as a ‘housewife’, and fled the fighting when ISIL were defeated. She believed in the cause, but belief isn’t a crime. They might be able to get her for membership of or support for a proscribed organisation, they might have evidence she did more, but that’s for a trial to decide.

    I find it somewhat disturbing that people here are showing this attitude to the principle of Freedom of Belief. Consider if the subject was an adherent of a different cause. There are plenty of other beliefs and causes that the British government finds abhorrent. Suppose someone like Tommy Robinson were to find himself stuck in an Islamic country, at risk of his life. Can the British government refuse to help repatriate him? Tell him that because he shows no remorse for his opinions, he’s now going to have to face consequences for his actions far harsher than he wants? It’s the precedent you set, once you allow a politician’s abhorrence of someone’s opinions to overrule the rule of law. The British government needs to protect the rights of its citizens, even the citizens whose beliefs it doesn’t like. The idea that the Home Secretary can choose to only offer the crown’s protection to those Brits with the right political beliefs is troubling beyond measure.

    “I may detest what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” It’s why we’re better than them.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Johnathan, I think perhaps you didn’t quite register what I actually wrote. (A failing common to all of us at times. Especially me.)

    I wrote neither for nor against any argument that Mr. Locke made, whether in the blurb from which I took the quote nor in the book itself, which I haven’t read.

    I stated, in so many words, that I hadn’t seen “Determinism” defined that way before, and that the doctrine (whatever you call it!) defined in the words he uses is balderdash. I don’t mean he’s wrong (or right) about the doctrine; it’s nothing to do with what he thinks about it. It’s that particular doctrine itself that I consider “balderdash.”

    Consider that portion of the comment by Nullius, on February 17, 2019 at 11:48 am, which is addressed to me and which begins (my boldface):

    .

    [quoting Nullius:

    ‘Julie,

    “Determinism is the doctrine that everything we think, feel, believe, and do is caused by factors outside our control”

    I agree, that’s balderdash. Determinism is the doctrine that any present state of the universe is completely determined by any of its past states.’

    End quote of Nullius]

    .

    I quote Nullius solely and specifically to note that there is another definition of “determinism” different from the one I called “balderdash.” This definition is closer to the one that I’m used to (and in fact it’s a lot harder to argue against, if you believe, as I do, in a cause-and-effect Universe).

    Furthermore, to avoid confusion, let me state that I’m neither agreeing nor disagreeing with any of Nullius’s thoughts on the matter one way or the other.* The rest of my first comment gives my own thoughts on it (surely more interesting than anyone else’s! 😀 )

    In short, arguing against the position that all that we do is determined completely by conditions or forces external to us is shooting fish in a barrel.

    *Although I do agree with Nullius’s final statement in that paragraph:

    “Choices are something else entirely – trouble is, they’re not quite what we usually think they are.”

    I agree with the statement as such, that is: its prima-facie meaning. I’m not talking about what Nullius means by it:

    Above, I gave my own take on the meaning of “choices,” which is that in one sense they are synonymous with “alternatives,” which do or don’t exist regardless of whether the actor sees them, and that in another sense they mean the course the actor pursues. These meanings differ from what seems to me to be the more common idea of the term (and its derivatives, especially “chooses” or “chose”).

    The final determinant of what the actor does depends on matters entirely internal to himself, namely what if any alternatives he finds possible to him (can imagine himself taking, for instance) and which, if any, he finds preferable — for whatever reason.

    This is the fact that puts paid to the notion that our doings are entirely the result of factors internal to us. (Of course, I don’t think that even a belief in the external-forces version of determinism means that digestion, e.g., is solely determined by external forces….)

    .

    This difference bears on Niall’s comment to me in which he takes issue with my “your money or your life scenario.”

    Because, Niall, however you flesh out the scenario, you include either implications or flat statements about what the victim in the scenario believes are the possibilities. One victim believes in the certainty that the bandit will carry out the threat if the purse isn’t forthcoming. Another (would-be) victim believes that the bandit won’t kill him anyway, because it would be easier for the bad guy to do the deed and get the purse anyhow. Another reckons that for the same reason, the bandit is going to kill him, whether or no. A fourth knows the guy is a psycho who’s going to kill him for the thrill of it; the dough is just an excuse.

    A fifth thinks perhaps he can talk the bad guy out of it — as has been known to happen, unlikely as it seems, in the case of rape.

    And what he believes* is the final determinant of what action he will or won’t take.

    *Or what he does “instinctively” or “automatically,” to whatever extent his actual action is the result of takeover of his body by his limbic system. His limbic system is, after all, still internal to him; and there are still alternative actions courses, or choices, available in fact, even if his limbic system doesn’t recognize them. However, this sort of thing is one of the “edge” cases that, for example, notoriously “make bad law.” And it’s where the camel gets its nose into the tent in terms of what one can argue successfully in a trial for murder, say, whether at court or in the court of public opinion — with the MSM and Twitterati no doubt arguing for the defendant (unless he’s a Republican or a Conservative).

  • Julie near Chicago

    Just to note: I said that definition of determinism given by Nullius is harder to argue against than the one given by Locke; and so it is, but it is certainly possible to argue against it, and I have done so. (I think it’s successful, but I Could Be Wrong — at least in theory *grin*) It requires a careful consideration of certain concepts, which may lead to changing them slightly or broadly.

    I have to note (again) that this changing of a conception is hardly illegitimate. All of us sometimes realize that our conception of X (it is the nature of dogs that they are vicious: part of our conception of dogs) doesn’t comport with observed Reality (gosh! here’s a dog that you can’t possibly call “vicious”!) doesn’t comport with observed reality and needs to be altered.

    We see this also in that most logical of disciplines, mathematics. Concepts are widened, narrowed, invented, discredited, as mathematical investigations proceed.

    To argue against the “Nullius version” of Determinism will require many of us to reformulate our conceptions of “human being,” so that we understand the human as a system consisting of more than its biological substrate, which includes its awareness and experiencings, among other things. (We experience love and fear, neither of which exists in the purely-mechanical world, but both of which are generated by it and which we perceive as a form of what we call “awareness” — which is also not present in the physical/mechanical substrate, but which is generated by it.) And depending on what the human conceives as “choice,” it may require the individual to reconceptualize the term.

    Finally, because of the way things in Reality are intermeshed, it is necessary to re-examine one’s concept of “Free Will.”

  • Julie near Chicago

    Oh dear. Important correction to mine at 1:44 am above. Penultimate sentence just before addressing Niall’s comment s/b:

    “This is the fact that puts paid to the notion that our doings are entirely the result of factors internal external to us.”

  • Johnathan Pearce (London)

    BobbyB: “I’ll lay odds that she’ll end up back in the UK, free of any charges and consequences, secure in her obedience to Allah and basking in the admiration of her friends and co-religionists. In which case, her “refusal to see” will have been shown to be, rather, a clarity of vision.”

    And that doesn’t contradict my point about an “entitlement mentality” one iota. It shows that she thinks she is entitled to come back to the UK to the comforts of home that her chums would take from unbelievers, and that the UK is happy to allow this to happen.

    Further, to expect a fair trial, etc, is one thing – but I don’t even see any sign that this moron wants that. No, she just thinks that she went abroad on a sort of jaunt, came back, and wants to resume her old life with as little interference as possible. If she has said “I want to be put on trial and take the course of justice” then I must have missed it.

    NIV writes: She says she’s well aware of the possible consequences. And yet here she is, claiming she has done nothing wrong.

    Also: I find it somewhat disturbing that people here are showing this attitude to the principle of Freedom of Belief.

    People can believe what they like – acting on it is a different matter. If people declare support for a death cult and have spent time in its circles, giving it encouragement etc, then I find that “somewhat disturbing” as well.

    The idea that the Home Secretary can choose to only offer the crown’s protection to those Brits with the right political beliefs is troubling beyond measure.

    That’s the case for a revised law on treason, perhaps, to deal with cases where persons join organisations pledged to destroy us by violence, aid and abet those actually in such projects, etc. (This applies,for example, to groups such as the IRA, a reason why I am appalled at how Jeremy Corbyn, who has clearly indicated his support for terror groups in the past, is currently leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition, fcrissakes.) Obviously this needs to be defined in as tight a way as possible.

  • bobby b

    “And that doesn’t contradict my point about an “entitlement mentality” one iota.”

    And that means you skipped my next question, so I’ll ask it again: do you believe that I have an “entitlement mentality” because I expect my government to afford me due process?

    “It shows that she thinks she is entitled to come back to the UK to the comforts of home that her chums would take from unbelievers, and that the UK is happy to allow this to happen.”

    And that would appear to be consistent with the current state of your law.

    Is it an “entitlement mentality” if you really are legally entitled to it?

  • Johnathan Pearce (London)

    Bobby, I’ll grant that you are persistent.

    I have an “entitlement mentality” because I expect my government to afford me due process?

    No. Has she said she is entitled to a fair trial? As far as I can tell, the only people mentioning this are those writing and talking about her. She hasn’t asked for a trial process, has she?

    If I went abroad to join an organisation pledged to support destroying the UK, with clear evidence of its murderous intent, then I’d actually expect the representatives of the country I vow to wage war on to wage war on me or at the very least, treat me as a prisoner of war under a convention.

    Update: As a practical matter, how is a conventional jury trial expected to work for someone where offences are alleged to have occurred abroad? Who is going to collect evidence, interview witnesses, corroborate said witness statements and do all the other stuff necessary to even reach the point where the Crown Prosecution Service can build an acceptable case? Admittedly these are issues not peculiar to crimes alleged to have taken place abroad, and extradition treaty issues arise from this. Even so, this is hardly like putting a bloke on trial for stealing cars or beating up pedestrians. And given the stated goals of this woman (which she hasn’t renounced), the problem compounds itself.

    Anyway, time to get off this site for a bit and go to work.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Niall:

    I can see an analogy that would imply you are agreeing with me and another analogy that would imply your are disagreeing with me (and an analogy that is an indirect comment on the ‘everyone believes their own moral code’ equivalence arguments in some of the comments above), and am not sure any are a strong analogy.

    You might want to enlighten me about the other analogies, but i have only one in mind.

    I’ll quote again your previous comment:

    Abstractly, a person might believe in determinism, and therefore necessarily believe their belief was itself determined, and so true (if it were true) only by coincidence, but also then believe in the possibility of that coincidence.

    In short, it is the word “coincidence” that i object to.
    I object to it, because, if a (deterministic) robot-scientist were to come to the conclusion that the entire Universe is deterministic, then it is not just a coincidence that this “belief” is true … not unless the robot-scientist is fallible. But the determinism of the robot-scientist does not imply its fallibility: on the contrary, its determinism should make it less prone to failure. (Though there can be a role for some (pseudo)randomness in the generation of hypotheses about how the Universe works.)

