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“You Have No Free Will, But You Are Still Morally Responsible.”

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Sometimes materialists say things that are just so draw-droppingly stupid, I can’t look away.  Here is one such:

the concept of free will is rubbish, but the concept of moral responsibility is not.

Kantian Naturalist


This might come a bit from the leftfield, but in Vedic philosophy there's also this tension between free will and the laws of nature, only the laws of nature are different -- the main one being the law of karma. In this article Indian thinker Ashish Dalela who writes a lot about the theories of matter from Vedic philosophy (Sankhya, for instance),has some points to make on free will. I'm only selecting the fragments containing this discussion (the article has a slightly different topic): https://www.ashishdalela.com/2017/07/21/guna-karma-create-body/ *** "Vedic philosophy appears to be fatalistic unless we understand this complementarity. The action of karma is inevitable, but it doesn’t completely fix our experience. In the case of the senses of knowledge, it fixes what sense objects will be received and if they can be perceived, but it doesn’t fix the happiness or sadness. Similarly, in case of senses of action, karma fixes the abilities and opportunities, but the abilities are just tools—e.g. knives and guns—which can be used in many ways. We are given tools and opportunities, but our action is not decided by those. Thus, our life is free in spite of karma in two ways—(a) we can control our happiness regardless of our situation, and (b) we can change the application of our abilities to what is possible in the opportunity. The ability to control our happiness and do what is morally right is our free will. Since this free will is conditioned by guna, or the past habits of choices, the key purpose of life is not to become free of karma but of guna. In essence, the goal is not to have good karma so that we can be happy. The goal it to change the guna such that we will be happy even in adverse conditions. Likewise, the goal is not to become powerful and capable before we do something worthwhile. Rather, the goal is to do something worthwhile with whatever abilities we have. The goal is not to obtain the best opportunities where we can experience the most pleasurable objects and do the most desirable things; the goal is to do the best the opportunity affords. This is likely to make many people uncomfortable because they believe that if we had free will then we will obtain the best enjoyment, live under the best opportunities, and be free to do whatever we like. The fact is that they aren’t able to do achieve such goals, or the achievements are far from satisfactory, which leads them to the denial of free will. Such a denial amounts to a “sour grapes” mentality because free will is never about the abovementioned things." *** "Consider the extreme example of someone who is being tortured for misdeeds. It might appear to the outsider that the person has no choice except to suffer from pain arising from this torture—which has been caused by previous karma; karma has created the ability to perceive, and produced the circumstance in which the person is caught. But the choice still exists because the person can withdraw their mind and senses (not the body) from that experience, and the resulting pleasure and pain from that experience would be different than if the senses were engaged. I use this example to illustrate the fact that worldly situations don’t preclude choice, nor do they entail suffering. However, to attain that freedom from worldly situations one must understand how the soul can withdraw the senses—just like a tortoise who draws its limbs inwards—and focuses them on something other than outward experiences. When the guna are impure, the soul is incapable of withdrawing from the activities of the mind, senses, and the body. But when the senses are purified, the soul pays no attention to the unwanted acts of the mind or senses. The purification of guna is not meant to improve the bodily circumstances or increase bodily abilities. It is rather meant to withdraw from the material activities of the mind and the senses. Of course, that state is difficult to achieve, and I don’t mean to trivialize its attainment. I only mean to highlight the fact that free will is never lost even when the situation seems predetermined. However, to realize that one is free even in predetermined situations one must be spiritually advanced. As the soul is gradually purified of the guna, it has greater ability to disengage itself from the body and its circumstances. Therefore, such disengagement is a measure of spiritual progress. The situation is often compared to the difference between a ripe and a tender coconut. When the coconut is tender, its shell and core are attached. The shell is the karma and the core is the guna. Their attachment makes the soul enjoy or suffer every experience. But as the coconut dries up, the core separates from the shell, and that entails cessation of material experience. The separation means that the soul can be happy within itself even when the exterior is painful." *** Hope it adds to the discussion tarmaras
The Bible presents an antinomy where God decrees yet man is responsible. In many ways the most striking example of all is to be found in the betrayal of Jesus by Judas: a free and voluntary action, and yet a part of God’s great eternal purpose and plan. The Apostle Paul addresses this in the Book of Romans where he anticipates a question by asking; " “Why does He (God) still find fault? For who can resist his will?” This would be a perfect place for the Apostle to tell us about man's free will. Yet, He does not. Instead he says, "But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Foreknowledge necessitates all of our future actions are written in stone. Can man do anything different than what God foreknew from eternity? The Bible does not describe man as a puppet, but he is described as clay. I think this is where the Open Theists freak out. God knows the future because He decreed the future. He is working out His Decree. Is 46:11 states, "Calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it." DaRook
