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Sam Harper

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Re: Can someone explain Libertarianism?
« Reply #30 on: January 13, 2021, 10:18:58 pm »
I wish I had seen this topic sooner. This is one of my pet subjects.

I think Alvin Plantinga gave a really clear explanation of libertarian free will in his book, God, Freedom, and Evil. And WLC & J.P. Moreland gave basically the same definition in their book, Philosophical Foundations For a Christian Worldview.

Basically, they said if an act is free, that means there are no antecedent conditions prior to and up to the moment of choice that are sufficient to determine what that choice will be. Absent any Frankfurt type scenarios (which never happen in the real world), if a person does X, they could have done otherwise even if everything prior to and up to the moment of choice had been exactly the same. That includes all of their prior mental states, including their desires, motives, preferences, beliefs, etc. People with libertarian free will have the capacity to be uncaused first causes. They can, through an act of the will, initiate a chain of causes without themselves being caused to do so.

Personally, I don't see how that differs from a random event. We have no more control over a random event than we do over an event that is determined by blind mechanistic causes. So it seems that to have free will of any variety, there must be some sense in which a person has control over their choice.

But what does it mean to have control? Libertarians have answered this in different ways. One way they call agent causation. I remember reading on Alex Pruss' blog one time something like, "The agent causes the free action." This struck me as being problematic for a couple of reasons. One reason is that if an act is caused by anything at all, then it isn't a free act in the libertarian sense. To be free in the libertarian sense is to be free of antecedent causes, especially if those causes are deterministic. Another reason it's problematic is because it just pushes the random problem back one step when we ask, "WHY does the agent cause the free act?" and "Isn't the agent's causal activity itself an act of some sort?" If there is no sufficient cause or reason for why the agent causes the act, then it's still a completely random event. In what sense is the agent in control of its own causal activity?

I'm a compatibilist because it seems to me that an act can only be under one's control to the degree that it follows from a person's own antecedent desires, motives, intentions, inclinations, preferences, etc. The further you divorce an action from a person's antecedent mental states, the less control that person has over the action. And that is true whether the action is causally determined (like a bully grabbing your wrist and making you hit yourself), or the action is completely random (like a muscle spasm or a tick, which I admit isn't random but is the closest analogy I could think of). To be in control of your actions is precisely to act out of your own desire and motives, so the more hand your desires and motives have in bringing about your action, the more control you are exercising in your behavior. It follows that you have the most control over your behavior when your desire and motives determine your actions.

As far as moral accountability goes, I think compatibilism gives a better account of moral accountability than libertarianism does. In libertarianism, antecedent conditions can INFLUENCE your behavior, but if they DETERMINE your behavior, then that removes moral responsibility. But influence comes in degrees. For example, the stronger your desire to do something, the more influence that desire has over your behavior. So imagine a scenario in which your desire was so strong that you could not resist it. In that case, the desire would be sufficient to determine your choice, and you wouldn't be responsible for your choice. But if the desire falls short of being strong enough to determine your behavior, you still have some responsibility. This would seem to indicate that moral responsibility also comes in degrees. The stronger your desire to do X, the closer that desire is to determining that you do X. And since you would be completely innocent if your desire were strong enough to determine that you do X, it would follows that your guilt is somewhat ameliorated the closer your desire is to determining that you do X. So the stronger your desire to do X, the less blamable you can be for doing X (or the less praiseworthy you are for doing X). With this in mind, it would also seem to follow that the weaker your desire to do X, the more responsible you are for your choice. And you are the MOST responsible for your choice when the desire has no influence over your choice at all. Actually, you'd be most responsible for your choice when acting out of complete indifference with no desire at all. That seems odd to me.

So suppose you had a desire to help somebody. Well, with the above reasoning, it would seem to follow that the deeper your desire to help somebody, the closer that desire is to determining your behavior, and therefore, the less praiseworthy you are for helping them. That strikes me as being completely backward. The deeper your desire to do good, the less praiseworthy you would be since you'd be all the more close to having your choice be determined by your desire.

Likewise, the deeper your desire to do evil, the less blameworthy you are since the deeper your desire to do evil, the closer that desire is to determining your behavior. This strikes me as being completely backward.

When I've talked to people in the past about this, they usually deny that culpability comes in degrees. You could have a desire that is 99.99999999999% close to being sufficient to determine your behavior, and as long as it's missing that 0.000000000001%, then you are fully responsible. There's no diminishment to your responsibility at all.