    Or as Nullius put it:

    If you build a deterministic machine for looking at the world and figuring out how it works, and the world is really deterministic, then the machine will inevitably and unavoidably see that and say so. The conclusion follows deterministically from the observation which follows deterministically from how the universe is. It couldn’t happen any other way.

    Let me add that i don’t know how this point relates to the rest of your comment(s), because i have been selective in reading this thread.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “To argue against the “Nullius version” of Determinism will require many of us to reformulate our conceptions of “human being,” so that we understand the human as a system consisting of more than its biological substrate, which includes its awareness and experiencings, among other things. (We experience love and fear, neither of which exists in the purely-mechanical world, but both of which are generated by it and which we perceive as a form of what we call “awareness” — which is also not present in the physical/mechanical substrate, but which is generated by it.)”

    This sounds a bit like Cartesian Dualism – the doctrine that mental phenomena are, to some extent, “non-physical” (whatever that means). Is that what you meant? I’m happy to discuss further, if so. Or you can read about the philosophical criticisms of it elsewhere. Or skip it if not interested.

    “NIV writes: She says she’s well aware of the possible consequences. And yet here she is, claiming she has done nothing wrong.”

    She said she didn’t think they had evidence of her doing anything dangerous, which is a bit different. It wasn’t wrong from her point of view. I expect she’s well aware that the British government have a different view about its ‘wrongness’ – she’s not stupid. But whether it amounts to a crime, or a threat, is another matter.

    “People can believe what they like – acting on it is a different matter. If people declare support for a death cult and have spent time in its circles, giving it encouragement etc, then I find that “somewhat disturbing” as well.”

    ‘Freedom of Speech’ applies, though, yes?

    Sure, if she’s hacked off anyone’s head, shot any unbelievers, built bombs, informed on apostates, or raised funds for their campaign, then those are actions that – if proven – she could be jailed for. And should be.

    But “declare support for” is freedom of speech/belief. “Giving it encouragement” is freedom of speech. “Spent time in its circles” is what, precisely? You can get jailed for what your friends and co-members do? Yeah, she’s not a friend of ours. We don’t like her beliefs. They’d be illegal and contrary to our liberal values to put into effect. We would argue against her arguments, and put down by force any attempt to implement them. But if all she’s done is to go along for the ride and cheer it on, then by *our* moral standard of Freedom of Belief, she’s done nothing that justifies taking action against her, or taking away her rights.

    Her beliefs may be wrong, both factually and morally, but Freedom of Belief is not limited to letting you hold only right beliefs.

    There are plenty of people out there who think *we’re* wrong, both factually and morally. Even Noam Chomsky understood this: “If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.”

    “That’s the case for a revised law on treason, perhaps, to deal with cases where persons join organisations pledged to destroy us by violence, aid and abet those actually in such projects, etc.”

    Yes. Terrorism Act 2000 sections 11 and 12. The definition is narrow – I really can’t say if it would include her or not.

    The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. To take part in the ‘operational’ activities of a terrorist organisation in the process of doing harm to others is something that should rightly be prevented. But advocacy and verbal support for them? Where do you draw the boundary on Free Speech?

    “As a practical matter, how is a conventional jury trial expected to work for someone where offences are alleged to have occurred abroad? Who is going to collect evidence, interview witnesses, corroborate said witness statements and do all the other stuff necessary to even reach the point where the Crown Prosecution Service can build an acceptable case?”

    Blackstone’s Formulation applies, as always. If we don’t have sufficient evidence of her committing actual crimes, why are we taking any action against her at all? And where do you think a principle like that – that if the authorities are unable to obtain any evidence against you because it’s out of their reach they can jail you for whatever they think you might have done – end up?

    But to answer the question – if investigative journalists can get over there and locate people, ask them questions, chase down leads, etc., then I can’t imagine it’s so totally beyond the capabilities of the police to do the same. Or MI6, whose mission it is to gather intelligence on terrorism abroad. I’d kinda expect them to be over there and doing that already.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Paul Marks:

    If determinism is correct then there are no “persons” – no beings.

    It pains me to say this again, Paul, but i do not know what you mean by the word “determinism”. I used to think that i know, but now i am certain that i do not.

    It’s worse than that: i suspect that you do not know yourself what you mean by that word, based on your contradictory usage; and also because you refuse to accept that Ayn Rand believed in (physical) determinism.

    You might want to check Nullius in Verba’s definition of determinism @11:48 above, which i rephrase slightly:
    Determinism is the doctrine that the state of the entire universe at any point in time, is completely determined by any previous state of the entire universe.

    I did not go far into your (Paul’s) comment, because you brought in Hume, so i expected an incoherent rant. (It’s not a good start to claim that Martin Luther and David Hume had some core beliefs in common.)
    But do not take it personally: i would also describe Popper’s analysis of Hegel (in The Open Society) as an incoherent rant, and not because i despise Popper or admire Hegel; in fact, i believe that Hegel was peddling pernicious nonsense.
    So if i dismiss your analysis of Hume, it’s not (only) because i agree with Hume on some important issues.

  • Snorri Godhi (February 18, 2019 at 11:32 am), OK, thanks, that makes clear what you had in mind. I will (attempt to) clarify my remark similarly (just FYI).

    John Knox could (and indeed did) believe that his calvinist God had predetermined every event from the creation to end of time, and as part of that had predetermined that he, John Knox, would understand these things and be of the elect while others were as predetermined to believe falsely and be damned.

    However in the absence of such a deus-ex-machina outside the determined realm, to bring the opinions of the elect or elite brain into happy coincidence with reality – if for example, human brains were deterministically evolved to direct the human body to the tasks of caveman survival – then the ability of such brains to resolve abstract philosophical questions correctly would seem to me to need a coincidence or two (‘luck’ being presumably a meaningless term in a deterministic world).

    However let it be freely admitted that my Scottish background risks giving me feelings of tedium in discussions of determinism.

    Dost thou ever think to bring thine ears or stomach to the patience of a dry grace as long as thy tablecloth, and droned out till all the meat on thy board has forgot it was that day in the kitchen? Or to brook the noise made in a question of predestination by the good labourers and painful eaters assembled together, put to them by the matron your spouse, who moderates with a cup of wine ever and anon, and a sentence out of Knox between?

    So I will for a third and last time suggest that, as regards the subject of the OP, once we notice that PC grants free will to its enemies, to blame them all, and determinism to its proteges, to excuse them all, then we have enough philosophy for this subject. 🙂

  • Snorri Godhi

    Niall: thank you for your reply.
    First, a short remark on this:

    as regards the subject of the OP, once we notice that PC grants free will to its enemies, to blame them all, and determinism to its proteges, to excuse them all, then we have enough philosophy for this subject.

    Basically, i agree: as i said in my 1st comment here, the problem is not deterministic incompatibilism (denial of human agency), but the whole of incompatibilism (denial of compatibilism). “The PC” (i prefer the expression: PC fascists) do not deny human agency, they only deny that it is compatible with the deprivations that their mascots allegedly have to endure.

    – – – – –
    Before arguing about the validity of inferences drawn by a deterministic scientist, let me say why i think it important in this thread.

    An incompatibilist argument, as i understand, is as follows: if we are just “flesh robots” then, when we choose good over evil, we do not choose it because it is good, but because we are predetermined to do so: it is just a coincidence that it is good.

    You can see where i am going: even if our choices are predetermined, they can still be predetermined to be for the good, and not by coincidence; just as a thermostat deterministically acts for the good of the person who set the temperature.

    Now, about your counter-argument to my claim about the robot-scientist: as i understand, the substance is that we humans are not programmed by natural selection to be scientists, but to survive as hunter-gatherers. There are lots of things to say about that (amongst others, that you have a PhD, and so do i); but i won’t say them, since mine was a thought experiment. I did not assume that my robot-scientist is feasible; and i did not even assume that it knows that its knowledge is correct.

    But maybe i missed your point?

  • Johnathan Pearce (London)

    You can see where i am going: even if our choices are predetermined, they can still be predetermined to be for the good, and not by coincidence; just as a thermostat deterministically acts for the good of the person who set the temperature.

    By predetermined by whom, or what?

    🙄

  • Nullius in Verba

    “predetermined by whom, or what?”

    By the past. The state of the universe at any given instant of time is completely determined by the state of the universe at any previous instant of time.

  • Paul Marks

    Some people regard the actions of the character “Sergeant Major Lauderdale” in the film “Guns at Batasi” (1964) as absurd – the Wikipedia account of the film condemns him as being too “inflexible” to adapt to a “changing world”.

    But, in truth, evil has always exited – and people are always called upon to “adapt” to it, every day in our lives (in large or small ways) – each day we face the choice between good and evil, many-many times. Less graphically than Sergeant Major Lauderdale – but the choice just the same. Do we do the right thing – or do we “adapt” (look the other way).

    I hope (only HOPE – one can not KNOW till one is put to the test), as the Colonel says (as he quietly and politely informs the Sergeant Major that his life is, essentially, OVER due to the dishonourable government in London) that “I would do as you did – every-step-of-the-way”.

    And do not forget Captain Abraham – attempting to leave the protection of the Sergeant’s Mess (whilst badly wounded – and knowing that he will be murdered if he hands himself over to those outside) in order that the building not be shelled (killing those sheltering him).

    Why is Captain Abraham targeted at the very start of the film? Because (in his gentle way) he is too “inflexible” to “adjust” to a change of government by military coup.

    Note to non British readers – when the Colonel quietly addresses Sergeant Major Lauderdale as “Mr Lauderdale” (not Sergeant Major) the Colonel is really telling him (and the Sergeant Major knows it) that his position is hopeless – although the Sergeant Major already knows this, by that point.

  • Paul Marks

    Nullius “The state of the universe at any moment of time is completely [pre] determined by the state of the universe at any previous instant of time”.

    An almost (apart from three letters “pre” – which I add above) perfect summation of the Determinist position – which denies the existence of “being” (the “I” – agency). Under Determinism there are no human beings (or any other beings) – just flesh robots.

    A position that holds that there can be no moral choice (and no moral CHOOSER – the “I” the AGENT of agency) and, consequentially, no virtue or honour. That no one can, rationally, be praised or blamed – regardless of what they do, or do not do. As they could not choose to do otherwise than they did or do.

    Snorri “I do not know what you mean by determinism” – I think you do Sir, however if you really do not know, then Nullius has helpfully restated the position in his own words.

    The evil (total evil – negation of even the possibility of moral good) of this position needs no further comment.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “each day we face the choice between good and evil, many-many times. Less graphically than Sergeant Major Lauderdale – but the choice just the same. Do we do the right thing – or do we “adapt” (look the other way).”

