Free Will: a rejection

Free will is such a great idea. I would totally choose it if it existed. Believing we are in control of our destiny, becoming who we want to be, taking (and giving) credit for our successes and knowing who to blame for failures. Everyone loves free will. Religion loves it so much it made room for where there is none.

But isn’t the problem obvious? Free will hinges on being able to choose, and I just don’t see how it can be possibly true that we ever have a choice. That’s the illusion. We think we are making our own choices among the available alternatives, but really, we couldn’t have chosen otherwise.

The moment before you make any decision is the last stop in a casual chain of events spanning from the beginning of time. Whichever way you could think to interfere is just another necessary part of the chain that will inevitably lead to the decision you can’t avoid. This is because every cause has one – and only one – effect. We observe that to be true.

chooseadventurefreewilllukesurlSo the way something is at any given moment is the only way it could have been. If it were anything else, then the moment that came before has to be different to have caused it, and the moment before that, before that… so unless our past is constantly rewriting itself, we have no choice. For free will to be true, we need to have been able to act otherwise. But there is no way to avoid acting the way you do.

It does seem like sort of a cop-out, I know. Maybe whatever’s going on in our brains before we make the choice that we couldn’t have made otherwise is free will in action? But that doesn’t make it any less true that there is only one choice we do make, and it was the only choice we can make. Doesn’t that negate free will?

And the other thing – how do you know it’s your conscious self that accounts for any decision you ever make, anyway? Our actions are our choices, but what drives our actions? The unseen forces of desire. And what accounts for desire but a whole bunch of stuff that’s out of our control? Hormones, genes, and the effect of a lifetime of experiences that happen to us. We are the sum of all of this, and more. This is what decides what choice to make – this is the programming we’re stuck with.

Maybe we can define freedom as being able to do what we want, if we wanted. But often it turns out that we didn’t really want what we chose after all./ And how often do we have desires we don’t approve?  Ones we wish we had? If we could choose how to feel we’d be a lot happier with our choices because they’re the only ones we would have wanted. But apparently we can’t choose how to feel, so how can we take responsibility for what comes of it?

We’re just automatons living in a mechanistic universe – I can’t see it any other way. Now excuse me, it’s time for my kill-crazy rampage.

Where do we get our morality?

 

Image

I’ll get to the above graph in a moment, but first I want to tell a little story.

A man sits in a bar with a bunch of his friends one evening. The group is having a pleasant night out until a stranger walks up to the table and speaks insultingly to the man. He sneeringly claims to have been having sex with the man’s fiancée on an ongoing basis, and states that he and the man’s fiancée have had many jokes about the man’s diminished sexual attributes and abilities. Hey lays it on pretty thick for another minute and then says, “I’m heading out to the parking lot now, and if you’re any man at all — which we all know you’re not already — you’ll follow me out and prove it.” What should the man do? When asked about cases like this, men and women from the southern US were much more likely to think that the man should go and punch it out, however bad the fight may be. While northerners, on reflection, tended to think that the moral course of action would be to ignore the provocation and laugh off the stranger’s insults, southerners tended to think that one wouldn’t be ‘much of a man’ if he didn’t respond with violence.

Go here for the complete discussion!

Sunday’s Sermon

exist_cafe

  • Title At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being and Apricot Cocktails
  • Author Sarah Bakewell
  • Genre Non-Fiction
  • Publisher Knopf Canada
  • Pages 440
  • Price $34

In a recent article, the philosopher Tim Crane wrote that “… the worry about Heidegger’s Nazism arises because his philosophy is thought to appeal to ideas like Volk (for example) which resonate with the Nazi ideology.” While this is no doubt true, it strikes me as a philosopher’s version of the “Heidegger problem.” For the layman, there is a different kind of question: If philosophy does not help one avoid Nazism, of what use is philosophy? Is it simply a pastime for those with a hypertrophy of the intellect? Or is it something with deeper roots in human life?

Read the review.

Moral philosophy and empirical psychology

English: Behavior Analysis Laboratory Szeged M...

English: Behavior Analysis Laboratory Szeged Magyar: Viselkedéselemző Laboratórium Szeged (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A recent essay in The New York Review of Books :

The Psychologists Take Power by Tamsin Shaw

is well worth reading.

