Free will, determinism and compatibilism

Discussion in 'The Red Room' started by Asyncritus, Feb 13, 2013.

  1. Asyncritus

    Asyncritus Expert on everything

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    Excellent idea.
    :lol:

    There should be a WF rule that prohibits OPs from derailing what is going to become a completely different topic with some off-topic nonsense!

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  2. Asyncritus

    Asyncritus Expert on everything

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    I will just import the last few posts on the subject. If either of us, or anyone else, wants to refer to anything earlier than that, the quote arrows will link back to the other thread anyway.
  3. Asyncritus

    Asyncritus Expert on everything

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  4. Asyncritus

    Asyncritus Expert on everything

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  5. Asyncritus

    Asyncritus Expert on everything

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    "Fair", yes, but not precise. I chose the examples I did in order to avoid unnecessary complications. To say that an ethical decision is not "free", in my outlook, only means that the freedom involved is placed further back: At earlier points in time, I freely adopted certain viewpoints, when I (really and truly) could have adopted others. So at a later point in time, my "freedom" is limited by my own previously chosen dispositions. I can change those dispositions, but the more I become convinced of them, the less I am likely to do so. Nevertheless, they could not be classified as deterministic because of the freedom I exhibited earlier in making the decision.

    Is that clear? If not, I will try to explain it better.

    Somewhat off-topic, but I would find it fascinating to explore this. Very often, the same people argue for both empiricism and a determinist philosophy, yet we seem to be in agreement that empiricism excludes philosophic determinism which, if it can be demonstrated at all, must be done on the basis of rationalism.

    I would find it useful for you to explain this in more detail. When you choose between two desserts you like very much, do you really have a "gut-level" intuition that you couldn't have chosen the other one? Are you sure you are not "retro-fitting" your "intuition" because, having come to the conclusion that there is no possibility, in any given situation, to choose otherwise, you are now "seeing what you are programmed to see"? This would ultimately come into the category of things where you and I agree (though, apparently, for slightly different reasons, since I see a truly free choice earlier in the chain and you do not seem to) that freedom is limited: Once we have a given "mind-set", and especially once it is deeply enough rooted in our thinking, there is very little chance of it changing.

    But it is important to stipulate that we agree on that only where no thinking is involved (either because no human action is involved, or because the human action is of a "reflex" type, based entirely on previously decided behavioral codes and modes).

    But you are "reaching into another bag", to use your example: You are attempting to describe the thought process in terms of actions which obviously involve no thought. Since the desired conclusion of the debate is whether or not thought processes are of the same nature (deterministic) as processes which involve no thought, how can one advance toward that conclusion by using the one as a way of describing the other? That method of reasoning has the following form, which (it should be obvious) does not lead to anything useful:

    • Is A of the same nature as B?
    • All B is of the same nature.
    • Therefore it is logical to conclude that all A is of the same nature as B.
    Then, if you prefer, we can discuss the nature of freedom before coming back to its implication on determinism. If you think it is more than just a semantic issue, I am willing to go into it first, as a stepping-stone to the other issue.

  6. K.

    K. Sober

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    Great, let's do this in style then!

    That's a very interesting model. But it seems to me it might just shift my problem -- which, perhaps, isn't even a problem to you. So at some earlier time, our protagonist has made some choice which puts him in a place today where he cannot possibly go and commit murder. For the sake of the argument, let's say that he converted to Christianity a year ago and fully habitualizes a Christian condemnation of murder. (For the sake of this argument, I am going to pretend that his aversion to murder is something somewhat specific, which it really isn't in our culture, and something that can be traced down to small rather than enormous sets of necessary causes, which is in reality unlikely. I don't think this changes the argument other than by making it easier to cope with.)

    But what kind of a choice was his conversion a year ago? I would expect that for such a major and meaningful decision, we are again facing a reflection of the man's whole character, his experiences, values, memories and so forth, as he was a year ago. In other words, not a donut choice, but another choice that makes sense only because and in as much as it is determined by previously established causes.

    Now I guess that if we break that choice down to smaller and smaller previous choices, we might eventually wind up with a chain of causes and effects culminating in a very minor seed, such as the arbitrary choice between two crime novels. Let's say that a decade ago, our protagonist chooses the novel with the priest investigator rather than the one with the journalist detective, becomes interested in some of the liturgy described, starts learning about the Church, reads up on the Bible for the first time in his life, joins a study circle, and is thus set on the path to his eventual condemnation of murder.

    With such a construction, we might consider his current aversion to murder a result of the kind of choice that can be considered free according to your model, if I understand it correctly. Choosing one of two almost equivalent novels is very similar to choosing a vanilla or a coconut donut. But this, to me, is as unsatisfying as was the original suspicion that the aversion to murder isn't connected to free will at all. By mere chance, without having the foggiest idea of the eventual consequences, this person decided ten years ago which novel to take to the beach, and ended up settling his moral beliefs.