    Sometimes the problem is the other way round – do we stick to what we know, or do we recognise and let go of old evils?

    The theme of the film, it seems to me, was that in fighting to replace the old authoritarianism, we end up instituting a new one. The Regimental Sergeant Major represents the old traditionalist, colonial-style authoritarianism that the liberal revolution of the 1960s was sweeping away. But because it would not go voluntarily, the sweepers instead turn to revolution and violence, and in the process create a new system just as intolerant, authoritarian, and evil as the old one. Miss Barker-Wise, the visiting liberal MP states the theme of the film: “I disapprove of their methods as I do of yours”.

    Good and evil are always mixed, in every age. From evil comes much that is good. From good intentions comes evil. There can be no shadow without light.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “Under Determinism there are no human beings (or any other beings) – just flesh robots.”

    I think you’re under-estimating what ‘robots’ are ultimately capable of.

    “A position that holds that there can be no moral choice (and no moral CHOOSER – the “I” the AGENT of agency) and, consequentially, no virtue or honour.”

    But determinism explicitly allows a moral choice. The system first internally generates a list of options, and then chooses the best one subject to the constraint of a set of moral rules. It’s just that the process for generating the list of options, evaluating them, testing their moral compliance, and selecting the maximum is entirely deterministic. If there are many options but only one moral one, then a moral machine WILL pick the moral option. An immoral machine WILL pick a different option, one that scores highest on other goals. Virtue and honour are about whether you have and apply such moral constraints, even at the cost of (apparent) self-interest.

    The issue of ‘no choice’ implying ‘no moral responsibility’ is only a logical consequence when looking at things using the higher-level ‘black box’ picture, where the internals of the choice process are out of scope, and the only possible meaning for ‘no choice’ is that there is only one entry on the list of options. If there is only one option, there is no scope for the moral rules to be applied, and the action done says nothing at all about whether the agent is applying them. But if there is a list, and if the moral constraints present make a difference to the outcome, then morality applies, even if the choice that will be made as a result is predetermined.

    Determinism doesn’t mean a ‘robot’ has to be simple or stupid.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Nullius,

    Sure, I’m glad you asked. Let me start with a couple of statements from Wikipedia’s discussion of “mind,” though it is only as good as its sources and the interpretations and the statements that the writer makes of them.

    (Links, as usual, at source.)

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mind

    One open question regarding the nature of the mind is the mind–body problem, which investigates the relation of the mind to the physical brain and nervous system.[4] Older viewpoints included dualism and idealism, which considered the mind somehow non-physical.[4] Modern views often center around physicalism and functionalism, which hold that the mind is roughly identical with the brain or reducible to physical phenomena such as neuronal activity[5]

    At its Mind-Body Problem article (linked above), Wikipedia writes that most theories of Mind are variants of either Monism or Dualism. (There is a nifty little diagram illustrating the idea, sort of.) Concerning these, it says:

    Each of these categories contain numerous variants. The two main forms of dualism are substance dualism, which holds that the mind is formed of a distinct type of substance not governed by the laws of physics, and property dualism, which holds that mental properties involving conscious experience are fundamental properties, alongside the fundamental properties identified by a completed physics. The three main forms of monism are physicalism, which holds that the mind consists of matter organized in a particular way; idealism, which holds that only thought truly exists and matter is merely an illusion; and neutral monism, which holds that both mind and matter are aspects of a distinct essence that is itself identical to neither of them. Psychophysical parallelism is a third possible alternative regarding the relation between mind and body, between interaction (dualism) and one-sided action (monism).[5]

    .

    As I see it, in this context a human is best viewed as an entire system, including its corporeal and its incorporeal parts, as well as its capabilities or capacities. What we call the “mind” is generated by the body and a byproduct of it. Were there no body, there could be no mind. It is conceptually different from what we usually think of as the “body,” but it is analogous to the heat produced by a “mechanical” engine, by which I mean the sort of engine that is powered by steam or gasoline or whatever, and which when it’s running gives off heat. The heat is not the same thing as the engine, but it exists only because the engine is running. In this sense, the engine and the heat it gives off are parts of what can be seen as a single system. (The system might include such things as a drive train, a steering subsystem, tires which enable the thing — some sort of vehicle, you may suspect — and fuel; and more besides. This system includes also its capacity for locomotion: If it’s running, and it’s working properly, it has the capacity to move itself and probably other objects from A to B. But the capacity, though it depends for its existence upon physical objects arranged in a certain way, is also an attribute of the system and is therefore is part of it.)

    But the heat is not a Ghost in the Machine proper. Once the machine is running , if it is working properly it necessarily generates heat, and the machine-cum-heat is a system in its own right though the heat isn’t part of the machine. (That the machine-cum-heat is a subsystem of another system is really beside the point; I brought up the car or plane or whatever it is only to point out that there exists a system that includes the engine and its byproduct of heat, and that the heat the engine part generates is also part of the larger system.)

    You can consider the oxygen and the hydrogen in a molecule of oxygen dihydride separately; they are not the same thing as water, which however they “generate” (actually, they become water, taking on different properties altogether from either of their components). So the oxygen and hydrogen are conceptually different from the water (as is so perfectly obvious that we rarely even bother to notice the fact), but the water is of them and in no way physically separate from them when they are combined so as to produce it.

    The mind is non-physical in the sense that, like heat, it is not made up of physical objects — it is not water, it is not stone, it is not a biological cell nor a bunch of them; and it is also not made up of molecules nor atoms nor sub-atomic particles nor gamma rays either. Unlike heat, it is also not energy in the sense of the science of physics.

    But it is generated from the body’s physical parts and the processes they are undergoing.

    .

    So is this notion dualistic or monistic or something else, and into what subcategory of the category does it fall? Alas, Horatio, I don’t know. The difficulty is in part because the categories’ definitions or descriptions seem to vary somewhat. I can see it as a variant of “property dualism,” or possibly “substance dualism,” in the Great Foot’s terms. It’s clearly not Idealism. Wikipedia (in Mind-Body) also writes, “Many modern philosophers of mind maintain that the mind is not something separate from the body.” Well, I do see it as distinct from the body-per-se, which to say it’s conceptually differentiable; but it’s not separable from the body in actual fact.

    So there you have it. But what you have, I cannot say. 😀

  • Snorri Godhi

    Paul: if you really hold to the above definition of determinism, then you have to recognize that the only alternative is randomness, which you don’t. So i still believe that you do not know what “determinism” means to yourself.

    Also, you have not yet acknowledged that Rand was a determinist. BTW you have described yourself as a Stoic in the past, without acknowledging that the Stoics were determinists.

    A comment on moral choice to follow.

    PS: it might interest you to know that i am definitely NOT a determinist by the above definition, because the theory of quantum mechanics has shown that randomness is at least conceivable in our universe.

  • Snorri Godhi

    [Determinism] holds that there can be no moral choice (and no moral CHOOSER – the “I” the AGENT of agency) and, consequentially, no virtue or honour. That no one can, rationally, be praised or blamed – regardless of what they do, or do not do. As they could not choose to do otherwise than they did or do.

    There is much to discuss here.
    First, let’s get the issue of moral responsibility out of the way. I have said nothing about it, IIRC, either in this thread or in any other thread.
    My view is that any theory of human choice must be _totally_ independent of any theory of moral responsibility, and any theory of responsibility must be _partially_ independent of any theory of choice.

    FYI i tend to the PF Strawson view of moral responsibility, and i believe that Paul Russell is correct in interpreting Hume as a precursor of Strawson.

    – – – – –
    Let’s move on to whether determinism precludes moral choice; an issue which, i stress, must not be influenced in any way by any prior beliefs about moral responsibility.

    Clearly, determinism does not preclude choice.
    To be more precise, there are 2 kinds of choices: random choices and “real” choices. Real choices are deterministic*: the agent deterministically picks the best option.

    If all real choices are deterministic, then a fortiori all moral choices are deterministic: a moral agent deterministically picks the most ethical option.

    Humans being less than perfect, sometimes we pick options other than the most ethical. Whether that is a random process or not, i won’t discuss here: i only want to note that the uncertainty that we’ll do the right thing, makes us LESS moral.

    BTW i read a bit of Reid’s fourth Essay on the Active Powers of the Human Mind, and i vehemently disagree with him on this issue; but i guess that i’ll have to write a followup comment on that.

    * note that we are talking about the determinism of the agent making choices: the rest of the universe can still include some randomness.

  • bobby b

    ” . . . Ayn Rand believed in (physical) determinism.”

    Snorri Godhi, I really hesitate to jump into a discussion so far out of my league, but this assertion is confusing to me.

    I have always been under the impression that Objectivism holds determinism to be invalid – “self-refuting” is the most common characterization I’ve read.

    What am I missing? (If responding to this entails a lot of work that is outside the bounds of the OP, feel free to blow this off. I’m just . . . puzzled.)

  • Julie near Chicago

    Snorri, are you sure about that — that Miss R. was a determinist (of some flavor), I mean? After all, she was one of the people who insist that if we were all “determined” to do as we do, including thinking as we think and reasoning as we reason, then logic would be impossible (that is, “logic” would really be just mechanism in our brains doing whatever it is doing). And “morality would be a sick joke,” in her words, because again it would just be a machine acting mechanically.

    She and Nathaniel Branden thought they got around this difficulty by positing that cause-and-effect still works in our minds (I mean the term broadly here, not just our intellect but also our will, the exercise of which results in our actions). The cause of our actions is our will, which the Objectivists call “volition.”

    When my Honey was in graduate school, we were part of the Objectivist Study Club in our area, which was run by Jim Davidson, who, I’ve read, was the guy who got the idea for the Objectivist taped lectures. He took the idea to Branden, who liked it, and helped him (Branden) to get the project going.

    The point is, that we listened to the taped lectures that Johnathan links to in his posting (above). The two of us found ourselves stumped as to how you could have a strictly cause-and-effect universe that was not deterministic. We wrote a two-page letter asking him about (as we who had paid to hear the tapes were invited to do). We got back a rather terse letter saying that he’d explained it in the lectures and that Miss Rand had explained it in articles, and if we didn’t understand it we should re-read those.

    Gosh, thanks. !

    For those who want to get around the problem by invoking randomness, obviously that doesn’t work; it would be a case not of a Ghost driving the Machine, but rather of a driverless machine, a car with nobody steering it, careening along from pothole to speed bump to precipice, going this way and that at random. I thought that was pretty obvious at the time, and Miss R. also pointed it out somewhere along the way.

    The only Objectivist treatments of Volition — the Prime Mover of our consciousness and of our actions — that I’ve ever seen, make it sound exactly like a Ghost in the Machine.

