Rocks have feelings too

February 13, 2010    By: Jacob J @ 11:55 am   Category: Determinism vs. free will

A couple of years ago I advanced the idea that rocks are free, if the compatibilists are correct. Although this suggestion was called “ridiculous” by the esteemed Jeff G, the three detractors[1] of my view mostly convinced me that it is a very useful way of illuminating the issue.

According to compatibilism, humans act freely when their actions are determined by their own desires rather than by outside forces. So, if I wanted to eat donuts for breakfast then I did it freely, but if you force-fed me donuts then I was not free. Seems fine. The problem is that the premise of compatibilism maintains that internal desires are ultimately expressions of your internal physical structure. In the end, everything is explainable by particles bumping into each other. It is all reducible to physics.

Scenario

This is where my rock enters the picture. Rocks have internal physical structure which determines how they act in a given situation, just like humans do and in the compatibilist worldview we can call them “desires” with the same legitimacy that we speak of humans as having desires.

Suppose we hit a rock with a hammer and the rock breaks into pieces. Since desires are nothing more than description of internal physical states that determine how a person/thing responds to a situation, we can conclude that the rock wanted to break into pieces and when hit with the hammer it chose to do so. A different rock, with different internal physical structure, would have taken the same blow without breaking.

Ability to do otherwise

Along comes a person who believes in libertarian free will, scratching their head, objecting that the rock did not make a real “choice” because it didn’t really have the ability to do anything different than what it did. The compatibilist completely rejects such an argument. According to the compatibilist, “the ability to do otherwise” is ultimately an incoherent concept and is not required for free actions.

Control

The LWF (Libertarian Free Will) advocate complains that we should not call it a free action because althought the outcome was determined by the internal structure of the rock, that internal structure couldn’t have been anything different than it was. The rock had no control. The compatiblist disagrees, pointing out that the internal structure of the rock could very easily have been different if conditions had been different during the formation of the rock. It could have formed to be strong like granite instead of the weak sandstone that it is. The rock could have acted differently if it had different desires. Because it acted according to its own desires, it acted freely.

Moral responsibility

A person gets a leg cramp and starts struggling to stay above the surface of the water. Walking by, I decide to help him out so I throw him a small slab of granite which he is able to get a hold of. It drags him to the bottom and he dies.

That slab of granite is an evil slab of granite. In fact, it is a murdering slab of granite. When thrown into the water it chose to sink rather than float, causing the drowning person to die. In a different part of the world, a similar thing happened but in this other case a small slab of pumice was thrown into the water. The pumice chose to float, thereby saving the drowning person. That slab of pumice is a heroic slab of pumice. It is a morally good slab which should be praised and rewarded for its excellent choice. It chose to save a human life.

The common sense objections to treating slabs of granite or pumice as behaving morally are easily refuted by compatibilist arguments.

1. Saying that “the slabs were just obeying the laws of physics” won’t help, because the premise of compatibilism is that everyone is merely obeying the laws of physics and moral accountability is compatible with all actions being determined by physics.

2. Saying that “the slabs didn’t really choose to sink or float because they’re rocks” won’t work because according to compatibilism choice is simply how a thing acts based on its internal physical structure.

3. Saying “they didn’t really choose because everything that went into making that rock what it is was determined long before its formation” will not help because, according to the compatibilist, this is simply unrelated to whether we should hold something morally accountable. It is what it is and we can judge its actions to be good or evil regardless of how it got to be the way that it is. A slab of rock that would do something as unconscionable as dragging a drowning person to the bottom of a pool is an evil slab of rock, pure and simple.

4. Saying that “this concept of choice is just a fiction we are imposing on the situation” won’t help either. According to the compatibilist, choice is absolutely *not* a fiction. To say it is a fiction is to say that granite behaves the same way as pumice. Things behave differently and those different actions have very real and sometimes grave consequences.

Conclusion

In my mind, the compatibilist should feel perfectly comfortable holding these slabs of rock morally responsible. They acted based on their own internal desires and their actions had moral consequences. Of course, real compatibilists don’t generally want to concede that rocks are free in the same sense as humans nor that they are morally accountable. But despite my best efforts so far, I have been unable to figure out what is (in principle) different between a rock and a human in the compatibilist view. It seems to me the compatibilist plays a linguistic game in which they apply certain words to humans but are then unwilling to apply the same words with the same definitions to inanimate objects. There are some compatibilists who will readily admit what I am saying and happily concede that the concepts of freedom and accountability as they are commonly understood by non-philosophers are fictions. Those compatibilists don’t show up at this site very often though. For the rest of the compatibilists, I offer this post as a place to set me straight. In the mean time, I will continue to wonder if I am a rock.


[1] Compatibilist proponent Adam Greenwood ended up appealing to a non-physical “spirit” or “soul” which differentiates humans from rocks and gives humans “Will. The ability to act.” (Here. See also my comment pointing to previous similar arguments).

Compatibilist proponent JNS also appealed to a preexistent spirit to differentiate us from rocks and credited our spirit with introducing steps in the causal chain that are not attributable to physics or chemistry (here).

(If you are confused at how those could be considered defenses of compatibilism, so am I.)

Jeff G’s critique was more complicated and I can’t do it justice here, but it hinged on whether or not rocks qualify as “computationally robust” such that they would lend themselves to a Turning Table description.

90 Comments »

  1. Brilliant!

    For those about to rock, I salute you.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — February 13, 2010 @ 1:32 pm

  2. Thanks Eric, you are a great friend to the blog.

    Comment by Jacob J — February 13, 2010 @ 2:53 pm

  3. Jeff’s defense seems to still get by, in that a certain computational robustness would be required for an object to be able to even perceive such a thing as morality, and so the rock does not pass muster, as the rock never intended to do anything, being unable to “intend”.

    Comment by Matt W. — February 13, 2010 @ 5:24 pm

  4. I completely agreed with you then and I completely agree with now.

    Comment by Geoff J — February 13, 2010 @ 9:53 pm

  5. the rock never intended to do anything, being unable to “intend”.

    The burden is then on the compatibilists to define what exactly “intent” and “perception” are then, in compatibilist terms. Otherwise the argument reduces to “rocks do not appear to intend anything”.

    In the movie Wargames, a powerful computer (WOPR) is programmed to extensively simulate various nuclear war scenarios to provide the military with recommended responses for any contingency. Then a couple of teenagers inadvertently knock it into a mode where it is trying to win a real nuclear war.

    So the question is: Surely WOPR has greater computational complexity than a rock, and was programmed with extraordinarily advanced artificial intelligence capabilities. But deep down inside, did it really intend or perceive anything? Can or should it have been held morally responsible for its actions?

    And more to the point, does a computer, or any deterministic mechanism for that matter, take actions at all? An LFWian would say no, that (in the story) not only did WOPR not undertake any actions (computers “just run programs”), but that determinism rules out the very existence of actions, because it rules out the very existence of future possibilities when conditioned on present circumstances.

    Comment by Mark D. — February 13, 2010 @ 10:44 pm

  6. Must. Not. Smash. Computer……

    “In my mind, the compatibilist should feel perfectly comfortable holding these slabs of rock morally responsible.”

    Unless you think that compatibilists are all a bunch of bungling idiots, maybe the fact that not a single compatibilist agrees with you might mean that you are missing something, hmmmm? The important distinction between necessary and sufficient conditions comes to mind. Case in point:

    “humans act freely when their actions are determined by their own desires rather than by outside forces.”

    All that compatibilists are trying to do here is draw a distinction between causation and coercion. There is also a rough seed of a necessary condition, but nothing approaching a sufficient condition.

    It is all reducible to physics.

    n the compatibilist worldview we can call them “desires” with the same legitimacy that we speak of humans as having desires.

    Or consider exhibit B:

    “According to the compatibilist, “the ability to do otherwise” is ultimately an incoherent concept and is not required for free actions.”

    Says who? The ability to do otherwise is exactly what separates us from rocks according to the compatibilist. What the compatibilist also says, however, is that the phrase “the ability to do otherwise” is in desperate need of clarification. But you can find an extended treatment of this in most any defense of compatibilism.

    Dennett’s “Elbow Room” and “Freedom Evolves” are both great places to start.

    Comment by Jeff G — February 13, 2010 @ 10:44 pm

  7. Jeff G: The ability to do otherwise is exactly what separates us from rocks according to the compatibilist.

    On the contrary, compatibilism is practically defined by the absence of the ability to do otherwise, because the first principle of compatibilism is that there is no otherwise.