gpuccio, Beautiful. We are in perfect agreement. Thanks for clarifying. Barry Arrington
Barry Arrington: I mean that we cannnot really know what our real choices are, but that we always have choices. I will try to be more clear. Your example of an addict is very good for that. We could think that the choice for an addict is simply to go on or to stop. But, as you say, it's not so simple. Sometimes, many times, it seems that an addict is simply not capable to "stop". So, where is his free will? I think that free will means that, whatever our circumstances and our constraints, there is always some inner choice that has a meaning and that can change our future. Those choices are mainly based on our intuitive attunement to something that we could call "a moral field": they are nor random, but they are not only a matter of reasoning, even if good reasoning is an important factor. So, for an addict, the choice could simply be between: going on with a completely passive and self-destructive attitude, or going on with some minor, apparently desperate, form of inner resistance. The great truth is that the second option, if pursued long enough, can change the balance of the inner constraints, and open a path to greater operative freedom, so that some day the choice will be: to go on or to stop. That inner attunement to our best inner potentials is the true source of our free will, and it can change our personal destiny. So no, I am not trying to "smuggle determinism in through the back door." I don't believe in determinism, where human beings are involved. But the great glory of human free will is that it can help us to free ourselves from our constraints: we are free because we fight against constraints, not because we have none. gpuccio
But our actions are highly constrained, there can be no doubt about that
I agree with your comment generally; though I would quibble with this. Certainly I agree we are constrained by our genetics and all prior experience, what I call "aggregate influences." And certainly the constraint can be overwhelming. Just ask a meth addict. But I would quibble with whether we are all always "highly" constrained. I don't really know what you would consider "highly restrained." I feel certain you are not admitting free will and smuggling determinism in through the back door. But it almost sounds like you are saying our range of choice is always very limited. As you say, these issue are difficult. Maybe if I understood better what you are asserting, I would agree. Barry Arrington
jdk: The real problem is that compatibilism has introduced a lot of false ideas in a question which should be simple enough. I really don't think that the free will - determinism problem is a sophisticated philosophical problematic, as Kantian Naturalist seems to believe. Or that it derives from concepts linked to Christianity, or to God. It's much simpler, indeed. If we believe that we can modify our personal destiny, we believe in free will. Otherwise, we are determinists. The problem is, if you look at how people really behave and live, you will easily reach the conclusion that everyone believes in free will. Because everyone behaves as if he could change his personal destiny. That is the simple truth. Nobody really behaves as a convinced determinist. Everybody believes in free will, in his inner core. But, of course, humans are very clever at deceiving themselves and others. So, they can convince themselves, and others, that they do not believe in free will, while continuing to behave according to a worldview based on free will. And, of course, as deception can come in layers, compatibilism has been added to the existing lies, to "demonstrate" that free will and determinism are "compatible". Thanks to Dennett and friends. We can debate what free will really is, and how it works, and what its implications are. I am the first to admit that those are difficult questions. But how can we deny that there is something within us, something that in some way depends on some inner faculty that we have, that can change our destiny? Who can deny that we constantly ask ourselves what the consequences of our choices will be? Why should we be so concerned, if we were really convinced that we cannot control our choices? Or that no choices at all exist? So, it's that simple: you are at some moment of your life, and you feel that you can behave in different ways. And that what you choose will make some difference. Sure, not all the difference. We are not omnipotent, and we are not really free. We have free will, which is a different thing. But our actions are highly constrained, there can be no doubt about that. But that's exactly what free will is: to be able to behave in different ways, even minor different ways, when we are however highly constrained. Free will is the foundation for responsibility, hope and fear. It is the source of love and of understanding. No human faculty, no human power, no human value makes sense without it. gpuccio
Maybe some a/mat can explain that for me.
Not an A-Mat, but I suspect it will be the flip side of the compatiblist dodge. The compatiblist says sure you have free will so long as by "free will" you mean something other than, you know, free will. Sure you can have moral responsibility without free will so long as by "moral responsibility" you mean something other than "moral responsibility." Barry Arrington