But think about that. If no degree of influence can do anything to diminish your responsibility, then your responsibility can never be diminished even if the degree is 100%. After all zero times any number is still zero. So if no degree of influence can diminish your responsibility, then you cannot be absolve of all responsibility even if the influence is sufficient to determine your behavior.

I think we all have an intuitive awareness that things are exactly backward from the consequences of the libertarian view. Your motives have a lot to do with whether your actions are praiseworthy or blameworthy. If you shove an old lady out of a motive to save her from being hit by a bus, then you're praiseworthy. If you shove the same old lady just as hard out of a motive to hurt her because you hate old ladies, then you're blameworthy. The more you actions are motivated by evil desire, the more evil those actions are and the more blameworthy you are. And the more your actions are motivated by good desires, the more good those actions are and the more praiseworthy you are. You are responsible to the degree that your antecedent desire had a hand in bringing about your actions. The more hand, the more responsible, and the less hand, the less responsible. After all, if they had no hand at all, then your action was an accident, and you can't be responsible for an accident. Since you are most responsible when your desire have the most hand in bringing about your actions, it follows that you have the most responsibility for your actions when they are DETERMINED by your desires.

So I think compatibilism makes more sense of morality than libertarianism does.

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Harvey

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Re: Can someone explain Libertarianism?
« Reply #31 on: January 13, 2021, 10:38:34 pm »
I wish I had seen this topic sooner. This is one of my pet subjects.

But, if determinism is true there is only one possible world so this is impossible.

Quote from: Sam
So I think compatibilism makes more sense of morality than libertarianism does.

But, if there is one possible world then there's only one possible future. If you just do whatever you feel like there's no world where you would have done differently, Steal, kill, maime all you want, hence you couldn't have done otherwise. How is that morally responsible?

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Sam Harper

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Re: Can someone explain Libertarianism?
« Reply #32 on: January 13, 2021, 11:05:19 pm »
How is that morally responsible?

I just wrote a lengthy post explaining how that's morally responsible, and you ignored every bit of it.

But let me say something about the "could have done otherwise" condition you are applying to moral responsibility. In libertarianism, unless a person has the categorical ability to do otherwise, they cannot be responsible for their behavior. That means they could have done otherwise even if everything, including their own desires, intentions, motives, etc., had been exactly the same.

But there are different senses in which a person might have an ability or inability to do something. Let's say, for example, that unbeknownst to the king, I don't have any legs, and the king commands me to walk. Well, in that case, I have a physical inability to walk and cannot, therefore, obey the king's command. This, it seems, would let me off the hook. I can't be held responsible for my failure to walk if I am physically incapable of walking. I suspect you would agree with me there.

But now, let's say I have fully functional legs, but the only reason I don't walk is because my desire to sit down is so great that I am unable to walk due, not to any physical inability, but due merely to a lack of desire to walk. Would I be equally excused? Of course not. Nobody ever says, "It's not my fault! I had no desire to obey!"

And this goes back to what I explained earlier. The problem with libertarianism is that it treats physical abilities and inabilities exactly like it treats psychological abilities and inabilities, and that is counter-intuitive. Consider a situation in which somebody is required to lift a weight. The heavier the weight is, the more difficult it is to lift. So it's possible for the weight to be so heavy that one cannot lift it. And if they cannot lift it, then they cannot be blamed for their failure to lift it. That's a physical inability. In the same way, if a person lacks any desire to lift it, then they have a psychological inability to lift it due to a lack of desire. And if we treat the psychological inability to lift it just like we treat the physical inability to lift it, then we would have to say that a person who has no desire to do any lifting is fully excused for their failure to lift it. But that is absurd. It's exactly the opposite.

The heavier a weight is, the less a person can be blamed for their failure to lift it since the heavier it is, the closer it is to them being fully unable to lift it. But the stronger a person's desire is to do evil, the MORE they can be blamed for doing evil even though the stronger their desire to do evil, the closer that desire is to DETERMINING them to do evil.

So under compabilism, a person is moral responsible when they COULD have done otherwise IF THEY HAD WANTED TO. In otherwise, as long as they have the PHYSICAL ability to do something, then they are responsible for not doing it.