    Comment by Mark D. — February 13, 2010 @ 11:38 pm

  8. Arrrgggghhhh…..

    Let me sum up what is going to happen in this thread:

    I’ll say, “No, compatibilists don’t believe any of those ridiculous things. We’re not dolts.”

    You’ll say, “Well then, tell us how somebody can be completely free and responsible in a determinist universe; the burden of proof is on you.”

    I’ll say, “No, it’s not. We aren’t commenting on a post that I wrote which tries to prove that incompatibilists are wrong. You have tacitly accepted the burden of proof by posting in the first place and all I have to do it sit back and rehearse the same arguments which we have gone over a dozen times already.”

    You’ll say, “That may be so, but we aren’t wrong in expecting you to show us a reason, in return, why you are right.”

    I’ll say, “That’s exactly where you are wrong. As I’ve said in many posts past, incompatibilists have yet to provide any convincing demonstration of how in- (or non-)determinism can provide anything other than randomness. Compatibilists have yet to provide any convincing demonstration of how a fully determined agent can be free or responsible. Both sides have seriously unsettled issues.
    “Where there is a significant difference, however, is in our approach to these questions. Instead of talking about how, exactly, indeterminism is supposed to give us more rather than less responsibility, the LFWers post on why they think the compatibilists are wrong and then simply wait to be proven wrong. It’s as if I were to try to prove that there is no beam in my own eye by showing how you aren’t able to prove that there is no mote in yours.”

    You’ll say, “Woah, no need to get to feisty!”

    And I’ll say, “Well then stop accusing me of thinking rocks have beliefs, desires, freedom or responsibility. It insults my intelligence. If you really want disprove compatibilism, good, I’d love to hear it. But please, PLEASE attack the strongest version of it that you can possibly conceive of, a version I would be proud to stand by.”

    Comment by Jeff G — February 14, 2010 @ 12:37 am

  9. Jeff G,

    Please don’t destroy your computer. For the record, I don’t think you’re a dolt and I’m not trying to insult your intelligence. Also, I am not trying to “disprove compatibilism.” I *am* trying to illustrate why I don’t think common sense notions of responsibility make sense in a compatibilist paradigm. That might be fine and there are plenty of compatibilists who would agree with me that common sense notions of responsibility are not strictly accurate. If I’ve gotten it hopelessly wrong, I would expect it to be easy to point out the mistake, but so far I haven’t seen it.

    As to the “ability to do otherwise” being the defining difference between humans and rocks for compatibilists, I can only express genuine shock and confusion. What I had in mind when I said compatibilists claim the “ability to do otherwise” is incoherent is exactly what you said in #8 about the only coherent ideas being determinism and randomness.

    The “ability to do otherwise” in the compatibilist view refers only to the fact that if I had developed differently my brain would be different, leading to different desires/beliefs and different behavior given the same circumstances. You are well aware that “the ability to do otherwise” is fundamental to the idea of libertarian free will and means something different in that context (the idea that even given an exactly equivalent situation the same agent could choose different things). It is the LFW idea of “the ability to do otherwise” which compatibilists claim is incoherent.

    Comment by Jacob J — February 14, 2010 @ 1:09 am

  10. Jeff G: Both sides have seriously unsettled issues.

    I totally agree and I’ve posted on that in the past.

    Comment by Jacob J — February 14, 2010 @ 2:16 am

  11. I know that you aren’t coming into this with bad intentions, but neither do the people who write and pass out anti-Mormon literature. That kind of what the post sounds like to my ears.

    Have you read a single book by a compatibilist defending his position? You’ve dedicated lots and lots of hours to attacking it, so I should hope so.

    Now as for responsibility, I do see that as being a pretty tough one, and I suspect the compatibilist can only hold out for a fairly utilitarian revision of the concept.

    But I really don’t see “genuine” freedom as being any problem at all. A dog does not have anything beyond a determined will and yet it is able to have beliefs, desires, make choices, avoid things “that were going to happen” and so forth. Again, the idea that we can hold dogs morally responsible is indeed a tough issue (although we do praise, punish and some times put down dogs!), but I don’t see freedom as being an issue at all. At minimum, it must be granted that a dog is nothing like a rock… not even close… at all.

    So, if you want to say that compatibilists hold that we are nothing more than really, REALLY fancy dogs, I would want you to elaborate, but I wouldn’t immediately object. Maybe try running the arguments along those lines rather than those involving comparisons to rocks.

    If you want to understand the “could have done otherwise” issue from a compatibilist’s perspective, search “Dennett Daniel Freedom Evolves” under google videos. There is an hour long lecture where he goes over the issue. He doesn’t make many arguments, but he does challenge a lot of the intuitions which we tend to lean on a little too heavily.

    Comment by Jeff G — February 14, 2010 @ 2:48 am

  12. Jacob,

    I think the problem is the you are mostly arguing that if there were no LFW, then humans would have the same amount of LFW as rocks (as in, none). Jeff’s appropriate response to that is “no duh”.

    To me the real confusion arises from the fact that the term free will means LFW intuitively. But compatibilists have co-opted the term free will with their so-called compatibilist free will (aka “hypothetical free will”). That hijacking of the term confuses the issue because to most people compatibilist free will really means “not free will”.

    Or to put it another way, LFW is not compatible with determinism so the very fact that compatibilists foisted the word “compatibilism” on the world gave them a rhetorical advantage of sorts. What compatibilism really means to say is, “you don’t have free will in the way you intuitively assume but it is ok because you’ll never know the difference”. Never knowing the difference is fine and dandy for atheists like Dennett but as I’ve said before, if it were true it dooms Mormonism.

    Comment by Geoff J — February 14, 2010 @ 9:45 am

  13. “To me the real confusion arises from the fact that the term free will means LFW intuitively. But compatibilists have co-opted the term free will with their so-called compatibilist free will (aka “hypothetical free will”).”

    Couldn’t disagree more. My intuitions are firmly on the side of compatibilism. It gives us all the freedom we could ever want and in a plausible manner. Sure, responsibility is problem, but I don’t see for a second how LFW (you know, the one that needs a special name) gives you anything that you can’t get under compatibilism. Responsibility is a pretty vague and airy-fairy notion that hard to nail down no matter what.

    Again, this is sounding a lot like the anti’s saying that Mormons are only “hypothetical Christians” not Christian as “we” all intuitively know the word.

    Comment by Jeff G — February 14, 2010 @ 10:24 am

  14. Jeff,

    The reason I chose to discuss rocks rather than dogs or computers is that we understand how a rock works but we don’t understand how a dog works (and most people don’t know how computers work). It is very easy to sneak in non-deterministic notions of what is going on inside a dog accidentally while thinking about dogs.

    I can see lots of things that are different between dogs and humans and between dogs and rocks, but I don’t see any that give rise to a different category of action. Rocks behave the way they do based on particles bumping into each other. Dogs behave the way they do because of particles bumping into each other. Humans behave the way they do because of particles bumping into each other. I’m sure that will cause you to pull your hair out in frustration with me, but it is the compatibilist position. When we label certain particle-bumping-into-each-other interactions as “intents” and then act like this has created a totally different category of action, it causes *me* to pull my hair out. I don’t see any reason to hold physics morally accountable, regardless of how complicated the physics is. So, at least you can feel good knowing we will both be bald.

    As to your reading suggestion, I have read lots (by my standards, probably not yours) of papers on both sides of the issue, but not many book length treatments on either side. I’m happy to take you up on reading Dennett’s book. If he answers this question for me it will be well worth it.

    Comment by Jacob J — February 14, 2010 @ 10:55 am

  15. Hehe. Yeah Jeff, I imagine your intuitions are compatibilist after years of reading and admiring Dennett. But that doesn’t really count as intuitions in my book. If I would have asked the 19 year old Jeff G if he thought he (his spirit) was the ultimate cause of his own choices (versus a great causal chain being the ultimate cause) what would he have said?

    In other words, I think it is self evident that it seems to people that we are causal agents. We certainly can be talked out of that intuitive impression, but agent causation (LFW) is still what it feels like.

    It gives us all the freedom we could ever want and in a plausible manner.

    Here’s where the rock analogy is useful. Compatibilism gives us as much LFW as it gives a rock: None. Compatibilism asserts that LFW is false. That is simply an unacceptable assertion to me because if it is true then Mormonism is false for reasons I have already explained.

