“Veto” Free Will

January 4, 2007    By: Geoff J @ 1:54 am   Category: Determinism vs. free will,Foreknowledge,Theology

[Edit: In this post I should have written that we generally live "as if" we were causally determined beings. Later discussions showed this mistake of mine confused a lot of people.]

There was an interesting article in the New York Times this week called “Free Will: Now You Have It, Now You Don’t” (Hat tip to the BCC sideblog). The author gives a quick review of the scientific arguments against the concept of Free Will (and in favor of causal determinism). I recommend you check it out.

There was one section and specifically one conclusion the author drew that I want to focus one in this post. The author recounted a now-famous experiment that has been brought up around these parts before (by some of our local science guys like Jeff G., Christian C., and Clark if I remember correctly). Here is the passage from the article:

In the 1970s, Benjamin Libet, a physiologist at the University of California, San Francisco, wired up the brains of volunteers to an electroencephalogram and told the volunteers to make random motions, like pressing a button or flicking a finger, while he noted the time on a clock.

Dr. Libet found that brain signals associated with these actions occurred half a second before the subject was conscious of deciding to make them.

The order of brain activities seemed to be perception of motion, and then decision, rather than the other way around.

In short, the conscious brain was only playing catch-up to what the unconscious brain was already doing. The decision to act was an illusion, the monkey making up a story about what the tiger had already done.

Dr. Libet’s results have been reproduced again and again over the years, along with other experiments that suggest that people can be easily fooled when it comes to assuming ownership of their actions. Patients with tics or certain diseases, like chorea, cannot say whether their movements are voluntary or involuntary, Dr. Hallett said. …

Naturally, almost everyone has a slant on such experiments and whether or not the word “illusion” should be used in describing free will. Dr. Libet said his results left room for a limited version of free will in the form of a veto power over what we sense ourselves doing. In effect, the unconscious brain proposes and the mind disposes.

In a 1999 essay, he wrote that although this might not seem like much, it was enough to satisfy ethical standards. “Most of the Ten Commandments are ‘do not’ orders,” he wrote.

But that might seem a pinched and diminished form of free will.

So there is evidence that the subconscious mind acts before the conscious mind actually make a “decision”. This has been used as evidence that none of us actually freely choose our thoughts, words, and deeds after all even though we are under the illusion that we do. But Dr. Libet described a gaping hole in such conclusions when he “said his results left room for a limited version of free will in the form of a veto power over what we sense ourselves doing”. The author of the article then concludes that such a form of free will — what I’ll call “veto free will” — is a “pinched and diminished form of free will” but I dispute that conclusion.

I have written in the past my theory that we are mostly causally determined beings in this life. In one post I proposed that the natural man spoken of in our scriptures is a another name for the causally determined man. In a follow up post I suggested that we rarely actually use free will but when we do it is to “jump tracks” either to get on a more Christ-like life track or a less Christ-like life track. The reason I bring this up is because I think my theories are very much in line with this Veto Free Will that Dr. Libet left room for after his experiments.

So my question is why would one conclude that Veto Free Will is a “pinched and diminished form of free will”? If we can veto any thought, word, or deed that comes naturally to us in life then we are completely free as far as I can tell. If we feel an urge to hate we can veto it. If being unforgiving is what comes naturally to us in any given situation we can veto it. Any of The Devil’s GPA from scriptures (Greed, Pride, Appetites) tempt us we can veto them. All it takes to jump tracks and become more and more like Christ is veto power. We can veto the persuasive pleadings of the natural man. We can overcome our genetic and environmental programming if we really have veto power. What else would we need?

I actually like this version of free will too because it helps explain why God is such a good predictor of the future acts of free-willed people. If we are mostly causally determined then we are mostly predictable. But if we have the power to veto our programming and the causal stimulus that the “great casual chain” throws at us then our future is not fixed and we are free indeed.

What is your take on this article and on this notion of Veto Free Will?

96 Comments »

  1. At first glance I like it. I have long felt that much of what we are is tied up in out ‘intelligences’ that have always existed, and in our spirit bodies (I believe the two are different) that reached a level of nobel and great maturity prior to coming to earth. Our free will here – even veto free will, can make some changes in who we are, but often subtle changes over time with great effort.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — January 4, 2007 @ 6:45 am

  2. Geoff: Actually, the experiment by Libet is flawed and its interpretation is muddled. The literature discussing both Wegner’s and Libet’s data and methodlogy are important reading. First, couldn’t Libet’s data also lead to the conclusion that there is a dualistic entity that act independently of the brain before a decision is adtually made? In fact, Libet interpreted his data orgininally to support such a libertarian conclusion — not a deterministic conclusion.

    Second, how does Libet know that the brain activity he is looking at represents a decision or an action related to the action independent of a decision before their decision? I suggest that the assumptions made about what brain activity means, such as brain activity in region X = thought or decision is just non-sense. We don’t know any such thing (remember my background is in neurophysiology). Further, the notion of when a subject is “conscious” of an action is also problematic. Brain activity in region X = consciousness if also very far from established — and it is the assumption itself which must be tested. The reporting of consciousness itself is not adequate in these tests. Your conclusion that we can review brain activity and conclude that it is the “subconscious mind” we are viewing is also unsupported. In each instance, it is the assumption of what brain activity = thought or brain actiivity = subconscious decision that is problematic and yet it is the assumption that becomes the basis of the conclusion.

    Is the veto power to stop a brain process enough for free will? I agree with you — of coruse it is. If Libet is right (against what I claim) that we are looking at “pre-conscious brain behavior” then what happens is that the brain proposes an action, we become aware of what it proposes and then decide whether we act upon it. That is quite enough for libertarian free will if that is how it works. In real life, we see activity for instance in the limbic system with which desires and natural urges like sex, hunger and so forth arise. However, we then see activity in the prefrontal lobe which is where higher functions of the brain take place such as “thinking”. So we have a signal from the “go get it” system and then a “stop and think about it first” response. In addicts, there is no response in the prefrontal lobe to say an urge for cocain. The addict has no “think about it first” response and therefore is unable to control behavior. However, those who have normally functioning brains have the ability to stop the urge for sex and food and drugs and alcohol because we can determine whether we act on the desire or not.

    However, I depart from you in this respect — I believe we are at choice every moment. I agree that for the most part we default into unconscious behavior that is not really chosen — except we hide from ourselves the accountability we have in each of these moments because we could have chosen to be conscious and have chosen in that moment. As Sartre famously pointed out, choosing not to make a choice is a choice. In each moment we choose what to think about, whether to think about something different, where to be, who to be with, how we will be etc. We may default to “natural man” mode where we are merely acted upon by biological factors and reduce ourselves to biological machines — but we could have chosen to be in spirit and engage the sublime.

    There is much more to be said on this topic. Those who practice the fine art of neurophilosophy are almost all making the assumption that brain activity = determined behavior. However, the number of promissory notes about what they can show and the assumptions made in their assertions is so staggering that it must be viewed as a a promissory note that is dated always ten years from now no matter what date it is.

    Comment by Blake — January 4, 2007 @ 7:12 am

  3. Blake:
    You’re a Lawyer with a background in neurophysiology who happens to also be the Mormon “uber-philosopher”. Truly fascinating.

    Geoff:
    1. I have no credentials to speak of, but I am curious about this experiment. Could not the “subconscious” activity be the display of options, and the “conscious activity” be the choice of option. That seems valid enough.
    2. I too hold that causally determined man is the natural man, but I believe the atonement can be seen as counter-determinism, and as the scriptures say, it thus sets us free.
    3. Not to be snide, but with you and J. arguing the 1 track or 2 track system, it is a bit unclear hear when you discuss “jumping tracks”. I am assuming you mean choosing between christlike and non-christlike behavior in a given instant and not something larger in scope. That said, there are obviously choices we make which are not christlike v. non-christlike (devilish?) such as what color to paint a room,what brand of toothepaste, etc. Are you saying that outside of C v. D decisions, these are causally determined?

    Comment by Matt W. — January 4, 2007 @ 8:27 am

  4. Matt: I think both Geoff and I agree that the natural man is merely acted upon and is determined in this sense and so not free. The atonement frees us to choose for ourselves without merely being acted upon and thus frees us from the deterministic natural order.

    Comment by Blake — January 4, 2007 @ 9:01 am

  5. Blake,

    Thanks for the excellent insights. You bring up some good points about how there is some severe overreaching being done by the likes of Dennet and other determinists with regard to what we actually know about how the brain works.

    Also, I actually agree with you on the notion that we are “at choice every moment”. What I mean is that I agree that we have veto power every moment so even if we are not vetoing a natural behavior, that is choosing too. I think our challenge in life is to continually veto our baser urges and habits and over time replace them with more sublime and divine habits. (I think we are very much in agreement on this.)

    Comment by Geoff J — January 4, 2007 @ 10:00 am

  6. Matt: with you and J. arguing the 1 track or 2 track system, it is a bit unclear hear when you discuss “jumping tracks”

    Sorry for the confusion Matt. The two uses of the word “track” that you are thinking of are totally unrelated. See this post for my “jumping tracks” analogy regarding determinism.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 4, 2007 @ 10:04 am

  7. On a completely philisophical level, I kind of like the idea that some of our thoughts and actions are controlled not by our own limited conscious mind, but by another method of some sort.

    I like the idea of applying our knowledge that we were “intelligences” before we had spirit or physical bodies. I have no doubt whatsoever that our physical bodies and minds get in the way of our “intelligence” quite often. That there are things (dare I say truths?) that we already know that we simply need to re-learn.

    That being the case, there are perhaps times in our lives where we do things or say things and take a step back and say, now why did I exactly say/do ‘that’? Perhaps for that moment there was a clear path between our intelligence and our physical minds and the decision was made by who we really are and not this oft times physical/spritual mess we can often be.

    I don’t mean to sound metaphysical as that is not my intention. Just the idea that our true selves, uncloaked by our physical weaknesses are still there lurking and waiting for when we can become whole again after the resurrection. Not that we are completely different people, but perhaps our full potential cannot be met until such a time as our phsyical limitations can be fully overcome.

    Comment by cew-smoke — January 4, 2007 @ 10:26 am

  8. Blake, awesome, thanks.

    Comment by Jacob J — January 4, 2007 @ 11:21 am

  9. Blake I don’t understand the dualism approach you favor. Given that Libertarians appear to require a relationship between choice and consciousness, if there is a shadow consciousness how on earth can it fulfill Libertarian free will?

    I’m quite favorable to the idea of free will, if it exists, existing primarily at the level of unconsciousness and not consciousness. But I’m surprised you’d endorse such a position.

    Comment by Clark — January 4, 2007 @ 11:52 am

  10. Clark: I didn’t endorse a dualist position except to the extent emergence of mental properties is dualist — and it’s not dualism but emergentism. I simply stated that Libet’s experiments suggest such a view as one option. I guess I wasn’t very clear. However, I am still interested in your take on Jagwon Kim’s argument that we discussed on your blog because I believe it entails that the only way to have genuine mental properties is ontological emergence where the mental is not reducible to the physical. I assume that you agree that we have genuine mental properties not reduicible to merely physical properties or functions?