    It seems to me that no matter how far down the timeline you shift the relevant decision, in your model it will always be either unfree, or trifling. I can't conceive of a decision that is both free and meaningful within the concepts you've outlined. Any meaningful choice is automatically one in which there is no lack of preference, unlike the complete lack of preference between two equally yummy donuts.

    Yes. I agree. But isn't that exactly the Hume-Kant revelation that started all of modern idealism?

    Yes, precisely so. Let me expand a bit on this by talking about coin flips.

    You and I seem to agree that the deterministic nature of purely mechanical events, which do not involve thinking agents, is settled with even greater certainty than that of other events (in fact, you believe it does not generally apply to other events at all). Which means, of course, that the outcome of any coin flip is an utterly deterministic event, a paragon of determinism.

    But at the same time, by what I believe is a misunderstanding that mistakes limits of our knowledge for limits of information contained in the universe, we habitually use coin flips as if they were randomizers, as if we could use them to create arbitrary outcomes. In fact, I have described your donut decision as tantamount to the flip of a coin, and I meant by that that it was purely randomized, rather than utterly mechanically deterministic.

    (This might be considered another piece of evidence for the 'usual, general' concept of freedom and determinism to be conflicted.)

    Now, when I am faced with a Buridan's choice, I could solve my dilemma by flipping a coin, employing a completely deterministic process to fake arbitrariness. Alternatively, I am also able to simply decide. In the latter case, some part of my brain has flipped a virtual coin. My intuition, then, is that this is as mechanic and as predetermined as any coin flip.

    No, I'm not sure, and I guess I can't be, since it's merely an intuition. If I were fully aware of how I construed it, it would be a conclusion. I'm not quoting my intuition as standalone evidence of anything here, only as a counter argument to your appeal to intuition.

    On burden of proof:
    That view is possible. Right now, I'm satisfied to say that it is not obvious that the burden of proof is on either determinism or non-determinism, and thus the matter remains unsettled in the absence of a conclusive argument either way.
  7. Zombie

    Zombie dead and loving it

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    Good Lord it's spreading like a virus.......

    Quick Lanz purge the board, ban Packard and Async whose been clearly infected by Packard.

    I would say everyone write down your rep but that shit don't mean shit no more thanks to some shit poll.
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  8. RickDeckard

    RickDeckard Socialist

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    I'd like to solidarise myself with the general argument that Packard is making, though I haven't been following the debate in detail.

    Maybe I'll go back and read, and then chip in.
  9. tafkats

    tafkats That'll put marzipan in your pie plate, bingo! Moderator

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    You wouldn't say that if it weren't for Abrams Trek's obvious bias against concealed-carry permit holders. :mad:
  10. Asyncritus

    Asyncritus Expert on everything

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    Absolutely agreed.

    This does not follow. What follows is that it is partially determined by previously established causes (including earlier decisions). It still a question of going from "there is sugar in the cake" (the "cake" here being the decision) to "there is only sugar in the cake".

    That is a possible scenario, but by no means the only one. More than likely, he heard various teachings at various times, from parents, school teachers, and so on. At various points, he made minor decisions, to "do the right thing" rather than what would have been useful to him at the time. Little by little, those built up to a general disposition to "do the right thing" as much as possible.

    The opposite "choice", that of becoming a murderer, is made the same way in general. It is not that someone with a totally neutral opinion on murder thinks about it one day and says, "I think I'll go out and murder someone." It's that he makes small decisions to do what suits him, even if it hurts someone else, and they build up little by little.

    But that process, where general life dispositions involving major ethical and practical dispositions, is not simply a cumulation of small "arbitrary" decisions. "Arbitrary" decisions such as you describe might influence the things to which he is exposed, but the decision to accept them or not is by no means artitrary. And there is absolutely nothing observable that says they must be.

    Otherwise, the "choice" not to commit murder is no real choice at all.

    The choice to do the right thing, in some small area, when you are truly tempted not to do it (that is, it is not something so settled that the "choice" is basically pure reflex), is not trifling and cannot be demonstrated to be unfree. In fact, if it is, then all question of moral responsibility is removed from the universe.

    I don't know. I have approached epistemology through mathematics more than through philosophy, so I am not that much of an expert on such things. I think it is safe to say that you have studied more philosophy than I have. I am willing to learn, though, if you have anything interesting to add on the subject.

    Absolutely correct! In fact, I do not believe there is anything truly "random" in the universe, except to the extent that "random" is simply a measurement of our ignorance (which is, indeed, one of the common ways of defining it).

    Okay, I will put one major caveat on that: It may be that there is true randomness in the universe at the quantum level. Our present level of understanding would point in that direction, in any case. But it may also be that that simply shows the limits of our present level of understanding, which is entirely possible where quantum physics is concerned. My discussions with quantum physicists and atomic physicists would seem to indicate that there is still a fair amount of conjecture involved, as well as disagreement even among the experts. It may well be that 100 or 1000 years from now, quantum physicists will smile in amusement at our present "naive" ideas about how quantum physics works.