    Comment by Geoff J — February 14, 2010 @ 10:56 am

  16. So, if reincarnation is real, maybe we were all once rocks.

    Comment by annegb — February 14, 2010 @ 11:03 am

  17. Good point annegb. You can always score points at this blog if you bring it back to MMP.

    Comment by Jacob J — February 14, 2010 @ 11:37 am

  18. Daniel Dennett – Freedom Evolves – a Dangerous Idea Part 1 (9:55)
    Daniel Dennett – Freedom Evolves – a Dangerous Idea Part 2 (9:58)
    Daniel Dennett – Freedom Evolves – a Dangerous Idea Part 3 (10:01)
    Daniel Dennett – Freedom Evolves – a Dangerous Idea Part 4 (9:59)
    Daniel Dennett – Freedom Evolves – a Dangerous Idea Part 5 (9:48)
    Daniel Dennett – Freedom Evolves – a Dangerous Idea Part 6 (3:01)

    Comment by Jacob J — February 14, 2010 @ 11:40 am

  19. Jeff,

    I finished listening to Dennett and apart from feeling fairly frustrated I also feel like a genius. Compare the fundamental aspects of his argument with my comment here.

    I’ll try to formulate my most concise explanation of why I don’t think his explanation succeeds at de-clawing the rock analogy.

    Comment by Jacob J — February 14, 2010 @ 12:09 pm

  20. Jacob,

    “The reason I chose to discuss rocks rather than dogs or computers is that we understand how a rock works but we don’t understand how a dog works (and most people don’t know how computers work). It is very easy to sneak in non-deterministic notions of what is going on inside a dog accidentally while thinking about dogs.”

    Perhaps you could elaborate on this. We understand rocks because there is nothing to understand. That’s exactly why the comparison never gets off the ground. Nobody is trying to sneak non-determinism in the case of the dog, so why not use it? Dogs can, to some extent, believe things which might be true, desire things which aren’t true or false yet, decide between two possible courses of action, avoid things that were going to happen and so forth without our ever having to cash in a non-deterministic check. I simply don’t see any reason whatsoever for preferring the rock analogy other than the desire to set up a straw man.

    Geoff,

    “Compatibilism gives us as much LFW as it gives a rock: None.”

    Why in the world would a theory ever what to give us any of a competing and mutually exclusive theory. This is like complaining because Galileo didn’t give us anywhere near enough earth-centered-ness for it to be true. Of course it didn’t. LFW is just as much a data point as is earth-centered-ness, namely not at all. Sure, the appearances which those theories tried to explain should count as data points, but not the theories themselves.

    “I imagine your intuitions are compatibilist after years of reading and admiring Dennett. But that doesn’t really count as intuitions in my book. If I would have asked the 19 year old Jeff G if he thought he (his spirit) was the ultimate cause of his own choices (versus a great causal chain being the ultimate cause) what would he have said?”

    You are partially right. Before reading Dennett’s book, I’d never really given the issue much thought. I suspect that I still have all the intuitions that you have: we are free to choose whatever we want, when somebody does something wrong we punish them for not doing what was right, everything that happens in the universe is either caused or random. I still feel these intuitions.

    However, I had never given much thought to nailing down what any of those words actually meant or entailed. I didn’t have a crystal clear, nailed down definition and, I suggest, none of you NCTer’s in this discussion do either.

    Now about the spirit comment, I am confused. I have been assuming since day 1 that we were all talking within a setting of Mormon metaphysics. I have been claiming that whatever the spirit does (especially if it is “material”) it too determined.

    Comment by Jeff G — February 14, 2010 @ 9:58 pm

  21. Basically, my argument has always been this (this is very rough and informal):

    1) It is possible that we can explain why we do Z rather than -Z.
    2) And explanation for Z must be in terms of prior events, Y.
    3) This explanation amounts to the claim that Z was causally determined by Y.
    3) Similarly, we can explain why Y happened rather than -Y, and this too will be a causal explanation in terms of prior events, X.
    4) Any event, X, Y or Z that is not causally determined by prior events is random.
    5) Randomness allows for less control than causal determinism, and therefore is an even worse candidate for a source of morally meaningful freedom, agency and responsibility.

    Now, the point that Jacob (and I think Geoff too) keep getting hung up on is that when they see words like “events” and “causes”, they keep wanting to plug in “actions” and “reasons”. No, no, no. My argument has never tried to do that.

    All there is in the Mormon universe, I have been assuming, is physical matter and spiritual matter in motion. While Jacob might hate the idea of holding “physics” responsible, but if we replace “physics” with “matter” (be it physical or spiritual) what else are we left with?

    Now to clarify. Actions and reasons are patterns which can be discerned in this sea of matter in motion. But while the material substrate in which we see these patterns is itself causally determined, this does not entail that the patterns themselves are also causally determined. And it’s these patterns in the material substrate, these actions, that we take to be uncaused and free. Maybe they are in a very strong sense, but the point I want to get across is that nobody ever said that causal explanations should be applied to the patterns in the material substrate rather than the substrate itself.

    Comment by Jeff G — February 14, 2010 @ 10:11 pm

  22. Jeff G, If you believe in random causation, you are not a compatibilist, but rather one of the several varieties of incompatibilists.

    The question with compatibilism is whether it is rational to talk about possibilities, alternatives, options, objectives, plans and so forth when it is clear that all such exercises are entirely superfluous.

    If there is such a thing as random causation, at least multiple alternatives are actually possible. With compatibilism (which is a subspecies of determinism) only one is.

    Comment by Mark D. — February 14, 2010 @ 10:25 pm

  23. “If you believe in random causation, you are not a compatibilist.”

    Yeah, I know. I just think that inasmuch as we are in control and responsible, it is due to determinism, not in spite of it.

    Comment by Jeff G — February 14, 2010 @ 10:41 pm

  24. Jeff G, Suppose that there is no LFW, and all events are have only random and deterministic causes.

    Then suppose a certain Tom is a man sitting in a jail cell, having recently been arrested for the crime of robbing a convenience store. Tom sits on a bench with his face in his hands and feel an enormous sense of regret that his past desires and decisions should have lead him to a state such as this.

    The question is, “Is it rational for Tom to feel regret about his actions, his decisions, or the course of his life?”

    Admittedly his brain may be wired in such a way that the occurrence of a brain state associated with regret may negatively correlate with repeat offenses in the future.

    But from a global point of view, isn’t wiring for a conscious sense of regret a waste of circuitry? Something that consumes calories, slows him down, and reduces his efficacy (and that of the entire species) for no particular reason? What possible purpose could be served by a conscious feeling of regret?

    If there was some evolutionary advantage to a regret-like mechanism in his brain, wouldn’t Tom be far better served if it was subconscious, so that he would be influenced to act in a less anti-social manner without ever having a conscious, self debilitating sense of regret in the first place?

    Comment by Mark D. — February 14, 2010 @ 11:52 pm

  25. Jeff: Now about the spirit comment, I am confused. I have been assuming since day 1 that we were all talking within a setting of Mormon metaphysics. I have been claiming that whatever the spirit does (especially if it is “material”) it too determined.

    Yes well I will address this first because it is important. If I remember correctly you have argued (based largely on Brigham Young quotes I think) for materialism in Mormonism. You argued for Mormon determinism based largely on that assumption.

    I reject your assumption about materialism on a couple of counts.

    1. I am not at all opposed to the idea that our eternal minds are essentially immaterial Cartesian minds.
    2. I am also open to the idea that our beginningless irreducible minds (which is my preference these days although I am aware others have other ideas on that) are made of “spirit matter” whatever that is. However I am not sold at all that spirit matter behaves in any way we understand.

    So basically I think that our physical bodies probably are causally determined entirely. However I think the eternal spirits/intelligences that drive these bodies of ours have LFW and that agent causal libertarianism is correct when it comes to our eternal minds.

    And again, I contend that LFW is a must in the universe or else Mormonism fails.

    Comment by Geoff J — February 15, 2010 @ 12:02 am

  26. Jeff: I simply don’t see any reason whatsoever for preferring the rock analogy other than the desire to set up a straw man.

    Jacob may respond separately but to me the rock analogy is useful because it starkly illustrates the complete lack of real moral accountability in a universe with no LFW.

    A dog analogy is less useful precisely because there are plenty of people who do at least vaguely suspect that dogs have some kind of moral accountability. Thus we have people who really do think there are “bad dogs”. That clouds the moral accountability issue in a way that the rock doesn’t. I don’t know of anyone who thinks there are bad rocks in the world.