    In My Opinion, anyway. If Johnathan disagrees with this, I’m willing to be corrected if I find the argument persuasive.

    . . .

    So how, you may well ask, does J near C get around this?

    By making a bit of a change to the conception of the human being — to thinking of him as a whole system, which has important non-physical components; by recognizing that the person’s view of the matter (whatever it may be) is internal to the system that is “him,” and is not just one of the inputs to this system, but is the final determinant of what his will causes him to do, so that his will is ultimately determined by factors which lie within the system that is “him.” He is not controlled by external factors, only influenced by them. He makes choices based on his own internal estimates of what actions are available, whether he does so reflectively (consciously) or reflexively. –This all within the context in which it is possible for him to exercise control over what he does, or what happens to him, of course. If he’s just fallen off the North Face of the Eiger, it’s not up to him what gravity will cause to happen to him.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Bobby: i am happy to oblige.
    (UPDATE: i see that Julie asked the same question while i was writing this. My answer remains the same.)

    I have not read Rand at 1st hand, i have only watched the movie version of The Fountainhead 🙂
    But i heard, or rather read, several times that Objectivist metaphysics is deterministic.
    Here is a link to a good essay that makes this claim.
    Key quote:

    An Objectivist’s options on the free will puzzle are limited. Objectivism holds the Law of Causality to be a corollary of the Axiom of Identity. Therefore, the law of causality can have no exceptions whatsoever. I do not think that one could reject the law of causality and still call oneself an Objectivist. Nor could one reject the free will thesis and still call oneself an Objectivist. The Objectivist therefore must reject (2). And in fact Peikoff is quite explicit on this (in OPAR): Free will is a kind of causality, not an exception to causality.

    Where (2) = “It seems that free will is incompatible with the law of causality.”

    Points to note:
    1. the law of causality (as defined by Huemer) implies determinism (as defined by Nullius), but the reverse does not hold: determinism does not imply the law of causality. But that makes no difference to the issue of free will: since causality –> determinism, it remains the case that Rand was a determinist.

    2. Since Objectivists reject (2), i.e. incompatibilism, it follows that Objectivists are compatibilists, whether they admit it or not. In fact, as you can see in the quote, at least Peikoff stated it explicitly.

    3. Objectivist compatibilism is very different from the compatibilism that i hold to: i do not believe that “real” choices are deterministic because the entire universe is deterministic, i believe it because i have given some serious thought about what it means to make a choice.
    There are still other variants of compatibilism, however.

  • Julie near Chicago

    bobby, you’re quite right.

    Re Michael Huemer: There’s a UToob video of a debate between him (he’s not in favor of Objectivism and IMO doesn’t really understand it) and Onkar Ghate, who is still an Objectivist in good standing and a Fellow of the Ayn Rand Institute. I think Diana Merkel said that she suggested the debate to Dr. Huemer, who was her thesis advisor at the time, and he set the wheels in motion. She was then an Ultra-Orthodox Objectivist, but whether she still is I couldn’t say. (She did say that she was giving up her presence as a Public Intellectual.)

    Onkar Ghate is chief philosophy office and a senior fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute. He is the Institute’s resident expert on Objectivism.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Sorry. Quote above is from ARI: https://ari.aynrand.org/experts/onkar-ghate

  • Nullius in Verba

    “The mind is non-physical in the sense that, like heat, it is not made up of physical objects”

    I actually agree with that, although I’m not sure that you will agree when I say why!

    There are two aspects to matter – it’s identity, and its arrangement (both position and motion). Here are a bunch of hydrogen atoms, here are a bunch of oxygen atoms, here are a bunch of iron atoms. Eight iron atoms in a circle is the same ‘matter’ as eight iron atoms in a line is the same ‘matter’ as eight iron atoms arranged in a cube. Without specifying their arrangement, it’s just an anonymous bag of atoms. Concepts like “machine” and “running” are not defined if we only consider matter’s identity.

    But matter’s arrangement is a more abstract concept. It can be considered separately from the matter itself. And you can even think of eight tungsten atoms arranged in a cube to be in some way “the same” as eight iron atoms arranged in a cube. ‘Shape’ and ‘state’ and ‘motion’ are defined. We can distinguish a ‘machine’ from ‘a pile of scrap metal’. We can distinguish the machine ‘running’ from the machine ‘stopped’. Heat is precisely this sort of difference of state: it’s the vibration in the atoms of the machine, their motion.

    So we’re still talking pure deterministic physics. But the vibration of the atoms is not a physical substance itself. It’s a property of the substance’s motion – it’s an abstract that ‘lives in’ the substance. And when the vibration in the machine transfers to a vibration in some connected object, we can talk about the vibration ‘passing’ from one to the other, as if it was a substance, even though no matter is actually transferred from one to the other. Only motion.

    (This picture is still an approximation. At a far deeper level of physics, it turns out matter itself is far more like a vibration/motion/rearrangement of something more fundamental, and mass is energy, but I’ll not get into that.)

    Similarly, mental phenomena like ‘information’, ‘meaning’, ‘knowledge’, ‘intelligence’ and so on are to do with the arrangement of matter, its motion, its behaviour. (‘Qualia’ I’m not so sure about, but that’s another topic.) They are abstract properties of matter, they are not a ghostly physical material in themselves.

    So yes, I agree it’s a lot like heat. But I’m not sure if you mean it the same way – or whether like a lot of people you think of heat as some sort of non-physical ghostly fluid that permeates and flows through matter. (At a deeper level, the distinction blurs, so I’d not precisely say they’re wrong, either.) I tend to think of ‘physical’ as meaning ‘as described by physics’, and I’m confused by phrases like “not made up of physical objects”. Is ‘vibration’ not made up of physical objects? Yes and no. The definitions are all looking shifty, and shuffling their feet.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Nullius, I think I know exactly what you mean. And yes, I’ve gone all around Robin Hood’s barn trying to make it clear that when I talk about physical “objects,” I’m talking about matter specifically, things like molecules, atoms, subatomic particles that are generally treated more as “matter” than as energy. And, of course, things made out of them, like silverware, or “mechanical” engines (unlike, for instance, “search engines.”

    I agree also that the understanding of matter is that it’s a form of energy does not help to clarify the issues! As for vibration, in its macro forms that are more directly observable by us, vibration is the effect of energy acting on matter in certain ways. When I think of heat, by the way, at least in the present content, I’m really thinking of the mostly of the heat created by friction — of “mechanical” or physical “objects” like hands sliding down a rope. Or of the heat caused by the release of energy in a chemical reaction, such as burning gasoline or burning down the house.

    “Similarly, mental phenomena like ‘information’, ‘meaning’, ‘knowledge’, ‘intelligence’ and so on are to do with the arrangement of matter, its motion, its behaviour.”

    Yes, agreed. These things are the result of certain arrangements of certain matter, and how it behaves in certain circumstances. That’s why I include them as part of the holistic system that we call a “human being.”

    As a side note, I’m talking specifically about things we think about and process mentally. As far as I’m concerned all this talk about DNA “coding” for “information” is anthropormophism in spades: DNA is molecules and are not equipped for thinking, hence for recognizing “information.” Plants don’t get “information” from the sun; it’s simply a matter of their chemical makeup being such as to lean toward sunlight automatically. Pure phototropism, no brainwork involved.

    Your points are good, and I agree with them as stated. (Although “mass is energy” is both true and untrue, I think, though of course “not in the same sense and at the same time.”)

    Thanks for your comment!

  • bobby b

    “Determinism is the theory that everything that happens in the universe—including every thought, feeling, and action of man—is necessitated by previous factors, so that nothing could ever have happened differently from the way it did, and everything in the future is already pre-set and inevitable. Every aspect of man’s life and character, on this view, is merely a product of factors that are ultimately outside his control. Objectivism rejects this theory.

    Leonard Peikoff,
    The Philosophy of Objectivism lecture series, Lecture 1”

    I guess I’ve usually accepted that Peikoff’s views were uncommonly grounded in AR’s thinking, and so I’m left wondering if there’s merely some definitional mismatch that’s making an apples-to-oranges situation. I suspect that it might lie in this statement of yours:

    “Objectivist compatibilism is very different from the compatibilism that i hold to: i do not believe that “real” choices are deterministic because the entire universe is deterministic, i believe it because i have given some serious thought about what it means to make a choice.”

    Thanks for the response!

    (P.S. Julie: Great minds, and all of that . . .!)

  • bobby b

    (Oops. Forgot to supply the link. The quote in the comment above came from http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/determinism.html .)

  • Snorri Godhi

    Julie (@9:01am) and Bobby (@1:04pm): you might not have intended to confirm my prejudice that Objectivists are charlatans, but i thank you all the same.

    One thing that you have made me aware of (pardon the split infinitive) is that Rand, Branden, and Peikoff did not know what they were talking about, when they talked about “””determinism”””.

    The result must have been gaslighting of those who listen to them. People are told that every event has a sufficient cause, but determinism does not hold; and if they object, are told to go read the canon again: under such a regime, they must necessarily be gaslighted — unless they realize that Rand, Branden, and Peikoff are bullshitting.

    That helps to explain Paul Marks’ befuddlement about determinism; and it certainly justifies his refusal to accept that Rand was a determinist, since she was neither a determinist nor an indeterminist: she was simply a charlatan.

    That is not to deny that, unfortunately, much of contemporary philosophy is even worse.

    PS: now i understand why i feel gaslighted when i read Johnathan Pearce’s replies to me: he has learned the trade!

  • Nullius in Verba

    Regarding Rand and determinism, I found this interesting.

    https://studylib.net/doc/7747640/objectivism—the-philosophy-of-ayn-rand

    On the one hand, things act according to their nature, and can act no other way:

    “The only alternatives would be for an entity to act apart from its nature or against it; both of these are impossible. A thing cannot act apart from its nature, because existence is identity; apart from its nature, a thing is nothing. A thing cannot act against its nature, i.e., in contradiction to its identity, because A is A and contradictions are impossible. In any given set of circumstances, therefore, there is only one action possible to an entity, the action expressive of its identity. This is the action it will take, the action that is caused and necessitated by its nature.”

    On the other hand, human consciousness is different because its nature is to choose whether to think or not.