    Which is a very good (and, in fact, common) way to proceed. But the choice to decide that way is not a "Buridan's choice", beause the alternatives (getting to one of two equally suitable piles of hay to eat, and starving to death) are not equally suitable.

    This may be the case, for a true "Buridan's choice". But when you are very strongly tempted to take the "quick and easy" route, even though it will hurt someone, but are also contemplating "doing the right thing" even though it does not appear to be to your advantage at all, that is not the same thing. There does not appear to be anything that indicates such a choice is made arbitrarily. And once you have made that choice a few times, it becomes something of a habit, and that much harder to change. (And that is true, no matter which way you go.)

  11. Asyncritus

    Asyncritus Expert on everything

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    Please do so. In particular, I would like to hear your thoughts concerning moral values and the lack of any possibility, at any point, to actually "choose" in any way other than what was actually decided. You have made it clear that you favour that analysis of choices, i.e., that no one ever makes any choice that could actually have been made any other way, yet you also defend the concept of moral imperitives. I would be very interested in hearing how you reconcile those two, without "moral imperitives" being trivialized to the point where a "bad" person is simply someone who never had the possibility of being anything else and must face the consequences of being what he is.

  12. K.

    K. Sober

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    Partial determination is probably an important problem for this discussion. It can have at least two meanings:

    (1) The universe is made up of several parts, some of which are fully determined by causes, while others are not. This is the sense in which we've been discussing the problem so far, and some of the arguments further down still address this point.

    (2) One specific event may be partially determined by previous causes. This, I have a very hard time understanding, and here's why:

    For causes to determine an event X, I would demand a set of causes Y to be previously given such that X will happen if all y in Y are true. (Such that other sets Y' and Y'' and so forth might also be sets of causes for X.)

    Now to add a non-deterministic aspect to this would mean that in some sense, X is caused by the elements of Y, and yet with Y being true, X still only actually happens iff Z (where Z is a set of "free choices" in your model). At this point, either I have simply divided what used to be Y into Y u Z, in which case "free" is no less an arbitrary label than "Z" -- or else the elements in Y no longer *cause* X at all. At best, we might say that they *allow* X, but so do many, many elements e that are not in Y or Z in the first place!

    That supernumerous element looks a lot like Badiou's allegedly Platonic defintion of the event, which I find frankly abhorrent -- it creates a worldview in which some things that happen are events and others aren't, and the former are logically inexplicable 'revolutions' that morally demand 'faith' from its 'followers'. Atrocious crimes, specifically, are among his examples.

    Can you help me see how you imagine partial determination to work in detail?

    Yes, that is a very realistic scenario. But if seems to me to differ from the donut situation. There is no "right thing to do" in choosing vanilla or coconut. As soon as there is, e.g. in choosing to sleep long or go to Bible study, I would look for intelligible reasons why our protagonist chooses one over the other -- and all those reasons end up being previous causes.

    This touches upon the question of philosophical optimism -- why do we sometimes do A although we know that B is better? My answer is that in those cases, we don't actually believe that B is better; at most we believe that it will be best if we do A and tell ourselves and others that we recognize the superiority of B. And again, there are reasons in the shape of previous causes for that catenation of beliefs.

    I suspect that for you, these situations involve a truly free choice. But if those truly free choices are true because I imagine that a person truly and fully wants to do B, and yet might do A anyway -- that seems, to me, a denial of freedom, not its assertion.

    I would like to ascribe responsibility to the murderer, and thus to the many small decisions that made him a person who may commit murder. While those might be a very large set of very minor decisions, I feel that we are only happy with that explanation because we assume yet another, very influential cause in his character or soul that will lead him to do the right thing more often than not -- or to fail more often than not in those little choices. But that, of course, re-introduces a fully determining factor.

    I think it might be worth reading a little bit of Kant on this, as I could only worsen his text in a paraphrase -- the main bit is in the prologue to the "Prolegomena to any future metaphysics" (A13):

    http://www.sparknotes.com/philosophy/prolegomena/section1.rhtml

    The basic idea is this. Hume points out that causality canot be observed in the indivdiual case that is explained by it, and reintroduces it as a conventional assumption. The trick here is that conventional concepts still seem to be empirical at heart -- they are the result of people agreeing, however implicitly, on that convention. Kant fully agrees with Hume's denial of any observation that demonstrates causality, and credits Hume for "waking him from the dogmatic slumber" of previous metaphysics; but then realizes that causality is not an arbitrary convention, but that causality along with several other concepts are preconditions of human reasoning, preceding all empirical observation -- i.e., the very definition of "pure reason".

    Then how would you distinguish a denial of randomness from an assertion of determinism? If an event is neither random nor determined, what is it?