    I don’t see why you are so opposed to the rock analogy (other than the fact that it is quite effective in making the moral accountability point).

    Comment by Geoff J — February 15, 2010 @ 12:09 am

  27. Mark,

    “Suppose that there is no LFW, and all events are have only random and deterministic causes.”

    Keep in mind, that my claim is conceptual. I’m saying that to the extent that an event is not determined, it MUST be random. I don’t see any 3rd option that is available. That is my beef with LFW, it claims that there is a 3rd option which of which I simply cannot conceive.

    “Is it rational for Tom to feel regret about his actions, his decisions, or the course of his life?”

    My answer: Sure, why not? Regret, especially verbal indications (broadly conceived) play a VERY vital role in our daily lives as social beings.

    Comment by Jeff G — February 15, 2010 @ 12:38 am

  28. Geoff,

    “I am also open to the idea that our beginningless irreducible minds (which is my preference these days although I am aware others have other ideas on that) are made of “spirit matter” whatever that is. However I am not sold at all that spirit matter behaves in any way we understand.”

    See, I think this is the ENTIRE disagreement right here. I think that your view is tenable if and only if spirit matter behaves in a VERY un-Newtonian manner. And at the heart of the matter is the big problem which most everybody has with Cartesian dualism; how in the world are the two substances supposed to interact? Does spirit matter have mass? If not, how can it causally interact with physical matter? If so, why is it not detectable? In what sense is a spirit “irreducible” and yet at the same time “made up” of smaller parts? What controls these parts?

    Most importantly, by what principle does behavior of spirit matter deviate from that of physical matter? Why does spirit matter do X rather than nothing at time T, or why does it do X rather than Y? What controls (determines?) its behavior? If you answer this question with anything, we seem to be stuck with determinism. If you answer it with nothing, we are left with randomness.

    If I could fathom some 3rd option, LFW might seem a little more plausible to me. Of course, implausibility isn’t the same thing as impossibility, is it?

    Comment by Jeff G — February 15, 2010 @ 12:51 am

  29. Jeff: Do you believe that we are really guilty and that our feelings of regret truly reflect the reality of our moral situation, or is it just a “verbal indication” of our “daily lives as social being”? The latter seems really like a fake social construct that doesn’t accurately mirror the reality of the situation to me.

    Comment by Christine — February 15, 2010 @ 12:53 am

  30. Geoff,

    “Jacob may respond separately but to me the rock analogy is useful because it starkly illustrates the complete lack of real moral accountability in a universe with no LFW.”

    How? By taking things that compatibilists don’t think have freewill and then show them that they were right all along? What am I supposed to learn from this example?

    “A dog analogy is less useful precisely because there are plenty of people who do at least vaguely suspect that dogs have some kind of moral accountability.”

    Exactly! Exactly! Exactly! Nobody thinks that dogs have LFW and yet we are willing to attribute things very similar to beliefs, desires, freedom and responsibility to them. That’s the compatibilist position. If you don’t like dogs, pick frogs or even flys. While these things are clearly not “morally responsible”, they do have something close to beliefs, desires and choices.

    Let me tell you why rocks suck as an example. They have absolutely zero counter-factual robustness. None. If there was a wall in front of a rock, it would do the exact same thing as it would do if the rock weren’t there, namely nothing. Whereas dogs, frogs and fly “would have done otherwise” if the rock was there. You will protest, “but it’s not doing otherwise in the relevant sense.” Fine, maybe it’s not, but it’s still a whole lot more than can be said for that stupid rock. Flys, frogs, dogs and people can do otherwise, and your insistence upon sticking with the frogs simply reveals your refusal to see how much weight that point might be able to hold.

    Comment by Jeff G — February 15, 2010 @ 1:01 am

  31. Jeff G: Regret, especially verbal indications (broadly conceived) play a VERY vital role in our daily lives as social beings

    Of course. The question I ask you, is in a world with no form of causation other than the two you propose, why is there any advantage whatsoever to being conscious of regret rather than having some sub-conscious mechanism that serves the same purpose?

    Or more generally, how can we explain the existence of consciousness at all, if the behavior of all concerned can, from a global perspective, be explained without resort to such an artifice?

    In a world without LFW, consciousness serves no purpose. A collection of unconscious individuals would serve just as well, if not better. Without LFW there is no reason for the state of all of these quasi-psychological mechanism to ever rise above the level of lines in a computer program.

    Throwing an individual in jail would be positively correlated with better future behavior without any reason to believe that he was conscious at all.

    Comment by Mark D. — February 15, 2010 @ 1:01 am

  32. Christine,

    “Do you believe that we are really guilty and that our feelings of regret truly reflect the reality of our moral situation, or is it just a “verbal indication” of our “daily lives as social being”?”

    Two questions:
    What is the difference between the two?
    What significance would this difference have to anybody in the universe?

    Comment by Jeff G — February 15, 2010 @ 1:07 am

  33. Great question Mark. I think it is the same one I posed in # 29.

    Comment by Christine — February 15, 2010 @ 1:07 am

  34. Jeff: how in the world are the two substances supposed to interact?

    I have no idea how a Cartesian mind could interact with a physical brain (or if the Cartesian mind theory is even correct). But that doesn’t bother me. I have no problem with the existence of mysteries in my theology; I only object to logical impossibilities in my theology. Nor do I require all mysteries be solved now. For instance I have no idea how God hears my prayers and sends revelations back to me either. I just know I have experienced it.

    Comment by Geoff J — February 15, 2010 @ 1:07 am

  35. Jeff: If we’re not really responsible and free, but only have some social construct to that effect, then we are mistaken when we believe that we are responsible and free. Saying that we have some social construct is like saying that it isn’t really so, but we’ll keep up the facade because — why? You’d present something not true as true?

    Comment by Christine — February 15, 2010 @ 1:09 am

  36. Jeff G: Nobody thinks that dogs have LFW? I do. If dogs are conscious, they are as likely to have LFW as we are. Certainly healthy dogs often appear to have superior mental capacity compared to that of sufficiently impaired persons, and I see no reason to believe that LFW turns off like a switch just because someone’s (conscious) mental function is impaired, or they lose their grip on reality.

    Comment by Mark D. — February 15, 2010 @ 1:13 am

  37. Jeff (#30): Nobody thinks that dogs have LFW and yet we are willing to attribute things very similar to beliefs, desires, freedom and responsibility to them.

    Incorrect. Some people think dogs have LFW or at least version of it. See the post I linked to in #26. As a result of this belief that dogs might have some LFW there is a connected belief that dogs might have some moral accountability.

    That is again why the rock analogy is so useful. It starkly points out that compatibilism can’t deliver real moral accountability as people intuitively think of real moral accountability. In its place, compatibilism gives us folks like Dennett insisting that a universe with no real, robust moral accountability as they have always assumed is in reality hunky dory.

    All of these animal analogies confuse the issue, especially to an uninitiated Mormon audience. In a compatibilist universe we are always “acted upon” and never do we independently “act”. That makes us the equivalent of a rock when it comes to moral responsibility.

    Comment by Geoff J — February 15, 2010 @ 1:18 am

  38. Jeff,

    I am going to respond to Dennett (probably tomorrow morning) and see if we can connect on that front at all, but I must break my silence on this thread to respond to this:

    They have absolutely zero counter-factual robustness. None. If there was a wall in front of a rock, it would do the exact same thing as it would do if the rock weren’t there, namely nothing.

    Your example proves nothing. If there was a radio signal bouncing off a person she would do the exact same thing as if the radio signal weren’t there. This doesn’t prove a lack of counter-factual robustness in the least.

    In the presence of various kinds of stimuli a rock will behave in certain ways based on its internal structure and makeup. It may become magnetic in the presence of a magnetic field or it may not. It may float in water or it may not. It may break apart when struck or it may not. These behaviors are all things that could have been otherwise if the rock had formed differently so as to have a different internal structure than the one it has. It is counterfactually robust only with respect to the relevant stimuli, but this caveat is required for anything and everything.

    Comment by Jacob J — February 15, 2010 @ 1:26 am

  39. Mark,

    “in a world with no form of causation other than the two you propose”

    I never laid out any forms of causation at all. I said that something is either determined or random. I also assert that all causation is a form of determinism.

    “Why is there any advantage whatsoever to being conscious of regret rather than having some sub-conscious mechanism that serves the same purpose?”