    “The principle of causality does not apply to consciousness, however, in the same way that it applies to matter. In regard to matter, there is no issue of choice; to be caused is to be necessitated. In regard to the (higher-level) actions of a volitional consciousness, however, “to be caused” does not mean “to be necessitated.” An ancient philosophic dilemma claims that if man’s actions, mental or physical, have no causes, then man is insane, a lunatic or freak who acts without reason. (This anticausal viewpoint is called “indeterminism.”) But, the dilemma continues, if man’s actions do have causes, then they are not free; they are necessitated by antecedent factors. (This is the determinist viewpoint.) Therefore, either man is insane or he is determined. Objectivism regards this dilemma as a false alternative. Man’s actions do have causes; he does choose a course of behavior for a reason—but this does not make the course determined or the choice unreal, It does not, because man himself decides what are to be the governing reasons. Man chooses the causes that shape his actions. To say that a higher-level choice was caused is to say: there was a reason behind it, but other reasons were possible under the circumstances, and the individual himself made the selection among them.”

    Peikoff also attempts to address the determinist point directly, but with a very strange argument along the lines that if a person’s choice is determined, then you wouldn’t be able to change their mind by giving them advice.

    “So far, I have been identifying the nature of man’s power of choice, according to the Objectivist theory. But how is this theory validated? Can one prove that the choice to think is real, and not, as determinists would say, an illusion caused by our ignorance of the forces determining us? Can one prove that man’s consciousness does not function automatically?

    If man’s consciousness were automatic, if it did react deterministically to outer or inner forces acting upon it, then, by definition, a man would have no choice in regard to his mental content; he would accept whatever he had to accept, whatever ideas the determining forces engendered in him. In such a case, one could not prescribe methods to guide a man’s thought or ask him to justify his ideas; the subject of epistemology would be inapplicable. One cannot ask a person to alter or, justify the mentally inescapable, any more than, in physical terms, one can ask him to alter or justify his patellar reflex. In regard to the involuntary, there is no alternative but to submit—to do what one must, whatever it is.”

    And then we have another odd argument regarding fallibility and determinism. I think this may be running into the objectivist belief that perception of reality, once chosen, is accurate by definition. But I’m not quite sure. In any case, I don’t think it follows.

    “When the determinist claims that man is determined, this applies to all man’s ideas also, including his own advocacy of determinism. Given the factors operating on him, he believes, he had to become a determinist, just as his opponents had no alternative but to oppose him. Bow then can he know that his viewpoint is true? Are the factors that shape his brain infallible? Does he automatically follow reason and logic? Clearly not; if he did, error would be impossible to him. The determinist’s position amounts to the following. “My mind does not automatically conform to facts, yet I have no choice about its course. I have no way to choose reality to be my guide as against subjective feeling, social pressure, or the falsifications inherent in being only semiconscious. If and when I distort the evidence through sloppiness or laziness, or place popularity above logic, or evade out of fear, or hide my evasions from myself under layers of rationalizations and lies, I have to do it, even if I realize at the time how badly I am acting. Whatever the irrationalities that warp and invalidate my mind’s conclusion on any issue, they are irresistible, like every event in my history, and could not have been otherwise.” If such were the case, a man could not rely on his own judgment. He could claim nothing as objective knowledge, including the theory of determinism.”

    “That helps to explain Paul Marks’ befuddlement about determinism; and it certainly excuses his refusal to accept that Rand was a determinist, since she was neither a determinist nor an indeterminist: she was simply a charlatan.”

    On foundational philosophy, yes. It’s a conclusion that most serious philosophers have come to – personally I think she was more self-deluded than deceiving. But it takes a special sort of self-confidence to dismiss all the people who told her so.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Nullius:

    On foundational philosophy, [Ayn Rand was a charlatan]

    Taking a step back, i acknowledge that NAP is not charlatanry.
    (I assume that Rand is to be credited for it, and that it counts as foundational philosophy.)

    It’s a conclusion that most serious philosophers have come to – personally I think she was more self-deluded than deceiving.

    I am inclined to agree … but please note that it makes hardly any difference to me whether someone (let’s call her Ayn) deceives herself before deceiving others, or doesn’t: for me, they are charlatans all the same.

    But it takes a special sort of self-confidence to dismiss all the people who told her so.

    I know, because unfortunately there is a person in my extended family with that sort of self-confidence.

    That is also why i am learning to detect gaslighting.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Johnathan, Nullius, Snorri, bobby … et al.: What a great discussion! You-all have caused me to see to some things in a somewhat different way, I must say.

    Johnathan, thanks so much for starting this, and also for your subsequent comments. I wonder if you know Lennie *g* or David Kelley or Chris Sciabarra, or indeed whether you knew N.B.?

    I find that now, reading through the OP and the entire discussion, I find a lot of enlightenment in the whole. Reading it in this way, one can see how a thought or viewpoint develops from being a casual remark to an actual position. That is really quite an education.

    And in particular, there are many statements that I’d have flatly disagreed with when we began, that I now see admit of varying interpretations, many of which I agree with, or which can be taken to mean something I would agree with. I would love to go into this further, but maybe you guys need to do something more important, like washing your hair. :>)

    .

    bobby, you asked good questions and again caused me to think, and to reconsider. It’s good to have friends you can actually converse with.

    .

    Snorri, I was and still am a fan of A.R., and I don’t think she was a charlatan nor any more self-deluded than most of the people, great philosophers and Joe Sixpack alike, who have tried to square the particular circle. I don’t think N.B. was a charlatan either; I have no reason to think him guilty of intellectual dishonesty, though truthfully (and I have met the man) he’s not my cup of tea.

    But his essay on the “Benefits and Hazards of Objectivism” is still available on the Net, I think. When he published that, my opinion of him leapt from the 2nd sub-basement to somewhere atop the roof. A man who somewhat saw and remarked on the error of his ways! (Later, in an interview I saw — C-Span maybe? don’t recall) he somewhat downplayed that paper’s commentary, saying he was still really very angry when he wrote it. But I thought it was right on.)

    Indeed, it now seems to me that to acknowledge what can be considered (at any rate by some) as known facts while still retaining the concept of “morality” that is close in spirit to what I think we all believe about it, we will have to refine and redefine that concept somewhat.

    .

    Nullius, in particular it strikes me now that your comment of February 17, 2019 at 11:48 am is particularly insightful. (But all of your comments went into the development of some excellent statements and were interesting in their own right.)

    One of the most notable things about having a background in math is that it shows that some types of problems are unsolvable until you “pull the right string” — finding a way of looking at the problem that works. This sometimes means changing your viewpoint somewhat. There’s a reason why we hold onto beliefs and understandings even though they seem somehow not to quite work. After all this talk, when I reread your comment earlier tonight I saw the whole issue differently, and frankly I found myself no longer fighting the fact that your point has merit and in fact describes rather well what seem to be the facts on the ground.

    .

    Snorri, it’s hard for me to pinpoint exactly what you’ve said that’s made a difference in my thinking, but in fact somehow you did manage that. I fell away from Objectivism as my working doctrine in toto many years ago, but I still consider myself a fellow-traveller in many ways. However, your observations have caused me to ruminate again on some of the fundamental Objectivist positions; so that much, I can say. And now I find that I could be saying a good deal that in fact A.R. said, but in different words and from a different angle. (And some of it would probably set her hair on fire. *g*) I do so admire her having withstood the horror that she grew up with, and her determination to make something useful out of it.

    .

    I would like to point out yet again that in the end we understand whatever we understand by building systems in our heads that depend on postulates, principles that seem to us to be both fundamental and unprovable, but that we reckon we have to assume. (Which is not to say that everyone realizes he does this and MUST do it, is built by Nature to do it, even as he does it. Not everyone even knows the word “postulate,” and I’m not convinced that everyone who knows the word understands the full meaning and all its implications. Perhaps none of us does.) But we can differ about what those postulates are, and there’s nothing wrong with that in itself; yet some postulates are so off-base as to be downright dangerous, not only to other people but to the person who accepts them. They can, for instance, need to nihilism. It is not good for people’s mental health to believe that “nothing is anything” and life is meaningless and the only important fact is death.

    As I see it now, tonight, a great part of the difficulty with the ideas of “free will,” choice, morality, determinism is that we have the feeling that these must have some cosmic meaning. But is it really so? “When someone asks, What is the use and the meaning? the answer is, ‘I. I am the use and the meaning. That I lived, and that I acted.'” –A.R., from memory. Although I doubt that she’d agree with my present view.

    In a sense there’s no such thing as absolute knowledge; and there is no way to see Reality other than the way that is built into our human nature. That is the fact that we have to come to terms with. That is why if our theories of morality contradict other facts that we observe, we are going to have to change our theory and with it, perhaps, our conception of what morality fundamentally is. In other words, all that we see, we can only see through a human’s eyes. It may be that the cup of tea “is” covered by a layer of fur, or that it’s really a BEM or a 20-dimensional shape projected into a 3-dimensional world.

    It doesn’t matter, as long as the reports we get from Outside are reliably consistent and non-contradictory.

    There is no other way to be than as we are.

    What matters is not whether we have “free will,” except insofar as it means no other entity has literally taken over our muscles and our human intellect and what we experience as the internal motivator that we call our “will.” There is a very dangerous type of human being who tries to go so far as to do that, but no human can, although he can frighten or torture us into submission. Only an entity such as God could conceivably do it, and if He/She/It succeeded we would no longer be Human beings, as our nature would be fundamentally changed. In any case, various religious doctrines have had to cope with this possibility, and the best of them have decided that their God cannot run the “machine” (if you can stand thinking of us in this way) that is us, in this way. That’s why Predestination in Christianity is rightly thought an abominable doctrine.

    Thus the issue of whether we have Free Will is, rightly, a fundamental issue for believing Christians; but it is a narrower issue than what we generally mean in secular philosophical discourse by “free will.”

    In the end we are as we are, whether we understand it or not, whether we like it or not, and there’s no help for it.

  • Nullius in Verba, February 19, 2019 at 8:03 pm, I read Peikoff’s book (or one of them – it was long) on objectivism many years ago. It did not persuade me – I felt he was occasionally poor at understanding the arguments of others. (For example, I recall particularly thinking how poorly he analysed the views of Hannah Arendt – whose writing admittedly requires close reading since she was a non-native-English speaker and given to focussing the meanings of her words. He wasted many words complaining about her speaking of the ‘logicality’ of totalitarian reasoning without noticing she repeatedly uses the word ‘argumentation’ as a synonym in that section. I noticed because there she was making a point I happened to agree with.)

    However I find it odd you describe the final Peikoff paragraph you quote as ‘odd’. I am of course, uh, ‘predetermined’ (or at least, prejudiced 🙂 ) in its favour since that paragraph parallels my own ‘coincidence’ argument. If, like John Knox, you believe in the divine wisdom of the programmer, then you can believe your programmed brain is both determined and correct, but it would be a foolish computer that thought everything I told it to believe was right (I have the time to type this comment because I am running long tests to find the flaws in my latest coding 🙂 ), and a Dawkins-style view of evolution gives far less grounds for confidence. Just as computers are most reliable if periodically restarted (i.e. if kept close to their start-up state – the domain in which they were most tested by their developers), so a determinist’s confidence that what they think and what is true are related should wane as the programmed computer of their brain addresses issues beyond the tasks it evolved to handle.