BA @ 2: Thanks for the link. Wow. Some a/mats have gone absolutely crazy, saying that free will does not exist but moral responsibility does. How does a person without free will have ANY responsibility? Maybe some a/mat can explain that for me. Truth Will Set You Free
jdk @ 4: Strange. I would just about require an expectation of determinism in any refutation of free will. Freeing the universe of determinism; effectively untying causality within the material; allows nondeterministic things like free will to originate from the material itself, without even having to look beyond. More than that, it separates naturalism from any reasonable expectation of becoming fact, as the mechanics of the universe, and thus the universe itself, would then exceed human understanding. Looks like a terrible position for a naturalist. LocalMinimum
Maybe I'm missing something, but if Kantian Rationalist said what's imputed to him in the OP then it's hard to see why he calls himself a Kantian. Kant himself declared that in order to make sense out of morality we have to postulate, even if we can't demonstrate, the existence of God, freedom (free will), and immortality. Dick
What do you think of the idea that murderers, rapists, thieves etc. must be forcibly neutralized whether or not they are “morally responsible” for their acts.
Darel, there is no such thing as a murderer, rapist of thief who is not morally responsible for his act. If a person were not "morally responsible," he could not be a murderer in the first place. Therefore, your question is meaningless. Barry Arrington
DR, what do you mean by "neutralised"? In law, differing sanctions apply . . . and for good reason. Under circumstances of survival of a community under sufficient survival threat certain kinds of theft are tantamount to murder and are so treated. But that is a special case. That a man may steal out of desperation for his family is usually treated as mitigation, and we see ancient laws that provide gleanings for the poor [thus, modern equivalents]. KF kairosfocus
BA: What do you think of the idea that murderers, rapists, thieves etc. must be forcibly neutralized whether or not they are "morally responsible" for their acts, simply to prevent our productive, advancing civilization from being massively wrecked in an orgy of chaotic mass-destruction? DarelRex
jdk, As much as it astonished me when I read it, here I agree with at least part of what KN said. He says the compatablists are employing a semantic dodge. I've been saying the same thing for years. Barry Arrington
I'm not sure that dragging in discussions from elsewhere is profitable, but I read, and liked, Kantian Naturalists explanation that preceded the part Barry quoted:
This is not quite my forte, but here’s how it seems to me. The first decision-point concerns what kind of concept “free will” is: is it a phenomenological concept, that we use to describe our felt experience of agency and responsibility? Or is it a posit that is invoked in order to explain that experience? As I understand it, Augustine invents the idea of free will because he’s trying to solve the problem of evil. He has a theological problem he’s trying to solve, given his metaphysical commitments to the existence and nature of God, he has doctrinal commitments specific to Christianity, and free will is integral to his solution. Descartes repeats this whole strategy and reconceptualizes free will in light of mechanistic physics. And that gives us the modern problematic. Descartes is quite clear that free will is the ability to initiate new causal chains without any prior causal dependence. In fact, Descartes points out that it is fundamentally the freedom of our will, much more than the rationality of our intellect, that shows what it means for us to be created in the image of God. It is as if every act of freely chosen action on our part is a tiny little counterpart to God’s act of creating ex nihilo. Given this historical backdrop, I regard the concept of free will as completely bound up with a lot of metaphysical and theological baggage. If we get rid of that baggage, I don’t see a viable conception of free will that’s left over. That said, when it comes to understanding what we do have, I think that neurophilosophers like Dennett and Pat Churchland have it pretty much right. We do have what Churchland calls “the neurobiology of self-control”, which we could specify more carefully in terms of how prefrontal cortex (and specifically ventromedial prefrontal cortex) can inhibit limbic system activity. If you want to call that “free will,” my objection is semantic: I don’t see what virtue there is in applying a concept that originates in theology and applying it to biology. On the converse side, I should add that I also don’t believe in determinism. I see determinism as also being, in a way, a “shadow of God”, as Nietzsche would put it: a concept that made sense within a theological worldview and that only seems to make sense without that worldview. Only an omniscient being — God, or Laplace’s demon — would be able to understand how complex systems (which are epistemically intractable to us) are just like simple systems (which are epistemically tractable to us). In short: whereas compatibilism wants to show how both free will and determinism can be true, I think that neither is true. Both are shadows of God that we are better off without.
Wow, that's deep, man. Some of these philosopher types use a concept of determinism that is just saying your knowledge determines your decisions and only if you are truly deciding willy-nilly do you have free-will. Your actions have motives. These motives have therefore determined your actions-> determinism ET
KF: Here Barry Arrington
Where? When? kairosfocus

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