    What is the difference between something being conscious and not? What is the purpose that is being served in either case?

    “In a world without LFW, consciousness serves no purpose.”

    What purpose would consciousness serve in a world with LFW that it would not also serve in a deterministic world?

    Comment by Jeff G — February 15, 2010 @ 1:31 am

  40. Geoff,

    I think that Cartesian dualism is less compatible with Mormonism than you realize. According to Descartes, mental entities not only have no mass, but have no location at all.

    I also think it’s a little disingenuous to play the “mysteries” card here. I asked some questions that I think are far more difficult to imagine an answer to than the question you guys hit me with. In particular,

    In what sense is a spirit irreducible while at the same time being made up of stuff?
    What causes a spirit to do X rather than -X at time T?

    Comment by Jeff G — February 15, 2010 @ 1:39 am

  41. Christine,

    “If we’re not really responsible and free…”

    Who ever said we’re not?

    “…but only have some social construct to that effect…”

    Whats this “only” talk? The logic that exists among social creatures interacting with each other is just as objective as centers of gravity, equators and stuff like that.

    “…then we are mistaken when we believe that we are responsible and free.”

    Why? Do you think that money actually has something called “worth” independent of what we think about it? You think the noises we make with our mouths actually have a property called “meaning”?

    By your lights, some of the most important aspects of our social lives are nothing but “facades” simply because they are some thing like social constructs.

    Comment by Jeff G — February 15, 2010 @ 1:45 am

  42. Mark,

    “Nobody thinks that dogs have LFW? I do.”
    Why do you think that?

    “If dogs are conscious, they are as likely to have LFW as we are.”
    Why does consciousness require LFW?

    Comment by Jeff G — February 15, 2010 @ 1:46 am

  43. Geoff,

    “Dennett insisting that a universe with no real, robust moral accountability”
    When did he ever say that? When did I ever say that? I know you say it for us all the time, but that’s not what I’m asking.

    “In a compatibilist universe we are always “acted upon” and never do we independently “act”.”
    What does this even mean, and furthermore, who ever said that? When my brother slaps my little sister, who’s to say this isn’t a case of him acting and her being acted upon?

    Comment by Jeff G — February 15, 2010 @ 1:50 am

  44. Jacob,

    “These behaviors are all things that could have been otherwise if the rock had formed differently….”

    Okay, but you are talking about the rock being different, not the input being different into the rock. Big difference.

    “It is counterfactually robust only with respect to the relevant stimuli, but this caveat is required for anything and everything.”

    Exactly. We are only counterfactually robust with regards to relevant stimuli as well. The internal structure and makeup make all the difference in the world. That’s why are so much more free than rocks, flys, frogs and dogs. That’s why the rock analogy is so terrible, it has no internal structure. Things that happen to it don’t count as input because there is nothing which could count as relevant output. As was mentioned in the lecture, people, dogs, frogs and flys can avoid punches, cars, feet and swatters that “were going to hit them.” Rocks can’t avoid anything.

    Comment by Jeff G — February 15, 2010 @ 2:02 am

  45. Geoff J: I am also open to the idea that our beginningless irreducible minds (which is my preference these days although I am aware others have other ideas on that) are made of “spirit matter” whatever that is. However I am not sold at all that spirit matter behaves in any way we understand.

    Jeff G: See, I think this is the ENTIRE disagreement right here. I think that your view is tenable if and only if spirit matter behaves in a VERY un-Newtonian manner.

    I agree with Jeff G. that our beginningless irreducible minds must behave in a very non-Newtonian way. But, I think it a false assumption to assume that our beginningless irreducible minds must be the same thing as “spirit matter” – the substance that constitutes our large, complex, phenotypically-similar-to-our-physical-body spirit body.

    Nor do we need to assume that our beginningless irreducible mind is an immaterial cartesian mind – it could be material but there isn’t anything in Mormonism that constrains it to be the same type of material as “spirit matter”. Maybe it is, but until I have cause to believe otherwise and while I maintain my materialist convictions, I will call our beginningless irreducible minds “intelligent matter” (and so far, I have cause to not believe intelligent matter and spirit matter are the same).

    But this is largely a tangent, just wanted to point out the unnecessary assumption.

    Comment by A. Davis — February 15, 2010 @ 7:31 am

  46. Jeff G: Things that happen to it don’t count as input because there is nothing which could count as relevant output.

    Isn’t that just the problem? If your view is correct, the input just is the output. That seems to be the entire point of the rock analogy. There is nothing added by the organism — there is no “mental causation” by intention, dispositions and so forth because it is all explained by brain chemistry, and brain chemistry by physics.

    Your # 41 confirms what I suspected. You see things like moral obligation and consciousness as mere constructs.

    You asked what difference it would make if morality and consciousness and free will were mere social constructs. That is such a great question. Here is the difference: Everything is permissible because morality is nothing but a social construct with no reason to accept the construct. The other kinds of things, like money, we accept because they happen to work. But morality isn’t like that. There is nothing really obligatory because there is no reason to conform to social constructs except to the extent one can manipulate such constructs to get ahead.

    It also means that your assertions about humans being morally responsible are empty and you don’t believe it yourself except with some facade or appearance of morality. I’m not saying that is how you act or are; it is what you believe.

    Comment by Christine — February 15, 2010 @ 9:02 am

  47. You know what? I shouldn’t have said “that is what you believe,” in # 46. I should have said: it is what follows from you position that you would like to deny. What I don’t see is why you believe in some moral obligation if you recognize it as a social construct. The notion of humors that cause disease was a social construct; but we recognize it as just false as a basis of medicine. We don’t bleed people any more to cure them as a result. The notion of demons causing mental illness was another social construct. But we don’t call exorcists anymore to give us therapy. Once we recognize it as a social construct we can see that it has no real explanatory basis. In other words, we just made it up. The thing about social constructs is that they can change, evaporate and cease to function. Is that how you see moral obligation as well?

    Comment by Christine — February 15, 2010 @ 9:18 am

  48. Jeff: You do realize that money is a human invention and not built into being human, right? I mean there were numerous civilizations without the construct or concept of money. That is just the problem — money systems come and go — moral obligation does not.

    Comment by Christine — February 15, 2010 @ 10:13 am

  49. Jeff, I think Christine makes an important point here. I agree with you that social constructs are important and “real” in a very important sense, but I’m not sure that making morality a social construct will work for Mormonism. If the dollar can collapse, can goodness?

    Comment by Jacob J — February 15, 2010 @ 11:23 am

  50. I put up a new post where we can discuss Dennett’s lecture.

    Comment by Jacob J — February 15, 2010 @ 11:25 am

  51. Once again, you guys pick the example that you think is easy to criticize. Instead of comparing morality to money, try comparing it to language. Then see how well your objections work.

    Comment by Jeff G — February 15, 2010 @ 11:43 am

  52. Christine,

    “If your view is correct, the input just is the output.”

    Why in the world is this true? Why can’t we define spatio-temporal boundaries to a system, thereby entailing what counts as input and output? Computers can have input and output. Even the simple of insects can have it. Are you saying that these have some kind of counter-causal free will?

    Comment by Jeff G — February 15, 2010 @ 11:48 am

  53. Jeff: Money was your example, so I don’t feel bad using it an example of its constructed nature to express your views. Language is different. Languages come and go — they are constructed. The ability to form language is inherently human — but this ability is not constructed by humans; it is given in being human. So your example of language as a faculty doesn’t work.

    However, the notion that morality is just as elective as my choice to write this sentence, so that it is just a construct like so many other regulatory ideas (humors, demons and so forth as causes) is a pretty good example it seems to me to demonstrate the shallowness of what moral responsibility is given your view.

    Comment by Christine — February 15, 2010 @ 2:29 pm

  54. Christine,

    “Language is different. Languages come and go — they are constructed. The ability to form language is inherently human — but this ability is not constructed by humans; it is given in being human. So your example of language as a faculty doesn’t work.”

    Why? Why can’t responsibility/blame/praise and our moral system in general be EXACTLY like this?

    Comment by Jeff G — February 15, 2010 @ 2:43 pm

  55. Jeff: I understand that you believe that moral responsibility is exactly like a language — it is a social construct that comes and goes with whatever culture one happens to live in. The problem is that that means in reality there is no actual moral obligation — it is just an artifact of a particular culture. It seems to me that there is a fact about whether I am morally responsible for say, hitting my neighbor in the nose and it isn’t just a matter of my culture. There is a fact about whether it is morally appropriate to hit my neighbor in the nose and even if my culture said it was OK it would be.