    I don't think so. I am no quantum physicist, but smart friends who are and understand philosophy always insist that quantum physic does not introduce true randomness, because all such randomness happens only in order to collapse to macroscopic causality.

    Yes. I have freely decided that I want to eat one of two, albeit any one -- determined by my hunger. And then I delegated the rest of the decision, namely which one to eat, to a deterministic process that I do not attribute to myself. In my view, both are causes determining effects, and freedom is the recognition of some causes as being proper to the agent.
  13. Asyncritus

    Asyncritus Expert on everything

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    But that is not the way the world works. Causes are not "true" and "false". They are just factors, which together determine an outcome. Does striking a match cause a flame? Not exactly. Even if you assign a "true" value to striking the match, it might not light. On the other hand, the match can light under certain other circumstances even without being stuck. And causes are not even always of the "if any one of the following are present, X will happen" nature. Sometimes, it takes all of several factors, but even when all of those factors are present, if various other factors are present, X will not happen.

    A non-deterministic factor is simply one more factor, which might or might not be sufficient to change whether or not B happens. So your whole argument is an attempt to set up a false dichotomy by reducing events to "one of two kinds", when in fact there are almost always lots of factors that are involved. Adding another one simply means that, in the presence of that factor, the other factors might or might not produce the same effect as without it, depending on the nature and strength of that additional factor. If that factor is non-determinate, that changes nothing in how it works.

    Correct. The common point is only that there is no empirical evidence, and no compelling logical reason, that causes us to say there is no free will involved, as there appears to be.

    Only if you define it that way. At some point, an initial decision was made. By definition, that is not a "previous" cause.

    My underlining in the quote, to bring out the salient point.

    It a person "truly and fully wants to do B" then we are not in the presence of an initial decision, so that is not the type of situation we are discussing. It is when a person has not yet fully made up his mind one way or the other that a decision is made.

    How so? I do not see that this follows in any way. Maybe I do not understand what you are saying.

    Thanks. I'll come back to this once I have had time to go over it sufficiently.

    That might be another way of saying the same thing. I have a friend who deals with quantum theory and although he insists that cause and effect do not hold at the quantum level, he also insists that beyone the quantum level, physical events are fully deterministic. In any case, there is a reason for which I included the word "may" even at the quantum level.

    But can he choose which causes are proper to the agent, or affect the nature or degree of those causes? If not, I still don't see how that can be called freedom.

  14. K.

    K. Sober

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    But that's why I am working with sets here. Striking the match is just one element; given anumber of other things being the case, and several others not being the case, striking the match will light a flame.

    But surely introducing that factor invalidates all of the others! How can the other causes still be considered causes if this factor, without being causally related to anything else, decides the outcome, while they don't?

    Well, in my deterministic world, there is a maximum of one thing that is truly initial, primum movens, and even that might be doubted, as it is rivalled by an infinity of previous determinants.

    Let's turn this aroung for a minute and talk about the person who does commit murder, as the attribution of responsibility can be phrased in more common terms here. I'd like to examine whether your model allows us to place the responsibility for that act on the murderer. Usually, this involves making sure that he freely decided to commit murder. If so, then we have to look for a free choice in his present or past that leads to this act. Following what we have said so far, we're not looking in the present so much, as his character being that of an able murderer, perhaps coupled with a need for revenge whenever he feels wronged, is a fact about his personality, previously established. So we move back from decision to previous decision to previous decision. By your most recent description, we will only find freedom once we find him doing something he does not in fact "truly and fully want to do". But then how can we make him responsible for that action?

    On the contrary. If he could freely choose what actions and choices are proper to him, he would be master of his own free actions only in the sense in which that king from The Little Prince is master of the sun -- you know, the one who carefully times his command for the sun to rise so that it directly precedes each sunrise.

    You've skipped over the bit where I asked you to explain how your denial of randomness in the universe differs from an assertion of determinism. I'd still like to hear you explain that, as I think it's crucial.
  15. Asyncritus

    Asyncritus Expert on everything

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    Why? This is a huge logical jump, that is neither logically justified nor something observable. Introducing another factor of any nature does not "invalidate all of the others". It simply changes the nature of the total set. But that in itself still does not determine how the various factors (which are all still there) will interact. It may be that a new factor (non-deterministic or not) will change all the rest, and it may not.

    A rather trivial example: A fragile glass jar is falling from 100 m onto concrete. Given the various factors involved (strength of the jar, solidity of the concrete, force of gravity, air resistance...) it is extremely probable that the jar will break. Let's assume it is the (vastly more likely) case where the jar will break. (That's easy enough to assume, because it simply means defining the problem that way.)

    Now let's introduce a new factor which, according to you is deterministic but according to me is not: I see the jar falling and, deluded about my (non-existent) telekinetics "powers", I wave my hands like a good Jedi and will the jar not to break.

    Assuming for the sake of argument that free will actually exists, and I didn't have to do that, it is obvious that I have introduced into the event a non-deterministic factor. In what way does that "invalidate all the others"? The jar will still break.