    Comment by Blake — January 4, 2007 @ 11:57 am

  11. Blake, when you say, “the deterministic natural order” exactly what are you saying? It sure sounds like what Kant argued for which seems pretty incoherent. (i.e. everything in the world is determined, but we’re not when we choose, even though we are a part of the world. — contradiction? Yes)

    Further this seems to entail a belief in determinism of the natural order, which many would disagree with. I’m surprised you’d embrace this since you’ve elsewhere argued for free will being an ontologically emergent phenomena arising out of quantum randomness.

    Have you changed your views? Or are you using determinism in a particularly odd way?

    Ditto to Geoff. If actors are free (undetermined) in any way, then doesn’t it follow that the consequences of their actions are undetermined? And wouldn’t that just make determinism a useless category?

    Comment by Clark — January 4, 2007 @ 12:02 pm

  12. I’ll get to Kim’s argument later. This week’s been pretty busy. I’ve had time to only write here at work while waiting on machines. So I can do short posts, but little else.

    Comment by Clark — January 4, 2007 @ 12:02 pm

  13. I second Clark’s objections to Blake’s dualistic proposal:

    “there is a dualistic entity that act independently of the brain before a decision is adtually made?”

    The whole point of dualism is that the dualistic entity is 1) what we are conscious of and 2) where the decision is made. To propose that there is a dualistic entity which acts prior to our conscious decision seems to be a significant concession by the dualists.

    Comment by Jeff G — January 4, 2007 @ 12:26 pm

  14. Clark: Ditto to Geoff. If actors are free (undetermined) in any way, then doesn’t it follow that the consequences of their actions are undetermined?

    Good point. I should have qualified that what I am talking about is not really causal determinism, but rather a sort of heavy influence on us from the “great causal chain”. You are right that if any of our actions are strictly causally determined (as in beyond veto power) then we would not be responsible for them. So I am guilty of being a bit fast and loose in my use of the term causal determinism in this post because what I am really talking about is powerful influence from our genes and history rather that strict determinism. My position is that if we do not actively choose to reject or veto that powerful influence then the results are as if we were strictly causally determined beings.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 4, 2007 @ 12:30 pm

  15. Geoff, it seems to me that what you are after is closer to Heidegger’s notion of authenticity and inauthenticity. There he argues that we are typically caught up in “das Man.” That’s a controversial notion, but it’s roughly the everydayness given to us by our culture. That is we’re tossed too and fro by what’s around us. We may make choices but they aren’t really our choices.

    However it seems to me that Heidegger’s notions are independent of the particular ontological claims being made here. It seems to me that these two issues are being conflated whereas they are quite different.

    Comment by Clark — January 4, 2007 @ 12:35 pm

  16. Clark: It seems to me that these two issues are being conflated whereas they are quite different.

    I don’t think I’m conflating ideas here Clark. If I really am, perhaps you could show me where and how.

    The primary assertion I am making here is related to this classic Libet experiment. Libet left room for human veto power in his conclusions. If there is veto power for humans then it is the idea that we are strictly causally determined beings that is the illusion rather than the idea of free will. If we do not really have veto power then we are, as one commenter said earlier in that article, “nothing more than sophisticated meat machines”.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 4, 2007 @ 12:51 pm

  17. Clark: Once again, I don’t adopt Cartesian dualism. I adopt emergentism. I also agree that the natural order is not deterministic. However, the notion that any event is fully explained by some prior event or set of events is a full explanation in terms of event causation and is implicitly deterministic. If all of our thoughts are the result (epiphenomenally) of physical events or neuronal activity, and if my actions are just reducible to the acivity of neurons, then I am no more morally responsible, free or able to reason than neurons — which is not at all. What I am arguing is that if we approach the world that way (as I believe Jeff G. does) then there is no role or room for mental properties. (Correct me if I’m wrong Jeff).

    Now let me be clear — “determinism” is a very slippery term because it means so many different things. There are literally hundreds of different ways of defining determinism. One way is to assert the closure of physics and that whatever occurs is therefore fully explainable by prior physical events. It is that notion of determinism I reject either as truly descriptive of the world or as an adquate view of mental properties of humans.

    One again, Libet’s experiments are open to dualism as one possible way of interpreting his evidence. It is not the way I endorse or suggest, it is just a logical possibility. Moreover, brain activity doesn’t represent an unconscious choice from the dualist perpsective. Rather, the dualist would say that the physical events in the brain are subsequent to an undetected conscious choice by a non-physical entity. That is what I had in mind as one way of interpreting Libet’s results. I certainly don’t endorse it.

    However, to be open, I believe that emergentism is a non-obejectionable form of dualism. That is, the emergent entity that arises from brain activity in a non-determinstic way (ontological emergence) is not reducible or identical to the physical brain and can exercise downward causation on the brain to bring about physical results in the brain (as biofeedback proves). So the emergent person is not merely a brain and can act on a brain; but is dependent on the brain for any consciousness or action in this sphere of existence. So it is a kind of semi-physicalism where the activity of the person in this sphere is dependent on physical states but not reducible to them. It is a process view of mind/body BTW.

    Comment by Blake — January 4, 2007 @ 1:48 pm

  18. Geoff, I’ll reread things and perhaps I’m misreading you. I don’t have time to give a specific critique right now.

    Blake, of course Kant isn’t really Cartesian dualist either. Your point here gets back to your Kim reference so I can but hope to answer that soon. (Maybe even today – but no promises)

    Thanks for clarifying what you meant but dualism with Libet though. I don’t think the emergentist approach works though since the phenomena that is emergent occurs temporally after the decision and thus can’t be exercising downwards causation. If you think this is false, I’d be interested in why.

    Comment by Clark — January 4, 2007 @ 1:58 pm

  19. I simply have no clue what a mental property or entity is. This is what I think has caused so much confusion in my mind, as well as so many others’ I suspect. If we could define “mental” maybe we could get somewhere.

    Regarding responsibility, you know that I see your account of it to be metaphysically curious at best. Responsibility, by my lights, is a construction which people attribute to themselves and others. While this may not be good enough for you, it’s certainly different from saying that we are all as responsible as neurons are, because we do not attribute responsibility to neurons.

    Comment by Jeff G — January 4, 2007 @ 2:08 pm

  20. The problem with that view of responsibility is that it can’t make sense of how we assign responsibility to mental illness. It worked back in the past when mental illness, as often as not, was possession by spirits. Thus we could make an us vs. them assignment. Now that we know mental illness is a misfunctioning of the brain we’re in a bit of a conundrum. Our intuitions were formed when we could keep the ownership idea of responsibility. But our language use doesn’t allow that definition.

    Thus a schitzophrenic isn’t responsible simply because of our understanding of biology.

    My personal opinion is that this bifurcation simply makes our notions of responsibility muddled. We can try to appeal to our language use in terms of a new era where our knowledge really makes that use difficult. But as we do this we’ll simply end up revising our notions of responsibility anyway.

    Comment by Clark — January 4, 2007 @ 2:22 pm

  21. Whoops, sorry Jeff. I read “which people attribute to themselves…” as “which people attribute acts to themselves…” But that’s not what you said.

    Given that I might be misreading your meaning, exactly what has one said when you say “construction.” Are you saying that the application of responsibility is largely arbitrary? (i.e. there’s not much by way of pattern to it) I guess now that I read what you wrote it doesn’t really convey much.

    Comment by Clark — January 4, 2007 @ 2:24 pm

  22. Jeff: I mean mental propeties like the property of being aware of seeing blue, the propertie associated with phenomenal consciousnesss willing and so forth. I take it you do have some sense of what it is like to be aware of seeing something blue don’t you? These are basic terms and actions. I am at a loss as to how we are more reponsbile than our neurons which are a complete description of the causes of our actions on your view. At the very least, you owe some explanation as to how that could be.

    Clark: “I don’t think the emergentist approach works though since the phenomena that is emergent occurs temporally after the decision and thus can’t be exercising downwards causation. If you think this is false, I’d be interested in why.” I don’t know why you say this. The consciousness of our ability to choose emerges from the data presented to us, but the decison is the downward causation I spoke of that is a basic power of the emergent entity and thus occurs after the emergent entity or person. So the emergence of consciousnesss is temorpally prior to the choice or decision and the decision is after the emergence of the person or unity of consciousness. Look at it this way. Take the basic choice to lift my arm:

    basic data of experience -> data synthesized into unity by brain -> consciounsess of self and phenomenal consciousness emerges from synthesis of data-> awareness of options to lift arm or not among which to choose arises from consciousness -> choice among options by exercising a basic power of this self -> downward causation on brain to implement choice by activating muscle tissues(e.g., lift my arm rather than keep it down) -> arm lifts.

    Comment by Blake — January 4, 2007 @ 3:00 pm

  23. It would be interesting to note the difference in just thinking about moving the finger vs. actually moving the finger in this brain experiment.

    Comment by Matt W. — January 4, 2007 @ 3:25 pm

  24. Ugh, I wish I could retract my earlier comment. I thought this was more of a laymen everyman’s philisophical discussion. I see now that I have stepped into a much higher level and narrower field of discussion that I have no knowledge regarding.

    /engaging lurker mode :)

    Comment by cew-smoke — January 4, 2007 @ 4:18 pm

  25. Blake, I have no clue what you mean by many of your phrases:

    “being aware”
    “seeing blue”
    “phenomenal consciousnesss”
    “willing”

    Yes, I do have an idea of what such things are like, but I do not see why a fully deterministic meat machine cannot experience all of these things as well. What is it that prevents such a machine from also “experiencing” such things?

    Responsibility is something which we assign to those which we accept into our community. Thus, we do not accept neurons or the “insane” (such a relative term) into our community, at least not fully. Now you argue that there must be a metaphysical reason which underlies such an acceptance. I argue that whether there is an underlying metaphysical reason or not, we do it. (I suspect that there are a number of reasons, but none of them are metaphysical in nature, i.e. humanoid appearance, linguistic in nature, etc.)

    Where I really get off of the boat is with talk of upward and downward causation. While higher categories may supervene upon lower categories, they do not “cause” each other. Thus, organic matter in motion does not “cause” the matter to be a heart, and the heart does not “cause” the organic matter to be in motion. Rather, the heart pumping simply is the organic matter in motion. The same can be said of the mind. Consciousness does not cause neurons, nor do the neurons cause consciousness. Rather, consciousness supervenes upon the neurons.

    Comment by Jeff G — January 4, 2007 @ 4:52 pm

  26. Jeff G. said: “Blake, I have no clue what you mean by many of your phrases:“being aware,” “seeing blue,” “phenomenal consciousnesss,” “willing.” Yes, I do have an idea of what such things are like …”

    Jeff, could you contradict yourself any faster or more clearly? Here’s why a mere “meat machine” cannot “experience” (where experience includes being aware of experiencing) such things: meat machines may exhibit behaviors, but they cannot reflect on whose behaviors are involved. What makes a conscious or self-reflective “meat machine” different than a mere machine or mere piece of meat on your view? On your view, we have mere events, not conscious experiences. A meat machine may exhibit behavior, but it is not self-reflective and conscious.