    Let me give a concrete example. The Aztecs thought that child sacrifices to the king and to persuade the gods was a great thing to do. I believe that it is morally depraved and the fact that the Aztecs lived in a culture where it was OK doesn’t change that fact. On your view, however, there is no fact of the matter. The Aztecs were morally justified in their actions. Moral responsibility is deeper than culture.

    The reason your determinism can work for you is that morality is just a cultural reactive attitude. I think it was Galen Strawson who came up with that view to suggest that determinism is compatible with our practices of holding people accountable. However, that is a very thin morality — it is a mere cultural construct and not a reality about what is truly right and wrong or whether we are truly responsible.

    Comment by Christine — February 15, 2010 @ 2:59 pm

  56. Jeff (#40): I also think it’s a little disingenuous to play the “mysteries” card here.

    Hehe. Ok so you are willing to accept the premises here that God exists and that spirits exist but when I admit I don’t know how spirits or minds interact with physical matter exactly you suddenly object? Seems like a case of swallowing a camel and straining at a gnat to me.

    In what sense is a spirit irreducible while at the same time being made up of stuff?

    First I am not convinced our beginningless minds are made of any kind of spirit matter. Second, if it turns out is it irreducible matter then by definition it cannot be made up of smaller parts. Again we are dealing with some unknowns regarding spirits. We have discussed that subject in the past.

    What causes a spirit to do X rather than -X at time T?

    An eternal mind/agent with LFW. That is the assumption required by our theology.

    Comment by Geoff J — February 15, 2010 @ 3:49 pm

  57. Christine,

    A couple points which are sure to bug you an awful lot.

    1) Determinism doesn’t entail my view of morality as a social contract, so even if I’m wrong about that, determinism still stands.

    2) You throw around and awful lot of really vague phrases as if they not only had clear definitions, but that these definitions “obviously” and without further elucidation prove me wrong. (What is “actual” moral obligation? What would a moral “fact” look like? What is “responsibility”?)

    3) You continue to take the most simplistic version of what I say, and then argue against it. You fail to anticipate the obvious replies I will have to what you say. (Who says that there aren’t SERIOUS constraints (both internal logic and external practicalities) on what can or cannot be included in the social contract in the same way what can and cannot be a part of a human language is not severely constrained? Language is deeper than culture, why can’t a social contract be as well? What in the world would a “fact of the matter” beyond what is in our genes/culture even look like? If sounds from my mouth can “really” mean what they do, why can’t my actions “really” be good/bad?

    Comment by Jeff G — February 15, 2010 @ 4:55 pm

  58. Jeff (#43): When did [Dennett] ever say that?

    Perhaps I was begging the question with that comment. What I was saying is that Dennett spends a lot of time defending the non-intuitive idea that compatibilism provides moral accountability. Obviously I think he fails miserably in his attempts.

    What does [in a compatibilist universe we are always “acted upon” and never do we independently “act”] even mean

    Well even though you know what I mean I’ll say it again for those not familiar with our usual script. Without agents being the ultimate cause of their own actions, agents are not any more morally responsible than a falling rocks. The point is so obvious I am a little astonished that you have so vigorously objected to it. That is the crux of the LFW vs. determinism argument after all.

    Comment by Geoff J — February 15, 2010 @ 5:03 pm

  59. Geoff,

    “you are willing to accept the premises here that God exists and that spirits exist but when I admit I don’t know how spirits or minds interact with physical matter exactly you suddenly object?”

    C’mon Geoff. You guys are trying to show why I am wrong, and my position doesn’t require me to have the answers to all your questions either. Nevertheless, I don’t play the mystery card. I’m not even asking you to answer these questions to avoid disproof. Instead, I’m simply asking you how you avoid many of the issues which us compatibilists have to cope with as well.

    I’m not convinced that your response to the reducibility issue actually gets you all the way out of the woods, but I have to admit that my imagination is almost surely the limiting condition there.

    “What causes a spirit to do X rather than -X at time T? An eternal mind/agent with LFW. That is the assumption required by our theology.”

    Worst. Answer. Ever. All you did was just throw a label on the problem and declare that God is on your side. I’m waiting to see what the third option is between something between determined and something being random. And I see no reason whatsoever to believe that Mormonism requires LFW.

    Comment by Jeff G — February 15, 2010 @ 5:04 pm

  60. Geoff,

    “Without agents being the ultimate cause of their own actions, agents are not any more morally responsible than a falling rocks.”

    What does this have to do with acting or being acted upon? That BoM passage doesn’t say anything at all about ultimate sources, causes or anything of the sort.

    Comment by Jeff G — February 15, 2010 @ 5:07 pm

  61. Jeff: You guys are trying to show why I am wrong

    IF there were no God and IF we don’t have persistent spirits as Dennett’s position assumes THEN Dennett’s (and your) case would be strong. But we are theists here at NCT. Therefore we are starting on ground that atheists like Dennett can’t win on. We don’t have to prove you or Dennett wrong about about determinism because we, as a matter of faith, completely reject the underlying assumptions of the Dennett position. Since we don’t share assumptions it would make more sense for us to argue over those assumptions rather than the conclusions arrived at downstream from the assumptions.

    Also, it seems to me that you and Dennett must indeed play the mystery card when it comes to understanding consciousness based entirely on physicalist assumptions.

    Last, my answer about agent causal determinism fits very nicely with my theistic assumptions. I can understand why you don’t like it because it illustrates that fact that not only are we not arguing on common ground, we aren’t even arguing on a common continent. Again, that is why it is so easy for me to dismiss the arguments of Dennett. I reject his foundational physicalist, atheistic assumptions so it goes without saying I reject the conclusions that he builds on those assumptions.

    Comment by Geoff J — February 15, 2010 @ 5:25 pm

  62. Jeff: Your # 57 is the first time anyone has ever used the term “social contract.” I didn’t even know that was your position. So it seems a bit unfair to me for you to insist that I am insisting on that view to critique. Instead, I’m point out what is commonplace among compatibilists — the notion of moral responsibility that is accepted cannot be as deep or ultimate as for those who accept the contra-causal kind of libertarianism.

    Just because you could be wrong about the notion of social contract morality doesn’t mean that determinism still stands. If determinism otherwise requires this or a similar kind of merely apparent or constructed moral responsibility where there isn’t such a thing as real dessert independent of cultural mores, then it seems to me that the argument goes through.

    I you are correct that I haven’t given tight definitions for things like “real” or “actual” responsibility since I don’t believe these kinds of terms are susceptible to that kind of definition. However, it is something that is grounded in the way things must be and not merely dependent on the way they are constructed in cultures. In other words, morality is deeper than cultural mores.

    If I’m missing what you suggest are obvious replies, the at least hint at what they are. None come immediately to mind and I’m not in the habit of putting such replies in your mouth.

    Comment by Christine — February 15, 2010 @ 5:26 pm

  63. Jeff: That BoM passage doesn’t say anything at all about ultimate sources

    Yes, well I interpret that passage to support agent causal LFW and most Mormons intuitively do as well as far as I can tell (thus the Mormon concept of agency/free agency). But we have argued over that in the past so I don’t see a lot of value in rehashing that here.

    Comment by Geoff J — February 15, 2010 @ 5:27 pm

  64. Jeff: Why isn’t Geoff’s agent causal notion an answer to your claim that there isn’t a third way? I mean, if we are in fact first causes of at least something as persons that cannot be further analyzed into explanation by physics without loss of meaning, then it seems like a perfectly coherent though ultimately unproven view.

    I mean, look at your own view that we explain the difference between rocks and human by reference to things like intentions and dispositions and the like. If we explain things ultimately in these terms, then you yourself must accept something that agent causal notions because only persons or agents have intentions and dispositions — certainly things like neurons and atoms don’t.If however you must analyze the explanation further in terms of chemistry rather than psychology, then your reference to intention and dispositions does no work in your explanation and it fails to distinguish rocks from humans — for certain rocks have physical states as well that explain why the rock does what it does- generally not much except hang in there.

    Comment by Christine — February 15, 2010 @ 5:38 pm

  65. First the mystery card and now the atheist card?! I’m done.

    Comment by Jeff G — February 15, 2010 @ 6:58 pm

  66. Jeff,

    The atheism/physicalism issue is not a “card”. It is foundational in this discussion. If we completely disagree on the underlying metaphysical assumptions how could we ever hope to agree on the downstream conclusions? I imagine Dennett wouldn’t bother having this discussion with us because it would be fruitless for that very reason.