    Now let's modify the example somewhat. Instead of deluding myself about some kind of weird "Jedi thing", I am near enough to the impact point that I can try catching the jar. I make a choice (which for the sake of argument we will assume is truly free: I could really and truly decide the other way) between simply getting out of the way so I don't get hit or showered with breaking glass, or I could try to catch it. I decide to try to catch it.

    Does that "invalidate all the other factors"? No, it clearly does not. The solidity of the jar is still the same, the force of gravity is still the same, and so on. I have merely introduced another factor, which will in turn introduce further factors (for example, the force with which it strikes my hands). That will change the outcome of the event (if it breaks, it will not break in the same way as if I had just gotten out of the way, and it might not break at all), but that simply shows that the total combination of factors is now different, because of my decision.

    That does not in any way prove or even tend to prove that those other factors suddenly do not exist, or come into play. It simply shows that, as in every other case, an event is the result of a whole bunch of factors. If one or more of those factors is a free choice rather than a deterministic choice, that changes absolutely nothing in the equation. It is simply one of the factors, whose effect, in combination with all the other factors, will determine the nature of the event.

    I think part of the problem is you want to call all the factors "causes", but they are not. The "cause" is the total combination of all the factors.

    I am aware of that. But I am saying that wordview is unjustified and have not yet seen anything that even tends to justify it.

    Because he made the choice to do it. Until he made that choice, he was neither "truly and fulling wanting to do it" nor "truly and fully not wanting to do it". He was somewhere in between the end-points. Maybe leaning one way or the other, maybe pretty much in the middle. He makes the choice when he could have gone either way, which makes him responsible for the action that follows from that decision.

    And do I understand correctly, then, that you do totally reject the concept of moral responsibility?

    Because I consider three potential factors and not just two. Potentially, there are deterministic factors, random factors and free-will factors. Eliminating the middle one does not eliminate the third one.

  16. Bickendan

    Bickendan Custom Title Administrator Faceless Mook Writer

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    These posts are too short. Didn't read :bailey:
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  17. Asyncritus

    Asyncritus Expert on everything

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    Sorry, Bick, I'm going to have to go ahead and give you a warning for that post. This thread has a minimum-length requirement for posts, and they all must contain at least two terms from the subject list ("epistemological, deterministic, free-will, responsibility, Kantian, ontological, conclusion, abject fool who understands nothing").

    Your post does not meet those requirements. It has therefore been determined that you may no longer choose freely to post in this thread, until you have read at least 100 pages of [-]deadly boring[/-] fascinating studies about epistemology.

    Sorry.

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  18. K.

    K. Sober

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    I'm pulling this to the front because it is the most important point:

    NO, the opposite is true! My reason for holding on to determinism is that without determinism, I believe I would have to give up any meaningful concept of moral responsibility. Your model of freedom, to me, denies any responsibility on the human agent's part, for anything that agent ever does. I will continue to explain why, but it seems paramount to me that we remember we both agree on personal moral responsibility for human actions, but we currently both believe that the other's model makes it logically impossible.

    Look once more at our murderer:

    This seems non-sensical to me. Just to remind us both, we're talking about something like going to Bible study one Thursday night, ten years before the murder, or skipping it; a larger set of similar choices; and the eventual formation of a character from the resulting experiences that makes our protagonist able or unable to commit murder. But by definition, his choice to go to study or not is meaningless to him at that earlier point. I can't place the responsibility of murder on a man who did nothing wrong but skip Bible class while believing that all things would be exactly equal if he skipped Bible class.

    So how do random factors differ from free-will factors, other than by existence?


    -----

    I have separated the rest of the argument, which was about non-determinate factors invalidatiyn the causality that exists between deterministic factors, because I get the feeling we're misunderstanding each other. But I've tried to answer anyway, in case it helps you to figure out where we start to differ -- I am quite unsure.


    Either it changes the outcome, or it hasn't really been added in any meaningful way. Consider the causality in a simplified situation which we've already tocuhed upon: I drop a pencil, gravity pulls it to the ground. It won't fall unless I let go and it won't fall unless there is gravity; both are needed. A large but finite number of other conditions also need to be met, such as nothing getting in the way, no other force holding or pulling up the pencil, etc. etc. But however large the set grows, causality demands that if all the conditions in that set are satisfied, the penccl will fall to the ground.

    But now you're adding another element that is non-deterministic. Some other proposition is now in a relationship to this situation such that it might, but does not necessarily stop the pencil from falling if it is true, AND it might, but does not necessarily stop the pencil from falling if it is false. And remember that this is not a case of limited knowledge; rather, we know with certainty that the new element will change the behaviour of the pencil in non-deterministic ways. So neither can we treat it as another element by the same rules as the others, nor can we restate our original rule for the others with this element in the picture. The basic rule of causality no longer applies for the other elements in the set that is the cause of the pencil's fall, because it does not apply for this one.