    Jeff G. says: “Responsibility is something which we assign to those which we accept into our community. Thus, we do not accept neurons or the “insane” (such a relative term) into our community, at least not fully.”

    Jeff, when you say we assign responsiblity, that is entirely different from people who are actually responsible. We just “do it” (as you say) with no basis in reality to justify our doing it. It is like blaming the gods for causing earthquakes. It is a social fiction on your view. Come on — what you really mean is that responsiblity is a mere social construct with no reality other than our overt behaviors (which are clearly mistaken and not based in anything but behavior). Responsibility is merely an adaptive heavior for you that has no reality and could and probably should be (ha ha) dispensed with on a clear eyed view of what we are. (I get a kick out of those who argue that we “should” get rid of moral judgments).

    Jeff G. “While higher categories may supervene upon lower categories, they do not “cause” each other. Thus, organic matter in motion does not “cause” the matter to be a heart, and the heart does not “cause” the organic matter to be in motion. Rather, the heart pumping simply is the organic matter in motion. The same can be said of the mind.”

    Really? Then how do you explain the difference between a brain that is conscious and one that is not but both have neural activity? What is the difference between “supervening on” and “emerging from”? The supervenience relation is one that I could adopt in at least one sense — but what is different on your view is that we can reduce the behavior of the brain by analyzing it as merely the behavior of the neurons — and you have previously denied that brain behavior is not reducible to neural behavior. I’m still waiting for some coherent and comprehensible explanation for how that could be on your view. I take it that you are familiar with Kim’s argument against non-reductive physicalism? As I see it, that argument shows convincingly that your position is untenable.

    Jeff G. “Consciousness does not cause neurons, nor do the neurons cause consciousness. Rather, consciousness supervenes upon the neurons.”

    Huh? What is the difference in your view btween “causing” and “supervening”? Consciousness just epiphenomenally sits on top of neurons? When I think “now I’m going to raise my arm,” the thought just sits there and when I raised my are, what caused it? Of course consciousness causes neurons — every time we do biofeedback we can consciously alter neural states and activity (shown on an EEG). That is why your view is just unworkable — it is demonstrably false. Further, it is clear that neurons cause consciousness — consider a couterfactual analysis. Without neurons, no consciousness. Consider a constant conjunction view of causation — consciousness never occurs in the absence of active neurons. By changing neural behavior, we cause a change in states of consciousness – we do it every day with anasthesia!

    Comment by Blake — January 4, 2007 @ 5:53 pm

  27. Whoops, Jeff I meant: but what is different on your view is that we can reduce the behavior of the brain by analyzing it as merely the behavior of the neurons — and you have previously denied that brain behavior is reducible to neural behavior. I’m still waiting for some coherent and comprehensible explanation for how that could be on your view.

    Here is where I’m puzzled by your claim that you have a supervenience relation but not a causal relation betweem neuron and consciousness. You are a determinist. The activity of the neurons determines the behaviors of the “person” I take it on your view. Given state 1 of the neurons, you will always get the same behavior the “person”. Thus, we have the relation neural state -> behavior. How is that not a causal relation on your view? How is that not a causal relation?

    Comment by Blake — January 4, 2007 @ 6:47 pm

  28. Blake, so you are willing to separate out the choice from consciously making the choice with a conscious choice between options rationally held? If so I’m happy since that was a major bone of contention I recall having with you in the past. But that sounds like a major change of belief. (At least to me)

    It sounds like now you’re not nearly so far from my position. After all the only difference separating us is the temporal matter of this unconscious and “before” regarding the conscious choice.

    Comment by clark — January 4, 2007 @ 9:37 pm

  29. Ah, thanks for that clarification Jeff. So you’re saying that words like “responsible” don’t pick out objective properties. (Which of course isn’t the same as saying we should eliminate such talk) I actually agree with that. I think our words, especially words like “responsible” acquire their meaning with use and that the use simply doesn’t line up in a 1:1 relationship with some property.

    The whole ontological emergence I agree is hard to buy. As I’ve often said it would be nice if there were some non-mental phenomena that required it. i.e. something in science that could be explained better by it. As is it just seems to me to be a way to grasp at some property folks desire but can’t establish any other way.

    Having said that though I don’t think “qualia” fit the line of criticism you set up. But I’ll hold off saying too much there until the Kim discussion. (You might enjoy doing a post on Kim’s arguments at your blog: I’m curious as to your take)

    Blake, I think that Jeff is saying that there is no objective basis to assign “responsibility.” Rather it is a language game in which the speakers are the judge. But it can’t be “justified” in the fashion you demand. That seems a pretty defensible position to take: to be anti-realist about responsibility.

    Comment by clark — January 4, 2007 @ 9:43 pm

  30. While I don’t have time to fully respond, a language game is exactly what I see responsibility as being. (The same can be said for morality as well as much, but not all, mind-speak. Then again, this last claim might be due to my recently being over-exposed to Rorty.)

    Comment by Jeff G — January 4, 2007 @ 10:53 pm

  31. Clark, at this point I just want to get clear on what you are saying because it appears to me that you are saying there is no such thing as good or evil acts for which a person is actually responsible, it is just a language game. So if a man murders another (kills without justification), he is not really responsible, it is just our way of dealing with it? There is no such thing as real guilt, it is just how our society chooses to see it? Moral responsibility is merely a relative social practice? Is that what you’re saying? I just want to get clear, Clark, before I launch into a critique of that view. In my view, it is the same as saying that there is no justification for such practices that are moral; rather, moral judgments are merely chimeras that we create to justify something else we want to accomplish. Is that your view? Or are you just saying you think it can be rationally defended?

    Clark: for phenomena that require ontological emergence in science, see http://users.california.com/~mcmf/causeweb.html

    Comment by Blake — January 4, 2007 @ 10:59 pm

  32. Blake, so you are willing to separate out the choice from consciously making the choice with a conscious choice between options rationally held?

    Clark: this question is unintelligible to me — could you clarify?

    Comment by Blake — January 4, 2007 @ 11:01 pm

  33. No. I’m saying that if there is a real responsibility our language doesn’t pick that out. i.e. there is the property responsibility1 which is what our language deals with and responsibility2 which is some ultimate reality our language doesn’t really capture or represent. My view is that responsibility2 is much more of a Levinasian sort of thing. But I find that most of the talk in philosophy is of responsibility1 which I find less compelling.

    I’ve read that paper you linked to before. I vaguely recall even explaining why I didn’t think it really answered the question I raised.

    As to a question being unintelligible. Which one?

    I guess what I’m asking is if the point of choice isn’t conscious and can occur before consciousness of choice what temporal limits are there on it. That is, how long before could it happen and be acceptable to you. That, to me, appears to be our major difference as I see it.

    Comment by clark — January 4, 2007 @ 11:15 pm

  34. Clark said: “I think our words, especially words like “responsible” acquire their meaning with use and that the use simply doesn’t line up in a 1:1 relationship with some property.”

    Clark: I take it that a person couldn’t be wrong about whether a person is actually morally responsible if his usage aligned with past practices since that is the implication of your position. But in that case, when the pre-civil war Southerners spoke of blacks as property and no one being morally guilty of selling blacks, in fact their moral judgments were accurate evaluations of the language game played in that culture and therefore there moral judgments were accurate. There was no moral accountability for selling blacks as property any more than selling a car in that case given the implications of your view (and Jeff G.’s). But that just ignores the fact of human dignity and the reality of their moral responsiblity despite their linguistic practices and games. For that reason, your view seems not only wrong-headed to me; it is also morally reprehensible. That is how I see anti-realism with respect to morality and responsibility.

    It also means that there is no light of Christ to tell us about moral judgments about responsibility — since we cannot be wrong if we align with linguistic practices. Our linguistic practices are one thing; our actual moral responsibility is often quite another. Confusing practice and social acceptance with what is truly valuable and right and wrong is a big mistake. But of course, when in Rome….

    Comment by Blake — January 4, 2007 @ 11:36 pm

  35. Clark: look again at the sequence:

    basic data of experience -> data synthesized into unity by brain -> consciounsess of self and phenomenal consciousness emerges from synthesis of data-> awareness of options to lift arm or not among which to choose arises from consciousness -> choice among options by exercising a basic power of this self -> downward causation on brain to implement choice by activating muscle tissues(e.g., lift my arm rather than keep it down) -> arm lifts.

    So consciousness of our options precedes the choice since we are choosing among options we are conscious of having. It may be that we makes choices where we are not conscious of the choices (I choose chocolate unaware that Rocky Road is available and I would choose that instead had I known). But I’m not responsible for not choosing Rocky Road to the extent I was not able to be aware of it.

    Could you give an example of where you believe we are responsible morally for a choice where we make the “choice” without consciousness of it or of the alternatives available? I’m curious as to just what you have in mind. I must be missing something.

    Comment by Blake — January 4, 2007 @ 11:41 pm

  36. Clark re #33 — then you don’t really believe that responsibility 1 is actual responsibility and we should talk about responsibility 2 which is not a mere lignuistic practice.

    Comment by Blake — January 4, 2007 @ 11:42 pm

  37. #35 – that will have to await until I take up the issue of responsibility.

    #36 – sure

    #34 – I don’t think what you say follows. Clearly people can misuse words. Yet words are grounded in the community use. But yes, clearly the meaning of responsibility in terms of linguistic usage changes. Which is why I find appeals to it troubling – precisely because of how our intuitions and use change culturally.

    Comment by clark — January 4, 2007 @ 11:54 pm

  38. Clark: Now I’m really confused. Are you saying what we are actually morally responsible 2 for changes and is culturally relative; or only that linuistic practices related to moral responsibility 1 change?

    In all of my discussions, I am speaking of what you seem to me to be calling moral responsibility 2 — the real McCoy. Jeff G. doesn’t believe that there is a moral responsibility 2, so I’m puzzled at your attempt to appear to agree with him. Perhaps I have misunderstood.

    When I speak of moral responsibility 2, I may not only misuse words, I may miss what you take to be our actual moral responsibility. That cannot happen given Jeff G.’s position.

    Comment by Blake — January 5, 2007 @ 12:04 am

  39. Still don’t have much time, just to say that any cultures set of moral practices need not be consistent or equally ingrained. Thus, slavery was accepted by many until it came to be seen as being in conflict with other, more fundamental norms. Accordingly, I see the morality of being a web of sorts, to use a Quinean metaphor. The “outer” norms will be sacrificed far more readily than the “inner” norms, but even those are not “true” or absolute in any way.

    Hopefully I’ll have more time soon.

    Comment by Jeff G — January 5, 2007 @ 2:42 am

  40. Jeff: So you’re saying that slavery cannot be judged as truly (really) immoral, it is just a matter of social practice? What we really mean when we say slavery is immoral is — my culture disapproves of slavery but that could change and then slavery wouldn’t be immoral relative to such cultural norms; however, there is no futher basis for believing slavery is either permissible or immoral.