    This is not an attack on you in any way either. It is just an acknowledgment that we are arguing about the wrong things here. We need to establish common ground to have a fruitful discussion. As I mentioned, I think based on Dennet’s assumptions that his position is coherent. I just completely reject his assumptions so I naturally don’t find his conclusions remotely compelling.

    Comment by Geoff J — February 15, 2010 @ 7:14 pm

  67. Jeff G: I said that something is either determined or random. I also assert that all causation is a form of determinism.

    If you mean coincidental randomness, you don’t have to say “or random” at all. The randomness I was referring to is the hypothetical sort that has no cause whatsoever. Naturally the statistics of such systems are rather different. If you reject cause free random events, it appears you are a compatibilist after all.

    What is the difference between something being conscious and not? What is the purpose that is being served in either case?

    The difference is that LFW cannot operate without consciousness, while for every other mode of causation under discussion it is entirely superfluous. LFW style guidance control cannot operate without a conscious agent or agents. That is why it is called “agent causation”.

    Why do you think that [dogs are conscious]

    Preponderance of the evidence.

    Comment by Mark D. — February 15, 2010 @ 11:23 pm

  68. Christine: [wrt to determinism] However, that is a very thin morality — it is a mere cultural construct and not a reality about what is truly right and wrong or whether we are truly responsible.

    There are certainly problems with determinism, but the idea that morality is a cultural construct does not follow. We have something like 2400 years worth of classical determinist theism, the advocates of which would reject that proposition to a man (or woman as the case may be).

    Of course the world view of Aristotle and Aquinas is rather more robust with regard to moral realism than that of typical contemporary reductionist, most of whom tend to ground morality not in social agreement, but rather evolutionary biology (in my experience).

    Comment by Mark D. — February 15, 2010 @ 11:37 pm

  69. Jeff G, the only form of determinism I think is philosophical respectable is the form where God creates the universe out of nothing, thereby endowing it with meaning and structure, winds up the clock, and lets it go.

    Otherwise determinists have a unusually difficult time explaining the existence, structure, meaning and value of just about anything due to the implications of the Poincare recurrence theorem, i.e. where any Hamiltonian system repeats itself over and over again.

    This makes for a trivial argument against the incompatibility of evolution and determinism, for example. If history repeats itself like clockwork, it means not only that all materialized states of the system are equally probable, it means that evolution is strictly no more probable than devolution, when averaged out over the Poincare recurrence time.

    Not only that, there doesn’t appear to be any rational basis to conclude (if the world is deterministic) that we aren’t on the cusp of a devolutionary period right now. Not just the human race, but the entire universe as a whole.

    So the paradox is that the riches of the present biological world and human civilization is no more probable than the particular configuration of the presumed random ball of gas fifteen billion years ago.

    Not only that, but that the destiny of the universe is to return to the state of an identical random ball of gas, and then repeat the formation of the world, biological history, the Roman Empire, the French Revolution, the atom bomb on Hiroshima exactly as it happened before, ad infinitum

    By traditional philosophical standards, that is about the greatest violation of the principle of sufficient reason imaginable, because such Laplacian determinism implies that the random ball of gas that supposedly got everything rolling contains the Bible, the works of Shakespeare, and the Beatles.

    The only difference between then and now is a change of perspective. Get out the right magnifying glass and there, within that ball of gas, is every word on this page. Non-creatio ex nihilo determinism implies the strictest form of Platonism imaginable – the blueprints for every thing that has ever existed as manifest constants of the universe, uncreate, indestructible, and ever more.

    Comment by Mark D. — February 16, 2010 @ 12:00 am

  70. Jeff,

    First the mystery card and now the atheist card?! I’m done.

    Dang. I had high hopes I was going to walk away from this thread having locked in your position. I am bothered by the fact that after all these discussion over the years I still don’t feel like I know how it all fits together for you. I’ve got a good start on it, but there are some details I’m still foggy on.

    Comment by Jacob J — February 16, 2010 @ 1:16 am

  71. First Blake, now Jeff! Oh noes!

    Comment by Matt W. — February 16, 2010 @ 7:14 am

  72. Mark (#69),

    Interestingly the creatio ex nihilo version of determinism still normally posits that LFW exists in at least one being in the universe — God.

    Comment by Geoff J — February 16, 2010 @ 9:17 am

  73. Yes, albeit exercised in a timeless manner from all eternity. But certainly such divine will gives meaning to our existence, in a manner that ordinary determinism can never have.

    If determinism is true, I would become a Calvinist (more or less) in a heartbeat. Otherwise we would have to trace the sum total of our existence to the will of no one.

    Comment by Mark D. — February 16, 2010 @ 10:30 am

  74. Given my opinion of Calvinism, if I were convinced determinism were true, I’d become an agnostic.

    Comment by Jacob J — February 16, 2010 @ 12:07 pm

  75. Mark: With respect to # 68, I’m not an expert of medieval moral theory, but I believe that theistic determinists have generally been voluntarists — meaning that there is nothing at all to ground right and wrong except God’s sovereign will. As you say, there were those who affirmed a realist view of morality, but they generally insisted on a very strong view of libertarian free will. Whether they can do so consistently is questionable.

    However, “classical determinist theism” is not a counterinstance to the view that determinists must adopt a thin version of morality because they have the thinnest version possible!

    Comment by Christine — February 16, 2010 @ 5:32 pm

  76. I’m sorry if this has been brought up before; I haven’t yet read all of the messages in this thread.

    What if the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics is true, so that at every instant all of the positive probability states whose superposition makes up the grand wave function Psi branch out into an infinitely branching physical manifold, which is a kind of giant fun house for our spirits. At every branch point that we come to our spirit takes one of the many possibilities. Some of these choices are not actually conscious decisions, and some are the result of conscious decisions. Where we end up has some element of chance because there is no way that we can consciously control all of the branches, but there are enough conscious decisions to determine the general trend of our progress.

    In other words, the omnium is a physical reality, but our spirits use it like a chutes and ladders game.

    Comment by Forest Simmons — February 16, 2010 @ 5:44 pm

  77. I consider the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics to be less plausible than theory that we are all plugged into the Matrix.

    Comment by Jacob J — February 16, 2010 @ 6:17 pm

  78. Christine: I believe that theistic determinists have generally been voluntarists — meaning that there is nothing at all to ground right and wrong except God’s sovereign will.

    Unfortunately, there are two varieties of theological “determinism”, one that is compatible with classical determinism, and one which is not. Thomism is the classic example of the former, and Calvinism the classic example of the latter.

    Long story: The (early) medievals divided up divine power into two types potentia absoluta and potentia ordinata, the power of God to establish the timeless and eternal and the power of God to establish temporally specific ordinances, commandments, and of course miracles.

    When someone says that God is the Absolute, or the “ground of all being” they are referring to the former power expressed timelessly from all eternity. So (for example) if God timelessly establishes the principle that stealing is wrong and rarely if ever makes any exceptions that is an exercise of potentia absoluta. On the other hand, if he grants a dispensation to the general prohibition against stealing, or much worse, changes the moral status of stealing on an arbitrary basis, that is an example of potentia ordinata.

    Comment by Mark D. — February 17, 2010 @ 11:31 am

  79. Now in reality, there is no practical difference between the idea that stealing is naturally wrong because God timelessly established that to be the case in the creation of the universe, and the idea that stealing is naturally wrong due to the structure of a universe that wasn’t necessarily created (out of nothing) by God at all.

    And it is precisely this ground where Aristotelians of both theist and not so theistic leanings draw common ground. To Aristotle the idea of God was not that fundamentally different from that of Thomas Aquinas, minus the specifically Christian aspects of course. To Aristotle, what would later be called potentia ordinata did not exist. To the Thomists, potentia ordinata was naturally a theological footnote reserved for rare occasions like biblical miracles.

    This all changed in the fourteenth century or thereabouts, as some scholastics started to focus more on the balance between the two powers, to the great chagrin of the Thomists.

    When the Calvinists followed classical determinism to its logical conclusion (with the elimination of libertarian free will), they also decided that if everything was going to be a reflection of God’s Eternal Decree, it wasn’t particularly significant whether an event was determined by prior causes traceable back to the First Cause or by a divine ordain-ance in the here and now (albeit pre-planned from all eternity).