    First, let me congratulate you on the extent of your Europeazition. I would hate to consider a hypothetical glass jar dropping by feet or yards.

    That's because you haven't introduced a new element into the situation at all. You have introduced a new element into the universe, but we already imagined that the universe contained you, me, sacks of rice in China and Leonard Nimoy, among other things, but that they weren't relevant to the falling jar. Neither is your attempted Jedi trick.

    Your catching the jar doesn't invalidate anything. But your catching the jar considered as non-deterministic does. You see, you have only explicitly considered the causal connection between your catch and the jar not breaking. But that's not the point where you deny determinism: You clearly said that if you do decide to catch it, it won't break. The lack of determinism is in your decision to catch it.

    If the indeterminate relation was between your catch and the jar breaking, we would have to say something like "You catch the jar so that it does not hit the floor, and as a result the jar either hits the floor and breaks or does not hit the floor and break." This is clearly non-sensical. But it's not logically different -- only rhetorically more common -- to say that your decision emerges from no determining cause.

    Consider this question: Is the fragility of the jar a part of the cause that leads to the jar breaking? It is. Why? Because all other things being equal, but the jar being made from transparent aluminium, it will no longer break. Each element of the cause has a veto power. But now you introduce an agent in the sense that that agent being equal in every way, the jar might break or not break. Adding or subtracting fragility while the rest of the situation remains equal no longer changes the outcome. No causality remains between it and the jar's destruction.
  19. ehrie

    ehrie 1000 threads against me

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    These walls of text keep critting me for tons of damage. Halp.
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  20. Aurora

    Aurora VincerĂ²!

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    There is a lot of text in this thread. So, standard answer that fits everywhere: BUSH SUCKS!
  21. Asyncritus

    Asyncritus Expert on everything

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    I'm going to follow your example and "pull to the front" a point that I think is of paramount importance:

    I am not only convinced you are right on this point, I am more and more convinced there is no possibility of understanding each other. We seem to be speaking two completely different "languages" where logic is concerned:
    • You do not see how a person can be morally responsible for a choice he makes if he could have done it either way. I do not see how a person can be morally responsible for a choice he makes if he could not have done it either way.
    • You do not see how an additional factor is part of something unless it changes the outcome. I do not see how that can be anything other than obvious. (Is a new player not part of the game, just because his coming in didn't finally allow his team to come from behind and win?)
    • You do not see how a choice can be "free" if a person really could have done it either way. I do not see how a choice can be "free" if a person could not have truly done it either way.
    • You do not see how a choice to "do the right thing" instead of "taking the easy way out" is meaningful (you even said that it is not meaningful "by definition"). I do not see how such a choice can be called meaningless, and I really don't see how it is "by definition".
    • You do not see how various factors taken together are all part of the "cause" of an event, which is determined by the interplay between them rather than any one of them. I do not see how that can be anything but patently obvious.
    I'm not sure how you could explain your points better, because I believe you are honestly doing your best, and yet your explanations don't make any sense to me at all. It's not just that they are not fully convincing, but they are as nonsensical to me as "The dark white jumped because trees with wings are happily ever after". And I get the distinct impression that my explanations are no more meaningful to you, either. I do not think it is because either of us is stupid, or too stubborn to listen to what the other is saying. I honestly believe that in terms of fundamental logic, we are "speaking completely different languages". Does that seem a fair assesment to you?

    Given that, I will respond to a few other quick points, and then ask some questions, rather than continue with the same attempts at explanation.

    Nor can I. In fact, I cannot believe that one single decision, all by itself, is the only "moral" decision he ever made in his life. At every point where he "made himself worse", even by a tiny little bit, he chose to do so, freely. His moral responsibility is because he made all those thousands and thousands of little decisions that, like tiny drops making up a destructive storm, ended up making him a murderer. He is not guilty because of one drop, but because there are so many of them that are the result of his choices.

    But, even though I'm afraid I would not understand the answer at all, I would really like to know how you can hold someone morally responsible for something while maintaining that, at every point in his life, he "made decisions" in the only possible way. If a tree falls down and smashes my car, I don't like that and I will cut it up and remove it, but I don't hold it "morally" responsible because it had no choice. I merely find it inconvenient.

    By being free choices instead of random. Random factors, if they exist, just "are". Free-will factors are the input of the human mind into a situation.

    Remember: I have spent much more time in Europe and Africa than in America, and more recently. I am married to a European and my children are Europeans. And I was already more at ease with the international system than the American system before I even came to Europe.

    Not so. Blatantly not so. If there was no concrete there, for example, but packed dirt, the glass would probably still break. So changing that element does not modify the result, which means that the concrete did not have "veto power". Quite a few other combinations of elements could produce the same result.