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Harvey

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Re: Can someone explain Libertarianism?
« Reply #33 on: January 13, 2021, 11:32:58 pm »
So under compabilism, a person is moral responsible when they COULD have done otherwise IF THEY HAD WANTED TO. In otherwise, as long as they have the PHYSICAL ability to do something, then they are responsible for not doing it.

But just go back to the deterministic factors that made them not want to. How is one responsible for conditions that made that moral decision inevitable?

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Sam Harper

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Re: Can someone explain Libertarianism?
« Reply #34 on: January 13, 2021, 11:45:33 pm »
Our moral responsibility has nothing to do with what lead to our having desires. It has only to do with the fact that the desires are our own and we act on them. As I explained already, the only way we can have control over our actions is if our actions are the result of our desires. If you divorce the two, then your actions are accidents, and you can't be responsible for accidents because accidents are not under your control. You can only be responsible for actions that are under your control, and your actions can only be under your control to the degree that they are determined by your desires, so you can only be responsible for your actions if your actions are determined by your desires.

If you say that you are excused from all responsibility on the basis that your desires determined your actions, and something else determined your desires, then that would make moral responsibility utterly impossible since there is no other scenario in which we can be morally responsible. We cannot be morally responsible under hard determinism, as I think you will agree, and we cannot be morally responsible under libertarianism, as I have argued. Compatibilism is the only scenario under which we can have moral responsibility, so if we cannot even have moral responsibility under compatibilism, then we cannot have moral responsibility at all.

But I think I've already explained why morality makes sense under compatibilism. It's because we are responsible for our actions under compatibilism on the basis that our actions arise out of our own desires, motives, and intentions.

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Harvey

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Re: Can someone explain Libertarianism?
« Reply #35 on: January 13, 2021, 11:52:36 pm »
If you say that you are excused from all responsibility on the basis that your desires determined your actions, and something else determined your desires, then that would make moral responsibility utterly impossible since there is no other scenario in which we can be morally responsible.

I have a hard time getting past the fact that if determinist factors fully determine your desires that you can be morally responsible for those actions. Just because moral responsibility might be impossible is no justification for rejecting that we aren't responsible for our determinist desires.

In the case of libertarianism we always have an option to reject our desires since there is always a possible world where our desires don't drive our actions.

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ChristianInvestigator

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Re: Can someone explain Libertarianism?
« Reply #36 on: January 14, 2021, 12:20:26 am »
@ Sam Harper’s first post — Good stuff, Sam! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the issue, I completely agree with most of what you said. Your argument that increased determinism should lead to increased moral responsibility is especially interesting.
"This year, though I'm far from home
In Trench I'm not alone.
These faces facing me,
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wonderer

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Re: Can someone explain Libertarianism?
« Reply #37 on: January 14, 2021, 05:29:58 am »
Good thinking Sam.

Only if there is a deterministic factor that we desire to change does punishment (or psychotherapy) make sense.  It makes no sense, to try through deterministic means, to change something which is indeterministic.
"The world needed that of us, to maintain—by our example, by our very existence—a world that would keep learning and questioning, that would remain free in thought, inquiry, and word." - Alice Dreger

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bskeptic

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Re: Can someone explain Libertarianism?
« Reply #38 on: January 14, 2021, 06:10:52 am »
Our moral responsibility has nothing to do with what lead to our having desires. It has only to do with the fact that the desires are our own and we act on them. As I explained already, the only way we can have control over our actions is if our actions are the result of our desires. If you divorce the two, then your actions are accidents, and you can't be responsible for accidents because accidents are not under your control. You can only be responsible for actions that are under your control, and your actions can only be under your control to the degree that they are determined by your desires, so you can only be responsible for your actions if your actions are determined by your desires.

If you say that you are excused from all responsibility on the basis that your desires determined your actions, and something else determined your desires, then that would make moral responsibility utterly impossible since there is no other scenario in which we can be morally responsible. We cannot be morally responsible under hard determinism, as I think you will agree, and we cannot be morally responsible under libertarianism, as I have argued. Compatibilism is the only scenario under which we can have moral responsibility, so if we cannot even have moral responsibility under compatibilism, then we cannot have moral responsibility at all.

But I think I've already explained why morality makes sense under compatibilism. It's because we are responsible for our actions under compatibilism on the basis that our actions arise out of our own desires, motives, and intentions.