    It’s a conclusion that most serious philosophers have come to

    May I assume no true Scotsman disagrees. (Admittedly, I am a true Scotsman and not an objectivist. 🙂 )

    it takes a special sort of self-confidence to dismiss all the people who told her so.

    Ayn Rand’s attitude to life was all about having the confidence to reject what society told you to believe if your reason told you that things were otherwise. We can respect that attitude without having to accept every part of the philosophy she constructed to explain why it was the right attitude – just as we can believe in our free will without necessarily having to accept the perfection and completeness of some particular theory of how and why we have it.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Niall,

    “Ayn Rand’s attitude to life was all about having the confidence to reject what society told you to believe if your reason told you that things were otherwise. We can respect that attitude without having to accept every part of the philosophy she constructed to explain why it was the right attitude – just as we can believe in our free will without necessarily having to accept the perfection and completeness of some particular theory of how and why we have it.”

    Bless you, my son.

    A few historical examples of stubborn goers-against-what-everybody-says include somebody named Semmelweiss, and another guy name of Pasteur. I believe that ancient tomes contain stories of a few similar cases….

    Reality, not public opinion (be it ever so Edumacated) is the arbiter.

  • bobby b

    “Ayn Rand’s attitude to life was all about having the confidence to reject what society told you to believe if your reason told you that things were otherwise. We can respect that attitude without having to accept every part of the philosophy she constructed to explain why it was the right attitude . . . .”

    For me, you nailed it.

    I can remain an admirer of hers – she had an insightful and incisive interpretation of the world that resonated as I read her works – while at the same time recognizing that her ego required her to construct a complete philosophical school of thought – an “-ism”, as it were – as a monument to herself.

    She didn’t need to do that. Her works stand without requiring “Objectivism” as a foundation.

  • Nullius in Verba

    Julie,

    Thank you for the appreciation! I argue about this stuff not to persuade, but because I enjoy thinking and arguing about it. But it’s always a delight to see it help someone else on their own path to enlightenment.

    Niall,

    I read Atlas Shrugged, and thought the philosophy in it was brilliant. On moral philosophy, economics, government, trade, industry, and society she had some incredible insights that turned my world around, and that I still treasure many years after first seeing them. To do it, she had to totally reject the common wisdom, and all the metacontext of what “everybody knows” about morality that is woven into society. She saw society with the new eyes of an outsider.

    But then she tried to apply her principles to try to rebuild philosophy axiomatically from the foundations up. On that her insight it seems was no better than anyone else’s, and the result is a rather “cargo cult” construction, with much of the appearance and form of philosophy, but which when prodded turns out to be made of straw. Or so it seemed to me. (There are a lot of strawman arguments. An opposing position is defined. It is stated without evidence that this says or implies X, where to my eye it clearly doesn’t. And because X is contrary to some other aspect of objectivist doctrine, it is rejected. It usually takes multiple rounds of debate to develop both sides of the argument properly and answer all the points and counter-points and counter-counter-points, but I got the impression that Rand didn’t do much listening.)

    It’s rather like reading Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica, getting excited to see what this towering genius wrote next, and coming across his life work on alchemy, Arian theology, all the stuff about how the Pope is actually the Antichrist as predicted in the Book of Revelation, and his essays on the proper interpretation of biblical prophecies in the Book of Daniel to predict the date of the Second Coming of Christ.

    It’s a common hazard among those who explore beyond the edge of all the maps. It takes nothing away from the brilliance of Newton’s or Rand’s achievements in the things they did get right.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    To think Rand was a charlatan implies that she took the views she did to get rich or con people. Whatever faults she had I don’t think explains her at all.

    She thought that human consciousness is volitional in its very nature. She grounded it to some extent by introspection. We know, she said, that we chosen to act and raised our level of awareness. Every moment of our waking hours do we do this. To deny volition isn’t so much wrong as incomprehensible. That’s why she said to deny it is a stolen concept fallacy.

    If that gaslights bobby we might get to more than 100 comments.

    Free will !

  • Johnathan Pearce

    But what about the fact that a person might override a predetermined moral constraint if he judges it against his self interest? Isn’t that judgement, a weighing up and settling on an action, part of what volition is? If everything is predetermined than what really is an agent? Does agency even make sense? We don’t call a computer an “agent” for this reason.

    As people introspect and think about how they think and act, they’re also regulating themselves in some ways, and aware they are an “I” able to affect their life and world, and that they can settle on a course of action and must take responsibility not least because life is uncertain and responsibly encourages us to learn from mistakes and seek the truth. to imagine that all this sense of self is illusory like we are in the Matrix is the stuff of bad science fiction.

  • Fraser Orr

    Nullius in Verba
    It’s rather like reading Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica, getting excited to see what this towering genius wrote next, and coming across his life work on alchemy,

    I always thought alchemists got a bit of a rough deal. It is easy to look back on it with our modern perspective and think “what a bunch of rubes”. But although from a modern understanding of chemistry their basic goal — turn base metal into gold — is practically impossible we have to remember that they barely knew what was in our Kindergarten Chemistry books. If they had chosen a slightly different, but similar goal — turn coal into diamonds — well we do that all the time, there is a whole industry for it.

    Sometimes I wonder, were I to come into the world and receive no science education — to interpret the world around us and understand how it works… it is breathtaking to imagine how much effort that is. Imagine if you will, you had no science education and you had to try to understand why a piece of wood had the properties it does, and why a rock has completely different properties. Why does wood float and rock doesn’t. Why does wood snap and rock chips? If wood comes from trees, where does rock come from? Where would you even start? What is the journey from there to, for example, genetically engineered viruses to cure diseases?

    Like Newton said, we stand on the shoulders of giants. We take for granted the knowledge scraped from the dirt of the earth, the result of the blood sweat and tears of a million men and women who dedicated their entire lives obsessively to one microscopic aspect of science, and synthesized it all into the massive edifice of understanding we have today. I feel we judge historical people, who don’t have that massive advantage we have, far too harshly in light of this.

    (NIV, I know you weren’t particularly dissing Newton, but it is one of my hobby horses….)

  • bobby b

    “Where would you even start?”

    It’s monads all the way down.

  • Snorri Godhi

    [Rand] had an insightful and incisive interpretation of the world that resonated as I read her works – while at the same time recognizing that her ego required her to construct a complete philosophical school of thought – an “-ism”, as it were – as a monument to herself.

    She didn’t need to do that. Her works stand without requiring “Objectivism” as a foundation.

    I call this a balanced view!
    As for this:

    Ayn Rand’s attitude to life was all about having the confidence to reject what society told you to believe if your reason told you that things were otherwise.

    I flatter myself that i have this attitude, as you might suspect from the criticisms i made of Popper (otherwise one of my top intellectual heroes), Hegel, and Reid, before turning on Rand, Branden, and Peikoff.

    On this specific issue, however, i do not think that it can be said, either that Rand rejected what society told her to believe, or that reason had a role to play. The law of causality was not Rand’s original idea. Neither was the idea that determinism is incompatible with agency. Nor were these ideas unpopular afaik. The only innovation that Rand brought to this issue, was to assert “causality”, reject “determinism”, and deny a contradiction. If this is what reason told Rand, then she ought to have put less trust in her reason.

    I realize, of course, that, if you have received a lot of stupid criticism for your political stances (which i assume was the case for Rand), then you need a robust ego to persevere, and if you have a robust ego and receive a lot of stupid criticism, then you’ll come to believe that everybody who criticizes you is an idiot. At the same time, to say that we must excuse her for being deaf to criticism, would be to deny Rand’s agency 🙂

    But i withdraw the word “charlatan”. I think that “crank” is a better word, both for Rand and Hegel, and for much of German philosophy for good measure. The important difference, for me, is that Rand probably had on balance a very positive influence*, while, on the whole, German philosophy after Kant had a pernicious influence.

    * on the large number of people who eventually started to look at Objectivism critically, not on the few who remained uncritical.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “To think Rand was a charlatan implies that she took the views she did to get rich or con people.”

    One definition is: “A person falsely claiming to have a special knowledge or skill”.

    “But what about the fact that a person might override a predetermined moral constraint if he judges it against his self interest? Isn’t that judgement, a weighing up and settling on an action, part of what volition is?”

    Yes. There’s a list of options. Each option is evaluated on a number of criteria, including self interest and moral constraints. You might get a situation where moral constraints exclude options unconditionally, or you may weigh them against one another. If the self-interest exceeds the penalty assigned for breaking a moral constraint, then an immoral option might still make it to the top of the list despite being immoral.

    The evaluation criteria are set by your pre-existing goals and predictive model. The penalty for breaking moral rules may be based on an assessment of the probability of getting caught, or a prediction of how bad you’ll feel about doing it. The choice process deterministically weights all the options according to the provided assessments and picks the top entry.

    If you know exactly how corruptible a person is, you can predict ahead of time whether self-interest will override morality. The result can be entirely deterministic – you may *know* that the politician is bent like a hairpin and is going to take the bribe – but it’s still immoral.

    “We don’t call a computer an “agent” for this reason.”

    There’s a branch of AI called agent-based computing. It simulates lots of individual entities, each of them having its own sensorium and list of actions, and an algorithmic set of rules for picking between them. The idea is to investigate and exploit the very complex emergent behaviour that can result from lots of agents following simple rules. Modelling social interations between humans is one of the main applications (for example, how do people behave evacuating a building?), and using the analogy with human moral rules in their design has been considered. For example: http://jasss.soc.surrey.ac.uk/14/2/6.html

    “to imagine that all this sense of self is illusory like we are in the Matrix is the stuff of bad science fiction.”

    The sense of self is not illusory. The brain does generate a list of choices. It does pick between them using a function that is influenced by known factors, but which is not entirely available to introspection. The introspectively inaccessible remainder is modelled by the brain as a “black box” – an “agent” that makes decisions based on the options available by some undefined process. That’s not so much an illusion as a space left deliberately blank and mysterious, representing the unknown.

    Filling in the blank space doesn’t change any of the stuff outside the black box, on which all our prior reasoning about freedom and moral responsibility was based. We couldn’t have been basing it on any false idea of what was inside the box, because we didn’t have any idea what that was. Ask anyone how conscious volition actually works, what is the soul, how is it attached, how does it work, what are its properties, etc. and they’ll forced to admit they don’t know. They’re all speculations and guesses driven largely by what we want to be true. We just have to be careful about how we apply our conclusions derived from treating it as a mysterious unknown, and not jump to too hasty conclusions that our prior reasoning was wrong when we find out how it actually works.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    “A person falsely claiming to have a special knowledge or skill”.