    That is why Calvinists (and Protestants in general) are more closely associated with the idea of theological voluntarism. Strictly speaking all classical theists are theological voluntarists, but Protestant theological voluntarists are more closely associated with the idea that one may trace the rightness of an action back to an immediate divine command, rather than some principle timelessly established from all eternity.

    Comment by Mark D. — February 17, 2010 @ 11:32 am

  80. Jacob J:”I consider the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics to be less plausible than theory that we are all plugged into the Matrix.”

    No matter how implausible, it is still logically possible, from which we may conclude that there is no logical inconsistency between spiritual free will and gross material determinism.

    The many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics may be completely wrong, but its putative consistency gives us a tool for proving the consistency of spiritual free will with gross material determinism.

    The first example of this kind of reasoning was Poincare’s model of non-Euclidean geometry within the interior of a Euclidean disc. In modern language we say that he showed the relative consistency of non-Euclidean geometry with Euclidean geometry.

    As you surely know, mathematical logicians have to be content with relative consistency because Godel showed that there can be no purely logical proof of absolute consistency of any set of axioms sufficiently strong to serve as a basis for mathematical analysis.

    Since then the greatest examples of this kind of consistency proof are of the form, such and such system is relatively consistent with ZFC (the Zermelo Fraenkel Choice axioms of set theory).

    For example, Internal Set Theory (which includes infinitesimals as idealized sets) is relatively consistent with ZFC. IST is Edward Nelson’s elegant version of Abraham Robinson’s Non-Standard Analysis. IST actually includes all of ZFC as a proper subset, yet there are models* of IST within ZFC.

    These models are very unwieldy, and have no practical use. Their only purpose is to show logical consistency so that mathematicians can have confidence in their use of infinitesimals and other idealized sets.

    Similarly, it is sometimes convenient to use throwaway models in cosmology for logical purposes without getting too attached to them. If classical philosophers had been aware of this, they could have avoided many utterly unnecessary bitter controversies.

    *Any one of these models shows that IST is a conservative extension of ZFC, i.e. that anything provable by IST could also be proved by mere ZFC, i.e. the idealized sets are only a convenience.

    Comment by Forest Simmons — February 17, 2010 @ 12:59 pm

  81. As expressed in my previous message, I think that it is profitable to consider possibilities in a tentative way without getting too attached to any of them outside the realm of settled doctrine.

    Consistency with settled doctrine and (where possible) with relatively settled physical science (for wont of a better term) is a desirable feature of tentative cosmological theories.

    But does this kind of speculation go against D&C 93:25?

    D&C 93:24 And truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come;
    25 And whatsoever is more or less than this is the spirit of that wicked one who was a liar from the beginning.

    It used to worry me that mathematics is not so much about reality as about possibility, so that it could be considered in the category of “less than this.” Is mathematics a curse from “that wicked one who was a lawyer from the beginning?”

    I’m sure that many of my students think of it that way.

    How do y’all look at it?

    Comment by Forest Simmons — February 17, 2010 @ 1:25 pm

  82. Forest S. (#76), All those branches logically exist of course. That is not really the many worlds interpretation though, which rather claims that all physical possibilities are realized, each one in an alternative reality.

    Since spirits are presumably as real as anything else is, that means our spirits would be cloned in alternative realities as well, and which reality actually was materialized from our perspective would essentially be a statistical accident.

    Epistemologically speaking, there (by definition) is no possible way to determine the existence of alternative realities, so the many world interpretation of quantum mechanics is gratuitous in the extreme.

    More to the point, it suggests that moral responsibility is worse than an illusion, but rather a matter of dice rolls. That I think is why most people tend to be rather hostile to the idea.

    Comment by Mark D. — February 17, 2010 @ 1:47 pm

  83. By the way, I see D&C 93:24 as essentially a divine endorsement of realism, what we usually call the consistency theory of truth, and of course the rejection of the concept of alternative realities.

    1. The world is real
    2. Truth is a function of reality
    3. There is only one reality

    Comment by Mark D. — February 17, 2010 @ 2:02 pm

  84. Sorry that should be the “correspondence theory of truth“, more or less.

    Comment by Mark D. — February 17, 2010 @ 2:08 pm

  85. Mark,

    I’m not saying that I believe in the many worlds interpretation, I’m just saying that it is logically possible, which means that it is logically possible to have a gross material world that is deterministic (since the solution to Schrodinger’s PDE for Psi is uniquely determined by the the initial conditions) but in the form of a branched manifold through which our spirits (not composed of gross material) can pass choosing directions at branch points, i.e. points at which the orthodox interpretation of quantum mechanics would say the wave function Psi “collapsed’ into one of the superimposed eigen states.

    All we need is for the “gross material world” i.e. our component of spacetime to be a branched manifold that can be “ridden” by our spirits like tourists in a fund house.

    Comment by Forest Simmons — February 18, 2010 @ 12:59 pm

  86. fun house, not “fund” house.

    The main reason I don’t believe this interpretation is that it would mean that when we look at another person, we could never really tell if this was a branch of that person’s gross physical self that was currently inhabited bv that person’s spiritual self, or not.

    So the only purpose of this model is to show the logical consistency of gross material determinism with finer material spiritual free will.

    It’s not easy to explain these things in a few sound bytes, so let me know if I need to elaborate.

    Comment by fForest Simmons — February 18, 2010 @ 1:09 pm

  87. Forest S., I get the general idea, and that is certainly an interesting way of looking at the problem.

    I submit, however, that all spirits would logically form one super particle that would follow a branch reflecting the collective will of the ensemble. So no matter where we were, all the spirits would be along for the ride. Like Bohmian QM with spirits as quasi-autonomous identical particles. Pilot the wave, or be piloted, your pick.

    Comment by Mark D. — February 18, 2010 @ 9:33 pm

  88. Here’s another approach to free will of the spirit versus determinism for unrefined matter:

    A coin is tossed. It spins in the air for about a second, and then lands, bounces around on the floor briefly, and settles with heads up. How much force (intelligently applied) would it take over that brief time period to change the result from heads to tails?

    In life therer are a lot of chaotic influences combined with sensitivity to initial (or current)conditions that can make a big difference down the line (like the nail, horeshe, horse, rider, battle, war, kingdom scenario). If spirits can make an infinitesimal difference, not noticed by gross instruments, then intelligent application of this power by free spirits can channel the gross matter into fruitful pathways.

    Comment by Forest Simmons — February 19, 2010 @ 1:04 pm

  89. Hey guys, I’ve been meaning for a while to post some of my thoughts about “the atheism card” and it’s use in our discussions. While I’ll probably never get around to address that issue head on, I have posted what I take to be my most basic and central views concerning Mormon theology.

    I suspect that most all of our disagreements over the years have stemmed from the differing views we take regarding, what I call, the strange inversion in Mormon reasoning. If you guys (especially Geoff) could take the time respond to that post (here would be better than there, I suspect) I think we could really clarify some of our points of contention.

    Comment by Jeff G — December 22, 2010 @ 4:30 pm

  90. 1) This is a ridiculous straw man argument. Rocks do not have volition; people do. For a ‘will’ to be freely expressed, that will must encounter options and be able to weigh those options, and then select an option without coercion. A rock cannot weigh options / think, and therefore cannot express a will let alone freely express it.

    2) LFW is nonsensical, and is incompatible with LDS theology. If events are not causally determined, they are randomly determined. Moral accountability cannot exist where choice is randomly determined. Therefore if we believe humans are morally accountable for their actions, the actions must have root in causal determinism; it is the only rational candidate for a ‘free will with moral accountability’ that exists. If not in causal determinism, then it does not exist.

    In other words, if I (my eternal mind, will, etc.) cannot cause one selection to be made over another, what else then causes the selection to be made? If it is not me/my will/my mind, then how can I justly be accountable for the action/choice?

    Random may have place in the universe, but moral agency can only exist in determinism.

    (If the LDS idea positing eternal uncaused minds is assumed false, I would then accept that free will in an ultimate sense could not exist for an agent in determinism and therefore would conclude that free will in the full sense does not truly exist at all. [i.e. Agents would be products of other causes and ultimate accountability would rest on those prior causes.] But fortunately the idea that individuals have eternal uncaused minds gives us a means whereby free will in every desirable sense can logically exist in determinism.)

    Comment by Steve — May 26, 2013 @ 2:41 pm

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