Let's be clear that we are talking about the same sense of responsibility here...

So god sets everything up so that Johnny will certainly, unavoidably, murder Billy. But Johnny deserves to be punished for murder because he acted out of his "own desires"?

But we can easily see that Johnny didn't have control over his supposed "own desires". He couldn't avoid the murder. So not really responsible, unless you want to play with definitions of moral responsibility.

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bskeptic

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Re: Can someone explain Libertarianism?
« Reply #39 on: January 14, 2021, 06:27:51 am »
They also need to give some account of how they can make rational choices which are based upon reason yet not causally determined, which may be the most difficult part of defending LFW.

Yeah, that's one of the reasons why I have a hard time comprehending or believing in LFW. How can it be rational and reason-based, without being causally determined? I suppose a Libertarian free decision could be a decision between several equally rational options, but without some reasons setting them apart it's indistinguishable from a random (or at least arbitrary) decision.

On another subject, can I ask how you, as a compatibalist, understand personal responsibility?

To deal with one aspect of this...

Something being "random" or "arbitrary" isn't necessarily a problem for free will.

Let's imagine a choice which is genuinely fairly arbitrary-- whether to have mint or chocolate ice cream. You like them both, and don't have any strong feelings today on which one you prefer. So you need to make an arbitrary decision in favour of one type of ice cream.

If this was random, in the sense, that the random result of a physical process was the thing that was really driving your decision here, then this kind of randomness would undermine free will.

However, if we just imagine that an agent has to make a random-ish decision, how does that undermine freedom, control, and responsibility? An agent wouldn't be responsible for selecting chocolate ice cream because it was an arbitrary decision on-the-level-of-reasons-to-act? They wouldn't have the power to choose an alternative because it was an arbitrary decision?

I deny that it clearly follows that all types of randomness are a problem for free will.

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ChristianInvestigator

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Re: Can someone explain Libertarianism?
« Reply #40 on: January 14, 2021, 09:21:12 am »
If this was random, in the sense, that the random result of a physical process was the thing that was really driving your decision here, then this kind of randomness would undermine free will.

However, if we just imagine that an agent has to make a random-ish decision, how does that undermine freedom, control, and responsibility? An agent wouldn't be responsible for selecting chocolate ice cream because it was an arbitrary decision on-the-level-of-reasons-to-act? They wouldn't have the power to choose an alternative because it was an arbitrary decision?

I deny that it clearly follows that all types of randomness are a problem for free will.

Okay, interesting. I’m afraid I don’t understand what a "random-ish" decision or an arbitrary decision "on-the-level-of-reasons" is. Here's what I think you mean by it...

There are certain deterministic factors that lead to the person liking chocolate and mint ice cream equally, but the final decision about which to have is fully within her control, freedom, and responsibility.

I have to say I still agree with Sam's first assessment, that the factors leading up to her decision have to determine it in order for it to really be her choice. After she's standing in front of the counter, those factors could include what ice cream she ate last, which ice cream is displayed more prominently in the display case, whether she tries a sample cup first, etc. Some of the factors are external, but others are internal to her previous choices, habits, and experiences.

As for whether she had the power to choose an alternative under this scenario, I think it's possible that she could choose otherwise if the clock rewound, given quantum indeterminacy and perhaps an indeterminate soul. But I don't think it qualifies as a free choice, since it isn't fully caused by reasons... It doesn't proceed from the person's heart, but rather from randomness.
"This year, though I'm far from home
In Trench I'm not alone.
These faces facing me,
They know... what I mean."

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bskeptic

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Re: Can someone explain Libertarianism?
« Reply #41 on: January 14, 2021, 09:32:56 am »
They also need to give some account of how they can make rational choices which are based upon reason yet not causally determined, which may be the most difficult part of defending LFW.

Yeah, that's one of the reasons why I have a hard time comprehending or believing in LFW. How can it be rational and reason-based, without being causally determined?


Beliefs and desires and emotions build up with a kind of logical order, in such a way as to incline you to act in a certain way.

Now this may sometimes very strongly incline you, so we could hardly imagine you doing different, if we just focus on a moment or short period of time.

But that there is a sort of logical order to our decision-making, it doesn't mean we experience it as being strictly deterministic. I don't think we do. I don't think, generally, we feel ourselves inevitably swept up in our decision making as if there was only ever one path we could go down, one decision we could reach.
 