    Rand was a super-bright individual who wrote about all manner of subjects; she did not flaunt expertise with letters after her name, she wasn’t a “Professor” (not that I put great weight on that even if she had been) or put on great airs to that effect, although she certainly could be blunt, if not downright harsh, to people who disagreed with her. She did not claim her views were of a “special” kind. There is a lot of projection going on, Nullus.

    The evaluation criteria are set by your pre-existing goals and predictive model. The penalty for breaking moral rules may be based on an assessment of the probability of getting caught, or a prediction of how bad you’ll feel about doing it. The choice process deterministically weights all the options according to the provided assessments and picks the top entry.

    Well many of our judgements and actions are “pre-determined” in that sense but how we arrive at our values/actions is also part of a constant, open-ended process of reflection and as I said before, that is how we come to think of ourselves as agents who decide and make the choice, and have to be held responsible for that choice. Otherwise, holding A responsible for act B would make no sense because he could use the “everthing was predetermined” line.

    There comes a point in my mind where trying to unpack all this into a never-ending stream of determined actions leads one to utter insanity, since there is no real “I” in this at all. At least we agree that the sense of self is not an illusion, because some critics of the idea of volition argue that it is, that consciousness is will-o-the wisp thing, a hangover from evolution designed to give us the false idea that we are not just powerful flesh robots plodding from one damn thing to another. No doubt the young woman the subject of the OP strikes some people as a sort of Islamist flesh robot, but I am going to do her the respect of saying that she owns her actions, she took them, and thought about them, and these weren’t pre-determined by her being the outcome of stream of stuff going back to the Big Bang.

    This academic paper is worth checking out.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “She did not claim her views were of a “special” kind. There is a lot of projection going on, Nullus.”

    🙂

    “Do you know the hallmark of a second rater? It’s resentment of another man’s achievement. Those touchy mediocrities who sit trembling lest someone’s work prove greater than their own – they have no inkling of the loneliness that comes when you reach the top. The loneliness for an equal – for a mind to respect and an achievement to admire. They bare their teeth at you from out of their rat holes,thinking that you take pleasure in letting your brilliance dim them – while you’d give a year of my life to see a flicker of talent anywhere among them. They envy achievement, and their dream of greatness is a world where all men have become their acknowledged inferiors. They don’t know that that dream is the infallible proof of mediocrity, because that sort of world is what the man of achievement would not be able to bear. They have no way of knowing what he feels when surrounded by inferiors – hatred? no, not hatred, but boredom – the terrible, hopeless, draining, paralyzing boredom. Of what account are praise and adulation from men whom you don’t respect? Have you ever felt the longing for someone you could admire? For something, not to look down at, but up to?”

    “Well many of our judgements and actions are “pre-determined” in that sense but how we arrive at our values/actions is also part of a constant, open-ended process of reflection and as I said before, that is how we come to think of ourselves as agents who decide and make the choice, and have to be held responsible for that choice.”

    True. But there’s nothing in that conflicting with it being a deterministic open-ended reflection.

    “Otherwise, holding A responsible for act B would make no sense because he could use the “everthing was predetermined” line.”

    As I say, I don’t think the logic of this works. The sort of predetermination that is a problem for moral responsibility is different from the sort of predetermination resulting from applying moral rules in a deterministic way.

    “There comes a point in my mind where trying to unpack all this into a never-ending stream of determined actions leads one to utter insanity, since there is no real “I” in this at all.”

    Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.

    🙂

    “No doubt the young woman the subject of the OP strikes some people as a sort of Islamist flesh robot, but I am going to do her the respect of saying that she owns her actions, she took them, and thought about them, and these weren’t pre-determined by her being the outcome of stream of stuff going back to the Big Bang.”

    Agreed. Although it may be of interest to some that Islamic orthodoxy considers it apostasy to say that things in themselves or by their own nature have any causal influence independent of the will of Allah. (Umdat as Salik, o8.7(17)). So technically, as a Muslim she can’t. People sin or don’t sin, believe or don’t believe, by the will of Allah.

    However, I don’t see any indication she has any inclination to blame her choices on anyone else – whether deity or recruiter. She appears to still hold to her beliefs, and doesn’t attempt to deny or excuse them. Instead she argues that holding such beliefs is not a crime. I think it possible she may be right.

    “This academic paper is worth checking out.”

    I’m not entirely convinced they’ve understood the problem.

    David Chalmers introduced what he called the “hard problem” of neuroscience in the paper here: http://consc.net/papers/facing.pdf which is to explain how conscious experience arises. To distinguish it from all the other related concepts that get fudged together, giving rise to endless confusion, philosophers often prefer to call this “qualia” rather than “consciousness”. They also posit the concept of a “zombie”, an entity that does all the information processing and decision-making of a human, but which has no conscious awareness. (Searle’s “Chinese Room” is a similar idea.) It’s the “flesh robot” of some of the comments above. One question they consider is: is there anything people observably do that requires it to be consciously experienced? Because qualia can only be observed “from the inside”, it’s very hard to study. There seems to be no external way to distinguish a zombie from a human; no human behaviour a zombie cannot emulate. This paper looks like an attempt to propose volitional attention as an example, arguing you can’t attend without being aware of what you are attending to (I think). Unfortunately for their thesis, I don’t think it would be hard to model a ‘blind’ form of volitional attention in software. It’s just a computational resource allocator, of which there are plenty.

    Qualia are an extremely hard problem, and I don’t pretend that anything I’ve said above approaches answering it. (Personally, my favourite theory is panpsychism, but that’s another topic!) However, questions of how decisions are made, self-interest considered, moral rules applied, and all influences weighed against one another are part of what Chalmers called the “Easy problems”, which as he points out, doesn’t mean they’re not still incredibly difficult!

  • Johnathan Pearce

    She writes about one of her heroes damning “second-handers” who copy and denigrate what creators do. That doesn’t quite prove the claim that Rand thought she was extra-special. Her frustration as much as anything at the time she worked was thinking that she was alone in a world gone mad for collectivism and crappy ideas and culture. Overwrought maybe, but not by much.

    But there’s nothing in that conflicting with it being a deterministic open-ended reflection. I am not sure that follows: if it is deterministic, can it be “open-ended”? (I am not being picky about words, genuinely don’t get that point.)

    I wrote this: “There comes a point in my mind where trying to unpack all this into a never-ending stream of determined actions leads one to utter insanity, since there is no real “I” in this at all.” You then follow by the line about contradictions not existing. Well, what is it in my sense that is a contradiction? Don’t be a smart-alec.

    Although it may be of interest to some that Islamic orthodoxy considers it apostasy to say that things in themselves or by their own nature have any causal influence independent of the will of Allah. So she is a religious determinist who admits that being a true believer makes one a sort of zombie. Well, if she thinks that, what’s all the fuss about her not getting a day in a UK court?

    Actually, the problem gets worse for her because, as you know in UK justice, a person who commits a crime but who is declared to be insane, can be sectioned under mental health laws as being of “diminished responsibility”. So a religious fanatic could be deemed to be in such a state, given that no rational person of sound mind could believe such nonsense. But then, if everything is predetermined, including our very arguments about responsibility, fortune and so on, then how does one draw the line between full responsibility and “diminished” responsibility? (This demonstrates why, by the way, these philosophical joustings aren’t irrelevant to real-world situations).

    An acquaintance of mine, Peter Voss, who is a compatabilist, writes this essay and towards the end, writes this, which I think you will find interesting:

    Why is freewill so important to us? Its implications touch the roots of the purpose of our lives. If we cannot influence our destiny then why bother “sitting back and watching our lives unfold before our eyes”? What can be more important than knowing the nature of control that we have over our lives and that of others? Implications reach epistemology, ethics, politics, law, education, artificial intelligence design, and psychology – nearly every field of human interest.

    The most important implication though remains self-determination. We want and need control over our lives. We suffer the consequences of our actions irrespective of whether chosen by freewill or by default, so it makes sense to strive for the exercise of freewill, to make decisions that are likely to bring us closer to optimizing our lives – to set goals and to achieve them. Increased control implies increased personal responsibility for our lives and actions. That is an important aspect of what makes us human. I think it is reasonable to say that the scope of our freewill is a measure of our humanness. We are beings of self-made soul in the sense that we can decide to take charge of this process, or to default and leave it up to random influences to take us where they may. The implicit or explicit recognition and acceptance of freewill is probably the single most important factor determining who we are; it is a factor we have control over. Use of freewill, by its very nature, cannot be enforced by external agents. Society and parents can encourage its use and discourage the lack of responsibility, but each individual has to choose the degree of utilization of their volitional ability. Proper, internally generated self-esteem carries with it an inherent commitment to the use of freewill. Unfortunately many current social policies discourage the belief in freewill, undermine personal responsibility, and rely on external pseudo self-esteem rather than the real thing[9].

    I could not agree with Peter more.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Fraser, February 20, 2019 at 4:45 pm: Alchemy and Newton, etc.: 🙂

  • Nullius in Verba

    “She writes about one of her heroes damning “second-handers” who copy and denigrate what creators do. That doesn’t quite prove the claim that Rand thought she was extra-special.”

    Fair point. I always thought that a lot of the attitude of her heroes and heroines was a reflection of her own experiences and attitudes, as is the case with many authors. It matches the impression I get from other reports, but was more succinct.

    However, my original concept was based on the claims I’ve seen in many places that Objectivism is a real philosophical system by an expert philosopher, superior to existing alternatives. To be fair, most of what I’ve seen in that line has been from fans and followers, not Rand herself. But Objectivism presents itself as a serious/professional philosophical system and it’s not. It’s a pretty good job for a completely untrained amateur/layman, but much of what I’ve seen is at about the level of an undergrad essay.

    But whatever. I like Ayn Rand, and admire her books enormously. Just not her philosophy. It’s a personal opinion, if you like.

    “You then follow by the line about contradictions not existing. Well, what is it in my sense that is a contradiction? Don’t be a smart-alec.”

    Sorry! All I meant was that the assumption the stream of determined actions is never-ending, and that they exclude the “I” from their domain, is what leads to the impression of insanity. If the premises seem to lead to an absurd conclusion (insanity!), then one or more of the premises must be wrong.

    In this case, both are. The chain of determined actions isn’t never ending. The brain can only do finitely many tasks in a finite time. And to assume that determinism excludes the “I” is to beg the question, assuming that “I” must be something indeterministic. “I” is the label we assign to the decision function in the black-box model of ourselves. As a black-box, we do not posit any deterministic mechanism to how it works internally, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be one.

    However, I felt I’d be repeating myself to say so, which I’m afraid is why I was short. Apologies.