    If that is what you mean by morality, then that is what I mean by a morally reprehensible view of morality.

    Comment by Blake — January 5, 2007 @ 7:36 am

  41. Ok, I have to admit I dropped this conversation. I wouldn’t normally post a comment like this, but as I sincerely believe you are discussing these items with the idea that people will read them online (although I know you are also posting to feed the intellectual inner need you have.) I wanted to comment that when you fall into the jargon trap, you lose me, at least.

    Comment by Matt W. — January 5, 2007 @ 10:41 am

  42. I think our language and thus the meaning and reference of “responsible” is culturally determined. (Which shouldn’t be that controversial) I think there is some real property which I call responsibility2 which is relevant to the ontological talk.

    So what I’m saying is that the language is largely anti-realist but that it also picks out some real properties, at least one of which is relevant to the discussion.

    Having said that and contra many, I don’t think we know what this responsibility2 is, although I expressed my personal opinion that Levinas comes closest to it.

    Regarding Jeff, I think he is primarily talking about the linguistic responsibility although he may indeed think that there is no real property of responsibility we call responsibility2. In that I’d simply disagree with him. But note that my Peircean bias come into this since I end up having to allow for a lot of real generals that most philosophers probably would cringe at.

    Thus to me any property that the community of inquirers would in the long term use would be real. It picks out a real general. And generals or universals are real due to my ontology of semiotic realism. (i.e. that signs are real and the universe is filled with signs)

    Comment by Clark — January 5, 2007 @ 10:49 am

  43. Clark: What you’re actually saying is that our language about moral resposiblity isn’t that accurate and true; not that it is anti-realist. You are a moral realist. You believe there is in fact a truth about moral obligation and responsibility, we just don’t approximate it well with the terms we use. Well, then let’s do better with the terms we use and admit that there is always a gap between a linguistic practices and the realist moral reponsibility we seek to approximate.

    Moreover, Jeff is in fact an anti-realist. He doesn’t accept what you have called reponsibility2.

    Your assertion that our language then picks out something “real” because it is based on long use really means that it picks out accurately the practice of long use, but doesn’t really pick our responsibility2. I’m sure you don’t claim that if our lingustic practices become entrenched enough that creates a universal. It creates a sign we use; it doesn’t make our use true or accurate.

    Comment by Blake — January 5, 2007 @ 7:06 pm

  44. That’s what I’m saying but not what Jeff’s saying. Sorry for the confusion. I fully admit to being a realist. Indeed, as I said, being a Peircean I’m probably committed to being realist about far more things than most.

    Comment by clark — January 6, 2007 @ 12:22 am

  45. BTW – I actually do believe that linguistic acts, if continued enough, can evolve into realist properties. That’s a very Peircean view of universals. Peircean cosmology adopts a kind of evolution of reals out of chaos that is very much akin to linguistic evolution.

    Comment by clark — January 6, 2007 @ 12:23 am

  46. So it becomes an actual property of morality that it is fine to sell slaves just because it has been believed for a long time? How long? Slavery has been seen as quite acceptable for thousands of years before the modern era. Did that make it morally acceptable? How could it?

    Comment by Blake — January 7, 2007 @ 8:45 am

  47. Blake,

    It’s not so simple. One could argue that slavery was always in conflict with other more fundamental norms. In fact, this is exactly what the abolitionists argued.

    If we did find somebody who did not agree with any of the norms which were in conflict with slavery, then we would rightfully label them insane and without any place in our society. Of course insanity, as I’m sure you know, is simply our way of saying that someone is not one of us or not like us.

    Comment by Jeff G — January 7, 2007 @ 11:20 am

  48. Jeff,

    Come on, you really ought to qualify your definition of “insanity” in #47. In a broad sense that is one way people use the word insane, but your definition ignores the reality of physiological mental illness. And besides that I think your sweeping generalization is highly questionable. Insanity is just one of many labels people give “someone is not one of us or not like us” — sometimes they are just labeled as “wrong” too.

    Comment by Geoff J — January 7, 2007 @ 11:45 am

  49. Here I will respond to your comments which I kept putting off:

    “meat machines may exhibit behaviors, but they cannot reflect on whose behaviors are involved.”

    Why not? In virtue of what is it impossible that a meat-machine cannot do this?

    “On your view, we have mere events, not conscious experiences.”

    Why cannot we have both? Why cannot “self-reflexivity and consciousness” be a form of neural behavior?

    “when you say we assign responsiblity, that is entirely different from people who are actually responsible.”

    As Clark mentioned above, I have a language game in mind here. Basically, I hold that the assignment of responsibility exhausts what being responsible actually is. Thus, I see “responsibility” as a placeholder for a number of relations which hold between the “responsible” party and the rest of the community.

    Beyond this, I have no idea what it could possibly mean for responsibility to “have reality” beyond it being a placeholder for a complex set of relationships which hold among people. I should point out that I don’t think morality and responsibility talk should be abolished in any way at all. I also am confused at how focused you are on behavior in your response. I’m not a behaviorist by any stretch of the imagination.

    “Then how do you explain the difference between a brain that is conscious and one that is not but both have neural activity?”

    Easy, if they have the same neural activity, then there is no difference. If there is a difference in consciousness, then there must be a difference in neural activity. This is what supervenience means.

    “What is the difference between “supervening on” and “emerging from”?”

    None, only that “supervening on” doesn’t seem to imply causation in any thing like what you seem to think “emergence” does. To speak of downward causation of supervenience just sounds absurd.

    “we can reduce the behavior of the brain by analyzing it as merely the behavior of the neurons”

    We can reduce the brain to neurons, though I say this with important qualifications. First, such a reduction will probably not be very direct at all, going from the mental, to the functional and so on down to the physical. Second, and more to the point of what you probably had in mind, such a reduction cannot be done without making holistic assumptions about what separates brain from non-brain, function-X from not-funtion-X and so on. This is just as true in the reduction of temperature to chemical motion, chemistry to physics and so on.

    “I take it that you are familiar with Kim’s argument against non-reductive physicalism? As I see it, that argument shows convincingly that your position is untenable.”

    I’m going to have to get a reminder on that one. I’m sure I’ll end up posting on it relatively soon.

    “What is the difference in your view btween “causing” and “supervening”? Consciousness just epiphenomenally sits on top of neurons? When I think “now I’m going to raise my arm,” the thought just sits there and when I raised my are, what caused it? Of course consciousness causes neurons”

    Lets again consider the case of the heart. Does the hearts pumping cause the cardio-muscles to contract in the heart? Of course not, because the cario-muscles contracting simply IS the heart pumping. Consciousness moving one’s arm is no different than a hearts pumping making blood move.

    Neurons do not physically “cause” consciousness just IS neurons firing in a particular way, just as heart pumping is muscles moving in a particular way. The way in which neurons are firing or muscles are moving constrains or determines whether we will “see” or describe them as consciousness and heart pumping, but this should not be viewed as causation of any kind.

    “Thus, we have the relation neural state -> behavior. How is that not a causal relation on your view?”

    I hope the above you can better understand since consciousness simply is neurons firing in a particular way, that neurons do cause behavior as does consciousness. Consciousness and neurons firing is a particular way are two ways of talking about the same thing.

    Comment by Jeff G — January 7, 2007 @ 11:51 am

  50. Jeff: It appears to me that your postion is simply straightforwardly incoherent. You appear to want to be both a reductive and also a non-reductive physicalist. You want mental properties and abilities that supervene on neural behavior and you also want consciousness to just be identical to neural behavior. Which is it?

    I’m not going to do a threadjack here, but it seems to me that you don’t take the “hard problem” seriously enough. Your view seems to me to succumb to the mind argument (“What is it about Mary?”), Chalmer’s zombie argument and the argument that neurons just aren’t rational. If consciousness = neural activity, and choices = neural activity, then neurons must be capable of being rational. They aren’t. Moreover, neurons don’t know what it is like to see blue, they don’t make choices they just exhibit chemically dependent behaviors (that is why mere meat machines don’t know anything about qualia or mental proerpties).

    With respect to morality being “place holders for relations,” what you mean is that is like one population of firing neurons being related to another population of firing neurons and one being held morally responsible by the other. (Just a clue — neurons aren’t morally responsible and neither are we on such a view). If that sounds like non-sense, it is. On your view there are merely social judgments that have no further reality — a not moral assessments.

    Kim’s argument applies only to that part of “you” that pushes the computer keys saying it is a non-reductive materialist. In fact, it is mere happenstance that these particular computer keys are pushed!

    As I have said, I’m not impressed by the great evolutionary question-begging: “well, that is what leads to survival so that just evolves to be that way.” That isn’t an explanation, it is a sheer supposition without evidence. Where is the evidence that neural behavior just is consciousness? Where is the evidence (real evidence, not supposed) that identical neural states always give the same thoughts, experiences and behaviors? Heck, we can’t even point to any groups or populations of neurons and say — look, there’s a thought. Much less can we observe neural behavior and say: “Look, there’s Mary and her neurons are firing the pattern of thinking about her blue dress.” Yet to make the kinds of claims you do based upon real data and evidence, we would have to be able to do just that. Anything less is sheer assertion without evidence. I would have thought that arguments from multiple realizeability would put to rest that kind of physicalist claim in any event.

    Comment by Blake — January 7, 2007 @ 1:21 pm

  51. Sorry Geoff, but I’m stickin to my guns on that one. I agree that insanity is often physiologically based in some kind of abnormality, but who defines what is “normal”? We are still just saying that someone is not one of “us”. When somebody holds immoral views we can either attribute inconsistency to them or exclude them from us altogether, but that’s about it.

    Comment by Jeff G — January 7, 2007 @ 1:26 pm

  52. Blake,

    “You want mental properties and abilities that supervene on neural behavior and you also want consciousness to just be identical to neural behavior. Which is it?”

    Easy, consciousness is another description of neural events, and this description supervenes on the neural description of the same events.

    Your comment is riddled with category mistakes. Nobody is calling any neuron rational, conscious, responsible or choosers. You know very well that I’m not claiming such things.

    People not neurons are rational, conscious, responsible choosers, and all of these things are simply functional states being implemented on neural states. The same mistake would be our calling a the hard-ward on which we play Halo fun rather than the game itself. Nobody calls the disk, the silicon, the wires, the TV tube or anything else “fun”. Rather, it is the game which is fun.

    “On your view there are merely social judgments that have no further reality — a not moral assessments.”

    You act like social reality is some trivial thing. Beyond social judgments and relations what would some kind of “objective” responsibility or morality mean or do? Does it matter at all if there is anything beyond the social reality of judgments? What’s missing?

    As to evidence, I’m not even sure what you want here. You are a physicalist, so you accept all the evidence which I would use. However, you are asking for me to provide evidence for the inexistence of something, something which cannot be done. However, it is precisely for this reason that I can assume presumption on the matter and ask you to provide evidence that functional states or neural states do not exhaust consciousness.