    -----------------------------

    Now, a question: Do you believe that you came to be convinced of determinism by any decisions that you could have made the other way? That is, do you think that, at any point in your life up until now, you really and truly could have said: "No, that doesn't make sense, I refuse to believe it"? And by the same token, do you believe that I came to be convinced of free-will by any decisions that I could have made the other way? That is, do you think that, at any point in my life up until now, I really and truly could have said: "No, that doesn't make sense, I refuse to believe it"?

    And if both of us are simply holding to positions that are the unavoidable result of those influences we have experienced up until how, what basis is there for saying that one is true and the other is false? We have agreed that no empirical data is available either way, so our positions are just based on reasoning. If we had no possibility of reasoning any other way, if we have come to our conclusions without any possibility of coming to any other conclusion (assuming the same factors that influenced us), what basis is there for saying: "I believe this to be true"?

    When the exact same process (necessarily following the influence of the factors experienced, with no possibility of ever deviating from their dictates or influencing the result other than in the way we had to influence it) produces opposite results, isn't any statement about which position is "true" merely a trivial statement about which factors went into it?

  22. RickDeckard

    RickDeckard Socialist

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    Hmmm. I'll apologise first of all for not reading this thread in detail, or the last, since I don't have much time right now. Buy I'll address this issue.

    Firstly, although I realise that you've recently cited a colleague who claims that it isn't the case, my view is that the present state of physics disallows strict determinism. I've read to a reasonably advanced level on the subject and while things like the "many worlds" model might preserve a form of determinism, most mainstream views do not, and I haven't heard anything solid to contradict that.

    Secondly, we don't understand the human mind in terms of how moral or other choices are made. There are suggestions (including by Roger Penrose who I've lately been reading) that this is intimately connected to quantum processes. That would make human choices completely non-deterministic - although that aside, it remains quite possible that our brains are operating on a scale orders of magnitude higher and as such that the chemical processes are deterministic. (In the "weak" sense of still being affected by underlying quantum processes that are probabilistic.)

    Thirdly and the nub of the matter, given that compatabilism aims to reconcile determinism and free will, your question is phrased in an odd way. I can only echo Packard's statement that a choice is not less a choice for being the result of the various inputs we recieve, memories we have and other attributes. If that makes us essentially computers, then so be it. An IF-THEN-ELSE statement in a computer is still a "choice", even though given exactly the same parameters, the result is invariable.
    What does that do to moral responsibility? Nothing. Why should it? You're not an entity being pushed around by deterministic processes to do things that are bad. You are the deterministic processes. Part of the system. That's an important distinction.

    So it seems that the debate hinges on the definition of "choice", particularly in how you're defining that differently to us.

    I simply don't understand what the claim by your side of the argument is. Your definition of "free will" seems to suggest an agent aloof from the rest of existence that in some respect does not take inputs from anything but itself. It does, and I'm sure it's something you don't mind doing, require one to delve into theological concepts such as dualism, and I find those less than rigorous.
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  23. Asyncritus

    Asyncritus Expert on everything

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    Thanks for your input, Rick. I admit I haven't read it in detail yet, and can't right now. I'm going to Germany for the week-end. But I'll get back to this Monday. By then, Packard will probably have had time to respond as well, so it will give me something to do!

    Have fun until then.

  24. Asyncritus

    Asyncritus Expert on everything

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    All I can say is: That is not what I have heard, nor what Packard has heard. That is why I maintain that there appears to be serious disagreement even among the "experts" on the issue and that it is very likely that 100 or 1000 years from now, physicists will be very amused by our present, naive ideas.

    "Suggestions" do not a rigorous epistemology make.

    But I am no supporter of compatibilism. It is (part of) the topic of this thread because It's what Packard and I were discussing in the other thread. I personally do not see how compatibilism can be a meaninful philosophy in any case, so my encouragement to you to get involved in the question is not related to compatibilism but only to determinism and moral responsibility.

    An interesting definition of "choice".

    Ah, but I am if determinism is correct. I have never in my life made a choice, according to that philosophy, that I could have made otherwise. In what way, then, is it "wrong" for me to kill someone who annoys me, if I never could have truly chosen not to do so?

    You wrote: "If that makes us essentially computers, then so be it" and talked about IF-THEN-ELSE statements. If a computer has an instruction in the form "IF ANNOY=1 THEN KILL" and "ANNOY" does indeed = 1, there is no question of "right" or "wrong" in the computer making a "choice" about which it didn't have any real "choice". If there is something "wrong" there, then it lies with the programmers, not with the computer.

    But if the entire universe is and always has been deterministic, there are no "programmers" and therefore there is no such thing as "wrong". All of existence is simply what it must be: slavery, racism, selfishness, war crimes, reality television shows and all.

    Which changes nothing, so I don't see how that is "an important distinction". It still takes away, as far as I can see, any possibility of moral responsibility.

    Actually, no. "Choice" can be defined however one wishes. I am simply asking how, if "choice" is defined as "selecting among alternatives on the basis of parameters that totally determine the outcome, so that the agent making the selection did not have any real-world options beyond the one selected" is compatible with the concept of moral responsibility.