    “So a religious fanatic could be deemed to be in such a state, given that no rational person of sound mind could believe such nonsense.”

    Sectioning the religious could be deemed controversial!

    To paraphrase Douglas Adams, if I had one Altairean dollar for every time I had seen followers of one belief system look at another belief system and say “no rational person of sound mind could believe such nonsense” I’d not be sat here like a lemon looking for a gin.

    For what it’s worth, I understand ‘Theological Determinism‘ was also the position of many Christian thinkers.

    “But then, if everything is predetermined, including our very arguments about responsibility, fortune and so on, then how does one draw the line between full responsibility and “diminished” responsibility?”

    The question is about whether one can and does apply society’s moral rules when deciding actions. You are not responsible if there is some reason you *cannot* apply the moral rules – either because no moral course of action is physically possible (thus, you are not responsible if being physically forced to pull the trigger by someone else), because you have had no opportunity to find out what the rules are (thus, a very young child is not considered morally responsible), or because you are mentally incapable of understanding them through no choice of your own (unconscious, hallucinating, deceived, insane).

    There’s nothing that excludes a deterministic, algorithmic application of the rules. If you refuse to kill because you’ve been ‘programmed’ by society to follow Biblical rules by rote, it’s still the application of the moral system, which is the aim of enforcement. The point is to get people to do their best to learn and follow the rules. How and why they do so doesn’t matter.

    “An acquaintance of mine, Peter Voss, who is a compatabilist, writes this essay and towards the end, writes this, which I think you will find interesting”

    Thanks. It was interesting. I agree!

    I agree we want and need control over our lives. In the same way, a functioning thermostat needs to exercise control over the temperature. If the switch it controls is broken, or the power disconnected, and it cannot affect the temperature, it’s broken. There are two choices on offer – warm up, or cool down. It needs to be able to select the appropriate one. But if the choice is a deterministic function of the current sensed temperature and the target temperature, that it’s response is predetermined by the environment, that doesn’t mean the thermostat has ‘lost control’ of the temperature. If the thermostat is not jammed on (‘stuck’), but can react appropriately to its environment, its decision-effecting ability – it’s ‘will’, if you like – is still ‘free’. What matters is that the thermostat functions, and follows the rules to keep the temperature constant. We don’t care how it manages it, internally.

    Do you see the analogy?

  • Snorri Godhi

    If Niall is still around, he might want to consider an extension of my previous counter-argument to his “coincidence” argument.

    Niall argues that a brain, that has reached the conclusion that the universe is deterministic, cannot trust this conclusion, because that means that the brain itself was predetermined to reach this conclusion. (Peikoff reaches the same conclusion by a longer and, in my opinion, dodgy route.)

    Assuming for the sake of argument that Niall’s reasoning is sound, what of the alternative? what if the brain arrives at the conclusion that the universe has some randomness, including in the operation of brains? would that be an argument for the brain to believe its own conclusions? Surely not!

    And what about a brain which does not know whether brains are deterministic or not? such a brain must reason as follows: either brains are deterministic, in which case my conclusions about the nature of the universe are predetermined; or else brains are not deterministic, in which case my conclusions about the nature of the universe are random.

    Nor can this problem be solved by appealing to emergent properties of the brain, as Julie does, because such emergent properties must themselves be deterministic or random, so that any conclusions that they draw, remain untrustworthy. The same for immaterial souls: they must be deterministic or random. The definition of determinism does not allow any other alternative. (Though i suppose that, for immaterial souls, causation might go backwards in time … not sure it helps.)

    – – – – –
    Don’t know what Niall would make of the above, but it is not a problem for me. I learned from Hume (at 3rd hand) that we cannot know anything for certain about the universe, because of the problem of induction. I learned from Gödel’s 2nd incompleteness theorem that we cannot even know that mathematics is reliable, because its consistency cannot be proven. Learning those things gave me some angst, and i struggled to convince myself that Hume and Gödel were wrong, but now i happily embrace uncertainty.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Snorri, just a quick comment from me (I might write more later) I have always taken the view that a level of uncertainty is actually essential to the good life, because it means we have to keep learning, exploring, etc. Complete certainty sounds too much to me like death.

    To ski off the piste so to speak into less abstract philosophical terrain, the fact of uncertainty is one reason why we should salute the risk-taking (so long as it is with their own money or those of consenting parties) of entrepreneurs and explorers of all kinds. And that is also why it is not just stupid, but immoral, to confiscate their winnings or fruits of their explorations later on. Even if you buy determinism, incentives matter: people, facing uncertainty, need to know that the race will be worth it, certainly if they are in business. What I cannot accept from hard determinists such as Sam Harris is the sort of argument that says that because much of our material condition is not “down to us” but predetermined, the State has a sort of liberty to redistribute from the “lucky” to everyone else. In fact, even if our wealth is “undeserved”, other people don’t “deserve” it to be given to them, either. And by the way, if determinism is true, then the fact that I am a libertarian who believes in property rights is an opinion that was pre-determined, and just as pre-set as the determinism of a socialist. In which case, who gets to decide (but hey, that will be predetermined!) which point of view wins out? Answer, usually: brute force.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Johnathan: finally, a reply from you which does not leave me gaslighted!
    not too much, anyway 🙂

    Points to note:
    * I am not a physical determinist, because of quantum mechanics. I told you several times, but i am not sure that you processed that.

    I am, however, a “moral determinist” in the sense that i believe in moral necessity as defined by Clarke and Collins.
    Equivalently, i am an intellectualist, in a tradition going back to Socrates.

    * I loathe the expression “hard determinism”. Take the Stoics: they believed (unlike me) that the entire universe is strictly deterministic: what can be harder than that???
    and yet the Stoics saw this determinism as compatible with free will, so they were supposedly not “”hard determinists””. (Does that mean they were “soft determinists”??)

    You yourself, in previous comments to me, seemed to confuse “”hard determinism”” with compatibilism. Even in your 1st reply to me in this thread.

    * Sam Harris’ argument goes into issues of moral responsibility, which i feel less confident about. However, your arguments contra Harris and contra the determinism of political beliefs, seem sound.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “I am not a physical determinist, because of quantum mechanics.”

    That’s an interesting debate too. The Everett Interpretation of quantum mechanics is fully deterministic. (And local, and mathematically simpler and more aesthetic,…) But the Copenhagen Interpretation is not. (And is non-local, and distressingly vague about the most important bits, occasionally a bit mystical,…) Most physicists seem to prefer the Copenhagen Interpretation – they find it intuitively more comfortable. But it’s another case of comparing how things intuitively seem to be from the inside, with the weird picture physics seems to be telling you happens, and deciding to go with intuition.

    Apologies for the digression. It just struck me as the same sort of issue in a different form.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Nullius: i did not say it in my comment, because i was waiting for exactly the sort of reply that you made 🙂

    By “it”, in the above paragraph, i mean the following:

    That i am not a determinist, does not mean that i am an indeterminist: I am agnostic about physical determinism.
    I am agnostic, because determinism is neither verifiable nor falsifiable. (The same holds for indeterminism of course.)
    Determinism is not verifiable, because of the problem of induction: even if all events that have been investigated to date, have been found to be predictable, that does not mean that all future events will be predictable as well.
    Determinism is not falsifiable, because, even if we find an apparently random event, it is impossible to prove that there was no cause hidden from us.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “Determinism is not verifiable, because of the problem of induction”

    That goes for everything, of course. (Pace cogito…) So you have no beliefs? You’re agnostic about everything?

  • Snorri Godhi

    Nullius:

    So you have no beliefs? You’re agnostic about everything?

    I have beliefs, of course. Amongst them, that i exist and am writing a comment on Samizdata.

    I do not have justified true beliefs. Does anybody?

    One strong belief that i have, is Agrippa’s Trilemma.

    I am agnostic about things about which i do not have beliefs:
    physical determinism;
    the existence of (anything that can reasonably be defined as) God;
    the existence of immaterial souls;
    the nature of consciousness.

    Those are the main things that come to mind.

  • Johnathan Pearce (London)

    Nullus, but you could be in the Matrix, and you are deluded. It is an illusion!

    Seriously, apart from the odd tetchy comment, this has been a brilliant example of why I prefer Samizdata comment exchanges to the drivel on Facebook.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Since i mentioned Clarke and Collins, and moral necessity, i include a couple of quotes.

    — Samuel Clarke
    A Demonstration of the Being and Attributes of God, 7th edition
    (section: Of the Will being necessarily determined by the last Judgment of the Understanding)
    page 98:

    For Moral Necessity, is evidently consistent with the most perfect Natural Liberty. For instance: A Man intirely free from all Pain of Body and Disorder of Mind, judges it unreasonable for him to Hurt or Destroy himself; And, being under no Temptation or External Violence, he cannot possibly act contrary to this Judgment; not because he wants a Natural or Physical Power so to do, but because ’tis absurd and mischievous, and _morally impossible_, for him to Choose to do it.

    — Anthony Collins
    A Philosophical Inquiry Concerning Liberty (1717)
    from the Preface:

    1. First, tho’ i deny _liberty_ in a certain meaning of that word; yet I contend for _liberty_, as it signifies, _a power in man, to do as he wills, or pleases_; which is the notion of _liberty_ maintain’d by ARISTOTLE; CICERO; Mr LOCKE, and several other Philosophers, antient and modern.
    […]

    2. Secondly, when I affirm _necessity_; I contend only for what is call’d _moral necessity_, meaning thereby, _that man, who is an intelligent and sensible being, is determin’d by his reason and his senses_; and I deny man to be subject to such necessity, as is in clocks, watches, and such other beings, which for want of _sensation_ and _intelligence_ are subject to an _absolute, physical, or mechanical necessity_. And here also I have the concurrence of almost all the greatest Asserters of _liberty_, who either expressly maintain _moral necessity_, or the thing signified by those words.

    – – – – –
    NB: transcribed by hand; there might be some mistakes.

    It seems to me that Clarke and Collins, in spite of their taking opposite sides in the great debate on “liberty” vs “necessity”, agreed on the concept of moral necessity, and on its applicability to human choice.

    But i have just started to scratch the surface of these 2 books.

  • Julie near Chicago

    At this late date another dustbunny has run out of a hole in my attic to tell me that I have made a another Mistake.

    Correction.

    I think Diana Merkel Hsieh [her married name at the time] said that she suggested the debate to Dr. Huemer, who was her thesis advisor at the time, and he set the wheels in motion.

    . . .

    As long as I’m making the correction, while I’m here I’ll suggest that if you’re interested in Objectivism, you might wish to visit the “Objectivism Reference Center,” run by Richard Lawrence. Unfortunately inactive since 2009, but still has some good stuff.

    https://www.noblesoul.com/orc/index.html

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