    I have seen no reason to believe such a thing, just as I see no reason whatsoever for accepting your metaphysically dubious account of downward or upward causation.

    As for qualia and functional states, I have written a post recently dealing with the matter. While I haven’t explored the Mary and Zombie argument explicitly, I think my view is able to deal with such problems. (But then this is just a expectation/hope.)

    Comment by Jeff G — January 7, 2007 @ 1:44 pm

  53. Jeff: “Easy, consciousness is another description of neural events, and this description supervenes on the neural description of the same events.”

    Actually, this is nothing like just another description. The kind of explanation is entirely different. In fact, I view your position as just impossible since descriptions don’t bring anything about nor do they supervene. I have no idea what you mean by a “neural description” supervening. Descriptions describe, they don’t supervene.

    “People not neurons are rational, conscious, responsible choosers, and all of these things are simply functional states being implemented on neural states. The same mistake would be our calling a the hard-ward on which we play Halo fun rather than the game itself. Nobody calls the disk, the silicon, the wires, the TV tube or anything else “fun”. Rather, it is the game which is fun.”

    Jeff, you have asserted that neural behavior just is consciousness. That is an identity claim. Asserting that consciousness is identical with neural behavior assumes that neural behavior knows what it is like to be conscious of experiencing a blue dress. That seems rather absurd to me. That is inconsistent also with being a functionalist since the function is not identical to neural behavior. You are a functionalist I take it — is that accurate?

    Calling a game “fun” is merely a judgment made by a person; calling neural behavior another description for a person is a category error. Since a person has properties that mere neural behavior does not, they are not identical.

    “You act like social reality is some trivial thing. Beyond social judgments and relations what would some kind of “objective” responsibility or morality mean or do? Does it matter at all if there is anything beyond the social reality of judgments? What’s missing?”

    Societies can be wrong about moral judgments and so moral principles and societial judgments are not the same thing. Your position asserts that they are. You then say — well, but societies have sub-judgments that compete in the web of beliefs (with apologies to Quine). However, that is a basic assertion without evidence (which you do a lot these days) and in fact it is merely the conceptual difference that shows they cannot be the same thing as you assert. Assume that from 4,000 B.C. to 150 years ago it was agreed universally that slavery is morally acceptable. That doesn’t make it so. It so happens that there is in fact an objective reality that humans are entitled to certain dignity and rights that is inconsistent with slavey. Your view cannot accomodate that moral fact and must admit that slavery, if socially acceptable, is just morally OK. I say that is morally insensitive.

    “You are a physicalist, so you accept all the evidence which I would use.”

    No I’m not, I’m an emergentist. What emerges is not a determinstic outcome of the lower levels of physical reality nor is it reducible to them — persons are not just meat machines. Persons are truly emergent realities that could not be predicted given merely the underlying quanta, neurons and organic tissue.

    “I have seen no reason to believe such a thing, just as I see no reason whatsoever for accepting your metaphysically dubious account of downward or upward causation.”

    You are the physicalist and naturalist here. You must have sufficient evidence to assert anything. Not having evidence to support my view is not evidence for your view. There is no evidence to line up a one-to-one correlation between thoughts and certain neural states — absolutely zero. You seem to think that I must disprove your view. I don’t. Your view asserts that it is based on sufficient physical and natural evidence when in reality it is just one more leap of faith in the uncashed promissory note of physicalists. For my part, the facts that we are conscious, rational, make free choices and moral judgments that are true are false are all “facts” that require emergentism to explain them. Thus, it is the best theory.

    I admit to not having read your post on qualia and functional states — but given Kim’s argument I doubtful that you can have a reality with the common properties of mind and qualia that is not reducible to mere identity theory (i.e, inconsistent with functionalism). But I’ll read it before reaching further conclusions.

    Comment by Blake — January 7, 2007 @ 2:58 pm

  54. I’ll number to make things clearer:

    1) Perhaps “description” isn’t exactly the best word. I don’t mean description as in merely using different words to describe the same thing. Rather, I mean two descriptions in the same way of saying that the property of being a heart supervenes upon the property of being cardio-tissue. “Heart” and “cardio-tissue” are not simply different words to describe the same thing. Rather, they are different ways of construing the same thing.

    More to the point at hand though, heart/pumping is to cardio-tissue contracting and brain/mind is to neural firing, broadly speaking. I single cardio-tissue doesn’t pump anything. Rather, that is the function of a mass of cardio-tissue when arranged and contracting in a very particular manner. So too, neurons don’t think, etc., but rather thinking is something which is done by the entire mass of neurons when arranged and firing in a very particular manner.

    Hate, to leave you like this, but I’ve gotta run now. I probably won’t be able to get back to this until tomorrow, or maybe even later.

    Comment by Jeff G — January 7, 2007 @ 4:05 pm

  55. One last thing before I go,

    What would you accept as evidence for physicalism over emergentism?

    What I object to is the invention of phenomena which can be found nowhere else in nature for the sole purpose of covering our ignorance on some matter. This is exactly what I see your model as doing and is why I see physicalism as having presumption in the matter.

    Comment by Jeff G — January 7, 2007 @ 4:30 pm

  56. Jeff: I’ve already given the criteria for evidence for functionalism that everyone hoped to demonstrate in the 60s when functionalism first became fashionable. If there were indeed evidence that given neural states with common properties or features shared between Bob and Fred constituted the same mental property, the same choice, the same thoughts etc., then we would have proof of functionalism. But in fact the connections any person makes are quite unique and similar types of neural connections just don’t come close to similar thoughts, choices or phenomenal expeiences. In fact, there is no evidence at all for such functionalism. No two people will ever be computing the exactly the same function because no two people share the same matrix of synaptic connections. In fact, if anything what is striking is how different the real functional diversity of individuals at similar ages really is. What we have in common is simply that we all share massively parallel-vector transforming matrices that are updated by a procedure that filters information from low-entropy flux of energy from our sensory peripheries.

    Thus, the first and foremost element of the funtionalist manifesto is almost certainly false: What unites us is not function but sharing the same kinds of information processing organism. There is a vastly differing array of functions all running on the same “hardware”. In fact, virtually every element of functionalism appears to have been falsified by subsequent research. See http://www.nyu.edu/gsas/dept/philo/courses/consciousness05/churchland.pdf

    If it could shown that similar brain-function leads to similar phenomenal experiences, then functionalism is tue. However, functionalism doesn’t come close to explaining phenomenal consciousness. Explaining the “functioning” of the brain cannot be shown to have any connection at all with the phenomenal consciousness we experience. However, you might be interested in at least one outworking of a type of non-physicalist functialism that entails emergence found here: http://www.iscid.org/papers/Koons_NeoFunctionalism_103103.pdf

    So that is the kind of evidence that would show functionalism to obtain. However, it doesn’t pan out.

    Comment by Blake — January 7, 2007 @ 9:26 pm

  57. Wow. Ton of posts. I’ll comment as I read them.

    Blake: (#46) So it becomes an actual property of morality that it is fine to sell slaves just because it has been believed for a long time?

    No, it’s a tad more complex than that. I probably don’t have time to address this somewhat tangental issue. The simplest explanation is that Peirce saw two kinds of evolution in action. One was the Darwinian kind we’re all familiar with. The second was more about habits that develop and thus become law-like. Roughly akin to Lamarkian evolution although that’s somewhat misleading as are those who tie it too closely to discussions of Memes.

    The closest analogy would actually be Orson Pratt’s view of physical law as based upon a kind of communication between atoms that then follow it out of a habit. If it is a real habit then there is a kind of representation that has the power to affect and exists independent of what anyone thinks of it. If that is true (which your example isn’t) then it’s lawlike.

    Comment by clark — January 7, 2007 @ 11:35 pm

  58. I should add that one can see the distinction between ethics as dealing with possible worlds and ethics as laws or representations. I suspect the tension you see is because you are equating these two. For Peirce (and I agree with him here) one has to distinguish between possibility and representation quite carefully. Ethics as laws are always of representations. As such you’d probably recognize that Levinas would deny this kind of ethics. I can’t recall the term he uses off the top of my head, but I want to say he calls this the sacred rather than true ethics. But it’s been too long since I read him to get his terminology quite right.

    Anyways we might call this ethics1 and ethics2. One is a kind of totalizing ethics found in representation. Basically akin to scientific law. The ethics2 would be what escapes this. What is always “outside of the system and reason.” This is the ethics and responsibility of Derrida and Levinas.

    Regardless of how one views them I think there is an essential tension between the two. After all one can see there being a moral law that must be “broken” in some sense to fulfill a higher good. This would, I think, be an example of the distinction of these two senses of ethics. (The letter and spirit of the law) The danger is in trying to map the spirit of the law onto the letter of the law. Further one can then ask whether the letter of the law is ever a true law or only just a flawed representation of the true law, always open to exceptions without truly breaking the law. There are lots of possible answers to that.

    Comment by clark — January 7, 2007 @ 11:44 pm

  59. Geoff: (#48) but your definition ignores the reality of physiological mental illness.

    I suspect someone’s already answered this, but…

    I think Jeff is more asking what constitutes “proper” function of a brain. If insanity indeed has a physiological basis that assumes we can define what is proper. But that proper/improper distinction can’t be made except by appeal to either desired ends (i.e. the group who seem happy, successful, etc.) or by some averages (i.e. how the typical brain operates)

    I’m pretty persuaded by this. While I’m no Foucaultean and tend to ultimately dislike him, I do think he made some compelling arguments regarding mental illness and societal power. (Even if some of his historic evidences were problematic)

    Jeff: (#49) Basically, I hold that the assignment of responsibility exhausts what being responsible actually is.

    Probably if you’re going to adopt a kind of verificationalist criteria for meaning you should add in the why of the assignment. That is how it is measured. Otherwise it is totally arbitrary which seems hard to accept. (Also there is the problem of contradictory assignments)

    Interestingly I spent the weekend reading on the verificationalist criteria in the context of Peirce, Quine and the positivists. The problem of infinities and how to deal with them tends to pop up fairly quickly. I think Peirce and probably Quine had the logical tools to deal with this. (Indeed in the context of Peirce that’s what I’ve been reading all night – his view of mathematical constructivism, geometry and transfinite mathematics)

    Comment by clark — January 7, 2007 @ 11:51 pm

  60. Jeff: (#49) I have no idea what it could possibly mean for responsibility to “have reality” beyond it being a placeholder for a complex set of relationships which hold among people.

    If there is a pattern to it one can precind that there is a law to that regularity. As soon as one can do that then one has accepted a universal that is real representing reality. How one takes this in that ethics1/ethics2 distinction I mentioned gets into the issue of transfinite numbers again.

    But in your neurological scheme consider the following. Say there is a real structure to a certain neurological function. This neurological function can be instantiated by numerous physical systems. Not just different human brains but various other non-human organs. (Just to avoid the requirement of true Functionalism ala Putnam and to embrace, at least in possibility, something like Searle)

    Now this function and the structure that allows it is something real. It is mind independent. Thus it is real. Thus the structure is the reality of responsibility.