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Harvey

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Re: Can someone explain Libertarianism?
« Reply #42 on: January 14, 2021, 09:50:20 am »
As for whether she had the power to choose an alternative under this scenario, I think it's possible that she could choose otherwise if the clock rewound, given quantum indeterminacy and perhaps an indeterminate soul. But I don't think it qualifies as a free choice, since it isn't fully caused by reasons... It doesn't proceed from the person's heart, but rather from randomness.

I think another option is that cogent reasons are part of our mental content that act in parallel to our choices. So, think of a "cogent reason" as a boundary condition that prevents an action, but this boundary condition is not absolute. However, the further we press against these boundary conditions  (perhaps for other intuitive non-cogent reasons that are less defined) the more our brain responds with creating worry and other mental states. At some point panic and other high concerns set in making it too difficult and we withdraw from whatever behavior is causing the panic or worry. Thus, cogent reasons play a significant role in our free choices, but it is more of a restrictive role in many instances.

I think what's wrong with your account is that you need to separate cogent and non-cogent reasons. Freedom might be guided by non-cogent reasons while ignoring, at least temporarily, cogent reasons.

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Sam Harper

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Re: Can someone explain Libertarianism?
« Reply #43 on: January 14, 2021, 10:43:16 am »
Good morning, Harvey,

I have a hard time getting past the fact that if determinist factors fully determine your desires that you can be morally responsible for those actions. Just because moral responsibility might be impossible is no justification for rejecting that we aren't responsible for our determinist desires.

Consider the alternative--that we choose our desires. I've already argued that a choice isn't really a choice unless it's done on purpose, and to act on purpose is to act out of an antecedent desire. So if we choose our desires, then it must be the case that we did so out of some previously existing desire. This sets up an infinite regress. Every choice is preceded by a desire, and every desire is preceded by a choice.

There's one of two ways to escape this infinite regress. You can either begin with a choice that is not preceded by a desire, or you can begin with a desire that is not preceded by a choice. I've already argued for why you cannot begin with a choice that is not preceded by a desire. It's because that would make the "choice" a random accident that you had no control over, and you can therefore not be responsible for it. Process of elimination leaves us with a desire that is not preceded by a choice.

It follows that we can be responsible for acting on desires that we did not choose. And this agrees with common sense if you think about it. I mean imagine some beautiful married woman (like Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate) takes off her clothes and tries to seduce you. Suddenly, you have a desire to have sex with her, but you obviously didn't choose to have that desire. Nevertheless, if you give in to that desire, you are fully responsible for it even though you didn't choose it.

Quote
In the case of libertarianism we always have an option to reject our desires since there is always a possible world where our desires don't drive our actions.

If you choose to act contrary to your desire, then you are acting arbitrarily. There is no sufficient reason for why you acted the way you did. That makes your action random, and you can't be responsible for it since there is no since in which you could have been "in control" of the action.

Under compatibilism, one can act contrary to their desire only if they have a contrary desire. We almost always have some conflicting desires. It's the net effect that determines our choice or the prevailing desire.
« Last Edit: January 14, 2021, 11:04:41 am by Sam Harper »

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Sam Harper

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Re: Can someone explain Libertarianism?
« Reply #44 on: January 14, 2021, 10:52:01 am »
Let's be clear that we are talking about the same sense of responsibility here...

So god sets everything up so that Johnny will certainly, unavoidably, murder Billy. But Johnny deserves to be punished for murder because he acted out of his "own desires"?

That is correct.

Quote
But we can easily see that Johnny didn't have control over his supposed "own desires". He couldn't avoid the murder. So not really responsible, unless you want to play with definitions of moral responsibility.

It is true that Johnny didn't have control over his own desires. But we have to qualify the statement that "He couldn't avoid murder." Johnny had the physical ability to avoid murder. He could have avoided murder if he had wanted to, and I explained already why this makes a difference. Physical inability to do otherwise fully excuses us, but psychological inability (due to our desires) does not excuse us.

None f this requires us to play with definitions of moral responsibility. We are responsible for our actions as long as we do them on purpose, and to do something on purpose is to act out of your own desires. One does not need to choose their own desires in order to be responsible for acting on them, as I explained to Harvey above. The supposition that we have to choose our desires before we can be responsible for acting on them leads to an infinite regress.