 

 

 

 

 

In 1971, the psychologist B.F. Skinner expressed the hope that the vast, humanly created problems defacing our beautiful planet (famines, wars, the threat of a nuclear holocaust) could all be solved by new “technologies of behavior.” The psychological school of behaviorism sought to replace the idea of human beings as autonomous agents with the “scientific” view of them as biological organisms, responding to external stimuli, whose behavior could be modified by altering their environment. Perhaps unsurprisingly, in 1964 Skinner’s claims about potential behavior modification had attracted funding from the CIA via a grant-making body called the Human Ecology Society.

Movies, TV, and Morality

Cropped screenshot of Gary Cooper from the tra...

Cropped screenshot of Gary Cooper from the trailer for the film High Noon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

extra

One way I have found to add pizzazz to the classroom experience is to show appropriate movies for analysis. It is easy to use movies to bring out the features of various ethical theories. One might, e.g., show Shane and compare it with High Noon to bring out the differences between consequentialism and a duty based deontological system. Or, build a thought experiment around a more recent film: Imagine it possible to develop a perfume that would bring about universal love when released on the world. Further imagine that to develop this perfume would require the murder of a dozen young women in order to extract their “essence”.  A dozen deaths to eliminate hatred among billions of people – the end of war and barbarism.  (Sound familiar? Perfume: The Story of a Murderer) Should we murder a dozen to save millions? Would a utilitarian ethic justify these murders? [Source]

Well, I am retired now and do not have a captive audience to try films, but if I did I would certainly use the three part post war episodes of Foyle’s War. You can find them on Knowledge Network where you can watch online and join the work of the Knowledge Network team by joining, contributing, and sharing! Watching Season 9/Episode 2, I initially thought I was watching a current USA news report of the Donald Trump campaign.

The moral questions raised in those episodes are interesting and fundamental. Those questions probe the nature of meta-ethics: is consequentialism the best approach to deciding what to do? Is there an absolute set of rules that should be followed? When theory and practice collide what to do? Does the end justify the means (always, sometimes, never) ? If truth is the first casualty in war is principle far behind?

Plan Ahead: Doctor-Assisted Suicide – A Two-Part Lecture Series on the Ethical Foundations

There is a very timely two-part lecture series coming up at the Institute of Practical Philosophy at Vancouver Island University in April:

  • Is Doctor Assisted Suicide Acceptable? Thursday, April 7th, 4-5:30pm, Bldg. 200, Rm. 203 (Theatre), VIU
  • How Should We Move Forward? Thursday, April 21st, 4-5:30, Bldg. 200, Rm. 203 (Theatre), VIU

Screenshot 2016-03-13 at 15.58.51

For more information, see the Institute of Practical Philosophy Events page.

Sunday’s Sermon: Morality

Re-publishing this review for obvious reasons. – sob89

Review – Neurobiology and the Development of Human Morality
Evolution, Culture, and Wisdomdn
by Darcia Narvaez
W. W. Norton, 2014
Review by Bob Lane, MA
Mar 17th 2015 (Volume 19, Issue 12)

Narvaez writes, Today there is often no logical grounding for morality and therefore no need to behave morally. (249)     In this interdisciplinary, well-researched, readable book she attempts to find, describe, and present arguments for that missing logical grounding with suggestions for the development of better people and better societies. The dozen chapters that comprise the book can be seen as either a paradigm shift or a sea change in moral philosophy. She advocates a care ethic based on a wide array of biological, environmental, and epigenetic factors.

Who doesn’t remember the work of Noam Chomsky in the field of linguistics and language acquisition? Chomsky taught us that there is a universal grammar and pointed as evidence to the fact that even very young children seem to have the ability to apply grammar rules that they obviously haven’t been taught. Kids know more about language than we can explain by pointing to what they have been taught. Similarly, Narvaez argues that “(1) morality emerges from biology and embodiment – our lived experience; (2) our morality is multi-dimensional and arises from our evolved brain propensities. Through epigenetics and developmental plasticity…” we grow our moral sense.  (3) Cultures are malleable and can either “encourage or discourage our highest human nature.” (4) Humans can “self-author virtue and wisdom capacities” to change culture. As with language acquisition we come into world biologically prepared for the development of a moral sense.

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