    Comment by clark — January 7, 2007 @ 11:54 pm

  61. Blake: (#50) then neurons must be capable of being rational. They aren’t.

    Well, except to the panpsychist.

    I should add that while I ultimately disagree with Jeff’s position, his appeal to language use is pretty persuasive. That is when we use words like rational we only talk about certain kinds of objects and not simply what they are made up of. Just like we call water wet and not the collection of hydrogen and oxygen. This has nothing to do with reductionism but with language. The error is to tie a metaphysical claim about reductionism to the simple rules of our language use.

    Comment by clark — January 7, 2007 @ 11:58 pm

  62. (Sorry for the length of replies – but I’ll probably not be able to post tomorrow and perhaps for a few days. So I’ll probably be bowing out of the discussion.)

    Jeff, as I mentioned at your blog, I do hope your read Kim and write up a reply. I have a reply half written that I hope to get back to soon.

    I do agree with Blake, albeit perhaps not in the details, that functionalism does appear able to be empirically falsified. At least inductively. (Which obviously wouldn’t satisfy Popper, but hey, little did) It’s constantly amazing to me that especially among AI folks Functionalism still has the strength it does.

    Having said that though I do think there are variations that might maintain something like functionalism. But only by embracing something more like what Searle outlines. (Although for the record I think Searle’s position just as problematic as I find the emergentists and actually for fairly similar reasons)

    Blake, I suspect by functions Jeff is thinking more akin to Searle rather than Putnam’s functionalism.

    Comment by clark — January 8, 2007 @ 12:04 am

  63. Okay, let me continue my numbering system:

    2) Of course consciousness is proper neural behavior. These are descriptions of the same events at different levels. What output which the brain produces can be rational, moral, etc. based int he rules which a community has for assigning such labels. These are labels which can only be applied holistically do what all the neurons are doing, just as “pumping blood” is a holistic label which only gets applied to what all the cardio-fibers are doing.

    3) I am a physicalist first, functionalist second. However, I do think that what medium a function is implemented upon matters in determining “what something is like”. Thus, I distances myself from a purely computational account of the mind which playing little to no attention of how the functions are implemented.

    4) I agree that society can be wrong about moral judgment in a few ways:
    a: They can be inconsistent in the way which I have already described.
    b: Their views can be different from the standards by which they are being judged (these latter typically being OUR standards which we ASSUME God to share).
    Again, these two views are simply reducible to us saying that the immoral are either inconsistent and/or not one of “us”.

    5) Oh c’mon! Are you really saying that some of your moral opinions/standards/feelings are NOT more deeply ingrained than others? Isn’t this exactly what all equal rights activists appeal to? For instance, in the case of slavery the argument was made that while each man is entitled to his property our norms concerning human values are more fundamental and therefore overcome such entitlements.

    6) Regarding evidence, my point is that there is no evidence which can distinguish my view from your view. There can be no evidence whatsoever that responsibility, morals, freewill, etc. actually exist. It is precisely because there is no evidence for such that there is no difference between the two views at all. Furthermore, my view is preferable because it is not only parsimonious in not positing metaphysically strange entities but also in lending morality, responsibility, etc. to empirical study. We study how people hold each other responsible in their language game and that exhausts all there is too be studied.

    As a case in point:
    “Assume that from 4,000 B.C. to 150 years ago it was agreed universally that slavery is morally acceptable. That doesn’t make it so. It so happens that there is in fact an objective reality that humans are entitled to certain dignity and rights that is inconsistent with slavey.”
    I can think of no evidence which could possibly establish this at all. No do I see how this objective reality which you speak could ever be studied scientifically.

    7) Regarding your emergentism, I have yet to detect how your account of radical emergence is not simply Cartesian Dualism by another name. In Descartes we have a mind which is not determined by the body which mysteriously interacts with it nonetheless. This is exactly how I see your account. In virtue of what is the mind free? What makes it free? How do we know that it is free? What prevents similar emergence in non-neural matter? How does this radically emergent thing causally interact with the body? How does it causally interact with itself? And so on…

    8) No, I do not think that you need to disprove your view any more than I need to disprove yours. Rather, the issue here is presumption. Your model invokes a metaphysical anomaly in order to explain something. This, to me, is a non-explanation and a conversation stopper. We have evidence that there is a brain, that the mind is somehow “in” is and so forth. Even you grant this. What we do not have evidence for is that this is all there is to it. I grant this. However, you don’t just to start postulating metaphysically strange phenomena to explain something without any reason other than explain that one thing. Presumption lies with the physicalist position until we have some reason to think otherwise. You may think that freedom, consciousness all “require” emergentism, but it is not clear why they shouldn’t require any other thing. It seems perfectly plausible to me that physicalism is able to cover all the relevant appearances. Of course you want to go beyond these appearances to the actually reality of the matter, but for what purpose? Sure, you stop the conversation at a safe point but isn’t it better to bite the bullet and forge ahead?

    9) I suspect that your radically overstate the failure of functionalism. I fully admit that type physicalism is bogus. But token physicalism seems like a completely live option. I have to say, however, that I question whether you would have actually counted such similarities in neural states as compelling evidence for physicalism. I sure wouldn’t have if I were in your position.
    With regards to token physicalism, just because two neural nets are firing in different patterns does not mean that they are performing different functions. It certainly means that if they are performing the same functions, then they are performing them in a different way, but that’s about it. I think that it is a live physicalist position that people’s brains, by and large, do perform the same functions, just in a variety of ways.

    Comment by Jeff G — January 8, 2007 @ 8:00 pm

  64. Geoff,

    I posted a really long response to Blake and it isn’t showing up. Maybe it got detected as spam or something? I really don’t feel like writing it all over.

    Clark,

    What argument of Kim’s are we talking about here. Are we simply talking about his multiple realizability or something else?

    Comment by Jeff G — January 8, 2007 @ 8:01 pm

  65. Here is Dennett’s most recent views concerning freewill. I think many of his points directly address the nature of the disagreements which we seem to have over an over in these threads. Furthermore, he mentions Mormons in it as well. I would be very interested in reading some kind of response from Geoff or Blake to the article.

    Comment by Jeff G — February 3, 2007 @ 1:47 am

  66. Jeff: The article is vintage Dennett — lots of good analogies and stories and no good arguments or evidence. The argument simply assumes that it has been demonstrated that: (1) there is no consciousness — and certainly no self-consciousness; (2) free will is doing what we want and we want what we do because of our genetics, memes and other determining factors. Yet there is in fact moral judgments that even entail that people genuinely deserve praise and blame and punishment. Why would I engage in a discussion that makes such assumptions as the basis for futher inquiry?

    The other problem I have with his article is that he labels virtually everyone who disagrees with him as engaging in “desperate posturing” or “histrionics” or “throwing tantrums” or “panic ridden”. Indeed, he accues persons such as Searle and Fodor of these emotional responses when in fact they have thoughtful and rational responses (tho I am not fully persuaded by them). How can one justify such ad hominem responses?

    He wants to explain conduct by “evolutionary biology” and not physics; yet once one begins down the the reductionist route, one cannot then magically appear on the non-reductionist road and stop on the journey in is tracks because going further ends up at the same place.

    In the end, he calls the “absolutist notion of free will” which no one holds the “traditional view.” Who holds such a view in the philosophical discussion? Absolutely unfettered will where we act as immaterial disembodied souls is in fact unfathomable. But who adopts such a view? Not even Cartesians adopt the view that there isn’t an interaction with the material body. In the current discussion no one has such a disembodied view. We are embodied and we act within a situatedness that always places us in a continuum of influences.

    I think that the bottom-line suggestion of the article is the assumption that those who believe in libertarian free will are engage in self-deceptin because the fear of not believing in genuine free will is just too forbidding. However, it seems to me that his position is in fact something like what he hints is this self-deception for the good of society (especially where he acknowledge that there may be no self!). Further, isn’t there also a fear that I have to guard against believing in something like libertarian free will because I am afraid that it is just too good to be true? “I just can’t believe it because it is just what I want so I must be courageous and speak the ‘truth’ that eveyone else is just too dishonest to see.” That is what I take to be his stance in the argument.

    Thank God I don’t have to engage in such mental gymnatics.

    Comment by Blake — February 3, 2007 @ 3:30 pm

  67. I’m no fan of Dennett Blake, but I think you miss his point. I think he is right in that once we move beyond compatibilism debates we have to address premises. That is why are people so committed to free will of a certain sort? I think it is that which Dennett is attacking mainly via persuasion because there really aren’t argument one way or the other for it. It is a matter of which premises you buy into.

    I do agree though that it did verge on polemics at times. But I’m actually fairly sympathetic to the point he is making.

    Comment by Clark — February 3, 2007 @ 4:30 pm

  68. Clark: “I think he is right in that once we move beyond compatibilism debates we have to address premises.”

    Huhh? I thought that that debate was precisely about premises so I fail to see how that constitues “moving beyond” it. Further, you don’t disagree with me if you agree that there are no real arguments made by Dennett but only epithets. (One of my favorites is calling libertarian free will “absolutist” and “magic”). Why attack a question instead of answering it? The appropriate way of going about it is to answer the question. People see the free will issue as important because it is central to issues such: (a) what are we (mere meat machines that process algorithms or persons having unique value); (b) what is a self or is there ever self; (c) are we morally responsible; (d) does life have meaning; (e) what happens if we teach that we don’t have free will and deny that persons can really be responsible, really have no more meaning than a peice of meat and there is really no self or personal value at all? I can tell you what happens in answer to (d), we distort human value, adopt a stance in life that we must pragmatically contradict in living life and open the door to complete meaningless of any rational discussion.

    Comment by Blake — February 3, 2007 @ 4:57 pm

  69. Clark & Jeff: I should add that I think Dennett’s approach is arrogant. Here is what I take him to really be saying: “I have shown that notions like libertarian free will are just beyond the pale of rational belief. Yet people continue to argue for them. I cannot see why so I will ask what it is abou their psychology that keeps them hanging on to such demonstrably irrational beliefs.”

    I believe that his stance is not merely arrogant but wrong-headed. He hasn’t shown anything of the sort — and neither have the “philosophers” and Wegner who he refers to as having established such a dreadful fact. In fact, the position that we have no “real” mental properties, no real free will, no real self, with emphasis on the real, is self-refuting. However, I can agree with Dennett that giving an account of all of these matters that is satisfactory is a real challenge.

    Comment by Blake — February 3, 2007 @ 5:22 pm

  70. I think my point is that on the “is there free will or not” among incompatiblists it seems our subjective preferences rule over argument. There’s not exactly any clear cut arguments one way or the other, whereas for incompatiblism there at least are fairly strong arguments.

    Thus I don’t find it surprising that many folks discussing it turn to persuasion over argument. It’s hardly new. A lot of Dennett’s rhetoric isn’t that far removed from Nieztsche for instance.

    “what happens if we teach that we don’t have free will and deny that persons can really be responsible, really have no more meaning than a peice of meat and there is really no self or personal value at all? “

    Isn’t that claim demonstrating Dennett’s point?

    Comment by Clark — February 3, 2007 @ 7:25 pm

  71. Jeff, I wanted to add, saying that Dennet mentions mormons is a bit disingenuous, since he only quotes someone who mentions mormons, and only in an extremely offhand way that has nothing to do with his thesis.

    Comment by Matt W. — February 3, 2007 @ 8:40 pm

  72. Clark: Why would one seek the psychological answer to the question of why we believe we have free will in the face of overwhelming arguments to the contrary unless one assumed that it were established there are overwhelming arguments to the contrary? When you assert “among incompatiblists it seems our subjective preferences rule over argument” — that shows exactly what I suggest is arrogance. What is the basis for such a statement? What do you mean by “subjective preferences”? What “arguments” do you believe there are to the contrary that are preferred? If what you mean by “subjective” is that we know we have private experience then I may agree – but we still know that we have such experiences. I know that I have thoughts that I am aware of and that you aren’t. I have an idea what I want to accomplish and I do a number of actions to accomplish what I saw as possible so I know there are purposive thoughts that lead to action. That isn’t really up for grabs is it?

    Comment by Blake — February 3, 2007 @ 9:48 pm

  73. I’m just going by the papers I’ve read. I’ve yet to read a particularly strong argument for free will that doesn’t rest on (a) our psychological desire for free will or (b) some theological point.

    If you disagree point me to the argument. I don’t think it arrogant to say one hasn’t found any compelling arguments.

    Comment by Clark — February 3, 2007 @ 10:27 pm

  74. Oh Matt, that was a joke! Now I feel all bad about saying that.

    Now for Blake, he never called incompatibilism “magic”. Rather, he compared it to magic in that real magic isn’t real and fake magic is the only real magic.

    I see that as exactly what your position is. If something isn’t “real” freewill as you think it exists then it can’t be freewill at all. While you may object to the negative connotations of the comparison, I still think its pretty good.

    Comment by Jeff G — February 3, 2007 @ 11:16 pm

  75. I pretty much agree with Blake’s take on the article. Dennett seems to be basically saying “let’s figure out why these idiots are still hanging on to the free will notion idea even after I have decided it is false” in this essay. He hasn’t proven real free will does not exist (yes I mean LFW by that) he simply recognizes that no one has proven LFW does exist yet. So in the face of that stalemate he seems to mostly be taking potshots here to me. He is arrogantly trying to figure out why otherwise thinking people would be so stupid as to disagree with him and concludes that we must all just be too scared not to agree with him.

    Of course LFW believers could play that game as well and accuse Dennett of being motivated by arrogance and rushing to be the one who “courageously” said it loudest and earliest on the hope that one day LFW will definitively be proven wrong. But LFW has not been proven false so this essay comes off as mostly posturing to me.

    He could make similar arguments about the existence of God (and probably has).

    Comment by Geoff J — February 3, 2007 @ 11:57 pm

  76. Okay, maybe he does do all these things in the first few paragraphs (a claim I will soon contest), but that is not what the article was primarily about. Rather, he is simply wondering why the compatibilist can’t say that freewill exists, it just isn’t like you thought it was? Does you guys have anything to say about this point?

    I’m especially everything except the last sentence in Blake’s #68 which seems to completely agree with Dennett. In fact, Dennett’s point is that we don’t have to give into Blake’s complete cynicism on the matter. Blake’s position is exactly that of the person who ceases to believe in love once it is shown that cupid doesn’t exist. No, love does exist, it just isn’t how you thought it was. This doesn’t necessarily rob love of its value in any way.

    Then again, Blake’s views of love are a little strange now that I think of it. Perhaps he DOES believe in a cupid of sorts? ;-) Nevertheless, one gets the point which Dennett is getting at.

    Now, Dennett is not just running around claiming that anybody who believes in LFW is retarded or something. Rather, he is saying that there must be some reasons why so many smart people are compelled to say many things which are not so smart. I don’t take this to be saying that LFW is idiotic, only that many of the arguments in its favor are. On this point, I have to agree with him and Clark. The idea that SOMEHOW against everything we know from physics, “real” freewill happens just seems less than genius.

    In other words, nobody ever seems to be compelled by the evidence into LFW. Rather, they are “pulled” into the position by the consequences which they hope to save. Dennett doesn’t seem to think that these pulling forces are idiotic, only that the pushing evidence which is then contrived to justify such pulling is idiotic. I don’t think that this is at all wrong.

    Comment by Jeff G — February 4, 2007 @ 12:37 am

  77. Jeff, you’d agree though that his bedside manner wasn’t exactly the best. On that point I think Blake is correct. For instance if he is in favor of revisionist accounts of free will and responsibility there certainly are less inflamatory ways of putting it. My sense (often) is that Dennett is a little like Dawkins. More concerned with preaching to the choir of those who already agree with him. He’s not really interested in persuading those who disagree with him.

    Comment by Clark — February 4, 2007 @ 2:34 am

  78. I agree.

    Comment by Jeff G — February 4, 2007 @ 3:05 am

  79. Clark & Jeff: Either you don’t pay attention or your own arogance gets in the way — arrogance in precisely the way I suggest that Dennett is arrogant. The arguments for free will are based on some of the facts (and they are facts) I pointed out in # 72. However, there are several lines of argument for free will of the libertarian sort. I walk through them on pp. 206- 13 in the first vol. The arguments are based upon: (1) immediate experience of being able to choose one thing or another and the overwhelming sense of having actions that are up to me; (2) the very notion of the will as active; (3) moral responsibily; (4) the fact that we cannot predict what a person will say do or think even with intimate knowledge of that person; (5) we deliberate; (6) we undertake purposive behavior aimed at a telos which does not yet exist; and (7) we cannot pragmatically live life based on the belief that everything is determined and everything we think, do, say and write was already entailed by the earlier states. Note carefully Clark that there is no an argument of the sort “I want free will to be true so it must be true.” The pragmatic argument is not of that sort. It is of the sort that it isn’t pragmatically possible to for instance live as if everything were caused by something else. That is in fact what Dennett eventually admits when he states that surely there are people who are responsible.

    Jeff: it is funny but I would have taken this “I want it to be so let’s pretend that it is” to be precisely Dennett’s position. He is the one who carries Dumbo’s feather tho it cannot work its magic for him because he doesn’t believe we have free will of the sort that the feather gives others he can bamboozle to believe. Dennett wants the magic to continue and he wants to be the magician. I eschew the discussion in terms of magic — I don’t need it because for me the term magic functions just as it does in anthropological assessments of magic: when the rites are mine they are sacred; when they are the beliefs and rites of the outsider they are magic. Thus, magic is nothing but a pejoritive epithet; a mere ad hominem to avoid discussion of the real issues. It functions for Dennett this way: the enlightened ones like me know that “absolute” free will is “magic” that enables society to get along; but we ought to continue that belief because no one wants to live in a society where there is no punishment. Thus, make me the king so that I can make the rules!

    Finally, Jeff, someone who believes that free will doesn’t exist if we are determined is called an incompatiblist. Recasting the discussion in terms of magic as Dennett does is a mere sleight of hand way to misdirect us from the real issues so that an ad hominem carries all the weight of the argument.

    Comment by Blake — February 4, 2007 @ 8:47 am

  80. Let me add a reason for LFW that I didn’t include in my book: LFW is necessary for there to be any rational discussion or capacity for rationality. We must be able to be persuaded by reasons based on rules of logic and reason and not on causal connections that follow the rules of a-rational causal connections rather than reason.

    Comment by Blake — February 4, 2007 @ 8:50 am

  81. Jeff pontificated: “The idea that SOMEHOW against everything we know from physics, “real” freewill happens just seems less than genius.”

    No Jeff, what seems less than genius to me is making such statements. It simply is not the case that everything we know from physics is contrary to free will.

    Comment by Blake — February 4, 2007 @ 8:54 am

  82. Just to quickly chime in, I am constantly amazed that Blakes #79-(1) argument is so cavalierly ignored by folks like Dennett. Personally, I am not persuaded that it is psychologically possible to hold Dennett’s view when not philosophizing. Dawkins admits as much in his Dangerous Idea quote when he says it is “unlikely that I shall ever reach that level of enlightenment.” The fact that we are not capable of really believing in Dennett’s view is surely not an argument from mere desire for free will or an appeal to theology.

    Comment by Jacob J — February 4, 2007 @ 11:21 am

  83. Jeff: The idea that SOMEHOW against everything we know from physics, “real” freewill happens just seems less than genius.

    I agree with Blake that the arrogance of this statement is astonishing. It is as if you are declaring the case of LFW (and the existence of a consciousness) settled based on our current grasp of physics despite the fact that it is anything but. Of course people said these sorts of things about scientific knowledge 100, 200, and 1000 years ago too. But I am confident that everything we know currently about physics is not everything there is to know about physics. As has been pointed out many times here — physics has not disproven or proven the existence of LFW yet so Dennett declaring victory and then speculating on the psychological motivations of his opponents in this debate (which he basically thinks is cowardice) makes him come off as a silly blowhard to me.

    Comment by Geoff J — February 4, 2007 @ 11:28 am

  84. Jeff (#76),

    but that is not what the article was primarily about. Rather, he is simply wondering why the compatibilist can’t say that freewill exists, it just isn’t like you thought it was? Does you guys have anything to say about this point?

    Isn’t this what the compatibilists have been saying since the very first compatibilist? I think everyone is open to a compatibilist accounting of free will, there is just a disagreement about whether any such view succeeds. Blake’s first book takes compatibilist view after compatibilist view and considers them in a serious way on their merits. Clearly this demonstrates that he is open to someone showing that free will exists but is just different than we thought, does it not?

    Comment by Jacob J — February 4, 2007 @ 2:34 pm

  85. Jeff & Clark: Let me add that in my second volume I argue that LFW is essential to any genuinely interpersonal relationship (and probably for the existence of genuine persons per se). That is, if I love my wife because I had corn beef for breakfast, or a scientist is shooting photons into my brain, then it isn’t my choice to love her but the choice of the scientists shooting the photons or due to external factors that are not mine. If I judge marraige to my wife to be for the best good because I will earn more money that way, then I believe it follows that our relationship is not based interpersonal choice but on external factors over which I have no control. If I choose to marry my wife because she brings the greatest return in terms of money or pleasure, then I’m not choosing her but the money and pleasure and anyone else who can deliver more of those would be my choice instead. Thus, it is not an interpersonal relationship but an economic one. I’m not in relationship because I love her but because I am impelled to seek her by biology or something like that. My love for her is like the bull’s heat for the cow in such cases even if I rationalize it.

    Now my argument shouldn’t be construed to be:

    (1) We want to believe in genuine love.
    (2) We cannot have genuine love if there is no LFW.
    (3) Therefore there is LFW.

    Rather, it should be construed:

    (1*) We know from experience that there is genuine love.
    (2) Genuine love is possible only if there is LFW.
    (3) Therefore there is LFW.

    One could also adopt this view:

    (1**) Christianity can be true only if there is genuine love.
    (2) Genuine love is possible only if there is LFW.
    (3*) Christianity is true.
    (4) Therefore there is LFW.

    Of course the designator here “genuine” carries some weight. It means that there could be shallow relationships based solely on biological need that we call “love”; but that is not real love but only a hollow shadow of the real thing. The difference between genuine and shallow is the difference between choosing a person based upon external or economic factors and choosing a person freely based on interpersonal factors.

    Comment by Blake — February 4, 2007 @ 2:46 pm

  86. What argument of Kim’s are we talking about here. Are we simply talking about his multiple realizability or something else?

    Kim’s arguments against physicalism and reductionism. Blake’s mentioned them several times. I’ve been promising to address them for two months now…

    Comment by clark — February 4, 2007 @ 11:16 pm

  87. Blake (#79) none of those are really what I’d consider arguments that are public and objective. They either just avoid the question by pushing it back a level (i.e. appeals to our belief in responsibility or a particular form of deliberation), are logically fallacious, or fulfill the very conditions I raised (#73) as problematic.

    Beliefs can’t simply ground themselves.

    Comment by clark — February 5, 2007 @ 12:28 am

  88. I put up a post that goes in more detail my objections. For the record I’m extremely unpersuaded by any argument that (a) makes appeal to the typical meaning of a word for its truth (b) makes appeal to our belief in something for its truth (c) makes appeal to our ignorance to say something is true.

    With regards to the issue of free will and relationships, I’ll be addressing that as I engage with your book. While free will may or may not be true, I’m just not at all persuaded by arguments like (#85).

    Put simply, while we may know from experience that we love it isn’t clear that love takes the form you believe it does.

    Comment by clark — February 5, 2007 @ 12:32 am

  89. I agree with Blake that the arrogance of this statement is astonishing. It is as if you are declaring the case of LFW (and the existence of a consciousness) settled based on our current grasp of physics despite the fact that it is anything but.

    I’m not sure it is arrogance. But I’d agree it perhaps isn’t the best reasoning. But I don’t think it arrogance to say that when all our objective knowledge takes a certain form we are justified in believing that future knowledge will as well. Induction simply isn’t arrogance.

    Now induction can be wrong. But I’m troubled by the claim it is somehow inherently arrogant. I’m much more inclined to see arrogance in assuming our words capture fully the nature of what they refer to.

    Comment by clark — February 5, 2007 @ 12:34 am

  90. I’m not at all versed in the philosophy being discussed here, or even in the language of philosophy, but I’d just point out one thing. People like Dennet and Dawkins like to insinuate that people disagree with them because they have incentive to hold to their “irrational” beliefs and if people would just be as bravely committed to the truth, however painful it may be, as they are, then people would believe as they do. I do agree that there is appeal in theism and in belief in free will and that theists do have incentive to believe what they do. But doesn’t this cut both ways? I’m sure they’ll say that, no, they would love to believe in God or in free will or whatever, but their commitment to reason won’t let them. That’s fine. But is there no incentive for them to hold to their beliefs? Is there no satisfaction in setting oneself up in opposition to what most people believe so that one may consider oneself especially erudite, astute, and/or brave? Is there no appeal in the belief that one need not trouble oneself with conforming to a behavioral/moral standard imposed by a God? Is there no appeal in the belief that one has no responsibility to try and discern truth through means other than empirical observation and argumentation. Is there no appeal in the belief that one does not choose one’s actions? I can see some appeal in those beliefs and I can see incentive to hold to them.

    What people on both sides should do is consider the merits of each others arguments and point out why they disagree and stop the hack psychoanalysis, pretending to diagnose the defect in others’ minds that leads them to be such idiots. In other words, people on all sides should be saying, “You’re wrong because your argument is weak here and here,” rather than, “You’re wrong because you have incentive to disagree with me.” The latter approach is simply childish.

    Comment by Tom — February 5, 2007 @ 9:44 am

  91. I shouldn’t say “People like Dennet and Dawkins,” since I don’t know what kind of people they are. I should just replace that with “People.” I have seen these kind of accusations come from theists as well, I just don’t have any names to name.

    Comment by Tom — February 5, 2007 @ 10:17 am

  92. Clark responded on his web-site to the discussino we were having here. I thought I’d post my response here for those interested who may not make it to his site.

    First let’s get clear on what the disagreement is. You say that all arguments for “free will” are either “emotional” (whatever that means) or “theological.” I disagreed and offered a number of arguments that I said were neither. Now you shift the disagreement to those that are “not entirely be well supported themselves in terms of public evidence.” Of course the two statements you make are not nearly equivalent. I also want to know what you mean by “public evidence.” However, my arguments did not aim at giving “public evidence” and that is because you raise it here for the first time. Nor did I argue that these arguments were knock-down arguments. However, you then shift the ground once again so that the argument needs to be not merely not emotional (whatever that means) and not theological and public, but also “persuasive to people … [and] really provides any objective reasons for believing in free will.” So the argument must now be a-emotional, a-theological, based on public evidence and also persuasive to people on objective grounds. Such a demand is altogether unreasonable and not what we discussed at all.

    However, let’s look at you arguments for why don’t find these arguments persuasive (although it is quite beside the original point we were discussing).

    (1) immediate experience of being able to choose one thing or another and the overwhelming sense of having actions that are up to me. Of this you admit: “I agree that we believe actions are up to me and that we choose.” So it seems that you in fact believe that we all believe actions are up to us and that we choose. Surely there must be some explanation for this universal belief? The fact is that we cannot fail to believe it because we experience it directly in the act of choosing. We know that we choose just like we know that we have thoughts. However, you really don’t believe what you assert, for you follow that with: “However belief alone is not a good ground for reality. I believe many things and many of my beliefs are wrong.” So you both believe it and you believe that your belief alone is not sufficient for this belief. Then why do you believe it? Your argument here analogous the standard positivist criterion: “any thing that is not verifiable lacks meaning.” However, that sentence couldn’t have meaning because it cannot be verified. It is self referentially incoherent. Similarly, “I believe I choose and some things are up to me but I don’t believe what I believe is reality.” Huh? Surely something has gone badly wrong here.

    What has gone wrong is clear. Surely you are correct that merely believing something doesn’t make it true if what you assert is “I believe that God exists.” However, if the assertion of the belief entails affirming that assertion because it is self-referential, then it cannot be coherently denied. Immediately experiencing something and being unable to coherently deny it is pretty darn good reason to believe it is true. Thus, you end up in the position of “I believe that I am I, but my belief doesn’t mean that I exist,” while overlooking that the assertion doesn’t allow a denial of an “I”. Similarly, “I believe that I choose and what I do is up to me and I must do so” entails that you must believe the assertion is true.

    2. The will is perfectly active. Of this you say it is just (1) but weaker. No it isn’t. The fact is that our very notion of the will entails activity and not passivity. If I choose or will something, then I do something. If something causes me to think it or do it, then I am not the one doing it. So the notion that “I will X” entails that the will is perfectly active. This is an argument from Aquinas that deserves a good deal more discussion. However, my sole point is not that it is a knock down argument that you must assent to in order to be rational, but that it ain’t (1) all over again.

    3. We are morally responsible. Of this you say: “This pushing the question back a stage without answering it. Moral responsibility depends upon free will but we don’t know that we have moral responsibility in a public, objective way. This is compelling only as a theological or quasi-theological claim …” I don’t believe that this is true at all. There are any number of agnostics and atheists who believe that we are morally responsible and thus must give a (non-theological) account of how we can be responsible. I would like to see the argument that asserts that any sound idea of morality entails theism. In fact I happen to know that you reject that assertion so your position here is incoherent — admittedly in an ad hominem. Further, that we don’t know we have moral responsibility in a “public, objective way” just smacks to me of verificationism and I would reject such a demand out of hand.

    (4) the fact that we cannot predict what a person will say do or think even with intimate knowledge of that person. You are correct that unpredictability doesn’t entail free will — so I agree with you that far. However, it does entail that determinism has got some explaining to do about why we cannot predict human actions. Further, my point here was really in response to Jeff G. who claimed that “everything we know about physics” entailed the falsity of LFW.

    (5) We deliberate. You assert that it isn’t an argument at all. You are right that in and of itself it is just an observation. The argument is found on pp. 207-08 of the 1st volume to which I referred. That we deliberate entails that we believe that what we do isn’t yet resolved, it us up to us, it depends on how we decide and we have rational control over what we deliberate about that leads to our choice. You don’t deliberate about what isn’t up to you do you? When was the last time that you deliberated about whether you should choose the sun to come up tomorrow or whether to make it so that you were born two years later than you were?

    (6) we undertake purposive behavior aimed at a telos which does not yet exist. Well at least Stewart Geotz here: http://www.independent.org/newsroom/article.asp?id=1756 and John DePoe here: http://www.johndepoe.com/MindnotMechanism.pdf disagree with you. The reason is obvious. If our choices are the result of prior a-rational causes then we cannot account for the fact of teleological causation of our actions — i.e, we envision a possibility that can be achieved by a number of actions that will create something as yet non-existent and not entailed by the prior causes because unless we freely bring it about it won’t occur. What doesn’t yet exist cannot cause anything in the sense of efficient causation.

    (7) we cannot pragmatically live life based on the belief that everything is determined and everything we think, do, say and write was already entailed by the earlier states. I think that you agree with this statement n’est pas? If you do, then you cannot pragmatically be a determinist. You say that this entails only incompatiblism, not LFW. I think that you are correct about that. However, let me press it a but. (8) We also cannot live a coherent mental life believing that we are not responsible and accountable for some of what occurs. That does entail LFW. However, I think that you are correct that (7) doesn’t entail (8) — but I was making a point in relation to Dennett’s claim to the contrary of (7). If you also accept (8), then LFW seems pragmatically required.

    Comment by Blake — February 5, 2007 @ 7:19 pm

  93. Good point Tom (#90).

    Comment by Jacob J — February 6, 2007 @ 3:00 am

  94. Tom: I agree, it is as easy to provide some pscyhological speculation as to why Dennett feels compelled to deny what most of us would take to be free will as for why most of us take the view we do. The problem is that it assumes precisely Dennett’s position — the real reason we hold views is never based on rationality (because bio-physical causation is not based on laws of rationality). We have the views we do because we have been evolutionarily fitted to have them. However, it seems to me that such explanations are rubber band speculations — they can be stretched to explain virtually anything no matter what the case and therefore explain nothing.

    Comment by Blake — February 6, 2007 @ 9:04 am

  95. Sorry for the interuption but what is bio-physical causation?

    Rich

    Comment by Rich K — February 6, 2007 @ 8:42 pm

  96. Bio-physical causation is the kind of causation attributed to biological organs based on principles of physics.

    Comment by Blake — February 7, 2007 @ 9:40 am

Leave a comment

RSS feed for comments on this post.