    1) In my opinion, it would make for a much more reasonable debate to leave terms like "your side" out of it. I do not think that truth has "a side".

    2) A free will agent does take inputs from sources other than itself, but nevertheless has some leeway within the parameters defined by those inputs.

    3) I fail to see what this has to do with dualism, and would like to hear a bit more on that subject.

  25. RickDeckard

    RickDeckard Socialist

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    Addressing the most important bits...

    Precisely my point - it is impossible to be rigorous in this matter since we lack important data. This isn't really an epistemilogical question as far as I'm concerned - in the final analysis, it's a scientific one.

    You insist on your own definition of "choice" in the first instance, and then reject the idea that our defining it differently is the issue. I maintain that it is, and I don't understand what your definition is, once one attempts to drill down into what "free agent" actually means.

    Returning to the computer, could you in principle design a computer with choice - by your definition? You'll agree that you can't, and that the reason you can't is because any computer will lack something that humans have. You might call it a mind, or a soul, or whatever. But it's non-material, and it's a theological construct. Ergo mind-body dualism.

    The "mind" part of this presumably has the qualities necessary for "free will" in the sense that you mean. But leaving aside the total lack of evidence for such a concept, can you explain how such a mind would logically function? Given a choice between an apple for lunch or a banana for lunch, and removing outside inputs, how does it reach its decision "freely" from a mechanical-logical point of view? What's the decision tree or equivalent, and how can it not be based on inputs - unless it's, say, random? That's a very woolly concept, that I've never seen defined rigorously or otherwise.

    Now, returning to moral responsibility...

    Maybe we mean something different by this as well, and maybe that manifests itself in our broader political viewpoints. You may think that a tendency to do "bad things", being based on spontaneous decisions of the mind/soul entity I described makes a "bad person" who deserves to be punished for punishments sake. I do not. I tend not to favour retributive justice.
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2013
  26. Asyncritus

    Asyncritus Expert on everything

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    Ok, I see where you're coming from with the "dualism" bit. Yes, if there is a "choice" in the sense that a person really and truly could have made a decision a different way, then that does indeed imply that there is something that is not the same as matter-energy. In fact, I have made that very point a number of times. I am not used to calling that "dualism" but the term can indeed be applied, since it implies that there are at minimum two fundamentally different principles at work in the universe, one that is "mind" (for want of a better term) and the other that is "matter" (and/or energy, and maybe other parameters such as time and space).

    It would appear that you agree with my general reasoning (the "if A then B" part), but reject the conclusion because you reject the concept of choice that I use (IOW, you would say "not A" where I say "A"). Is that correct? That has the merit of being consistent.

    I note, however, as I have always noted, that the implications of the "not A" position are that every choice you have ever made (choices concerning actions, beliefs, reactions, values...) has been fully determined by factors completely outside your control. Even earlier choices, since they themselves were dictated by previously existing factors, do not involve any control of any kind.

    IOW, everything you believe, everything you do, is simply the result of a mindless universe that inexcapably made you the determinist atheist that you are exactly the same way it made me the free-will theist I am (if your point of view is correct).

    We are both, with our radically contradictory philosophies, exactly what must be. Would you agree with that?

    Says you. I see evidence for it in every choice I make. To maintain your position, you have to re-interpret every choice you make into a "I really couldn't have done anything else" idea, that is blatantly counter-intuitive.

    Not really, because our logic is deterministic in nature, and by definition we are speaking of something non-deterministic. Its "mechanism" is therefore different from the mathematical logic we use to explain why "A" necessarily implies "B". But I don't need to explain how it would function for it to exist. Long before people could explain how gravity works (for that matter, we can't yet fully explain it even today), people could note its existence. Denying the existence of something because you cannot explain how it works is just silly.

    The "punishment" part is irrelevant, and I am not much in favour of retributive justice myself. Nevertheless, what grounds is there for condemning, say, slavery, if those who practiced it could not have done otherwise? We can simply say that it was, and is not.

    That, it seems to me, eliminates all moral values completely. I simply note that person A rapes and kills young women, and eats them for lunch, while noting that person B feeds the poor and cares for widows and orphans. Both of them are exactly what they had to be. On what grounds can I say that what person A does is "bad" and what person B does is "good"?

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  27. K.

    K. Sober

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    Sorry! I thought I posted about my absence before I went... must have forgot. I'm back and will be back with a medium length treatise soon. :)
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  28. Asyncritus

    Asyncritus Expert on everything

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    Good. Rick was feeling kind of alone here, I suppose, since I was gone for three days as well.

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  29. K.

    K. Sober

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    Thanks for the fresh start, we clearly need it. We might also have to consider the possibility that the best we can achieve here is to phrase as clearly and concisely as we can the main difference between our worldviews. Which is why I will spend some time commenting on your summary of those differences before I move on to your new questions. I'll add a new run at what I now consider the core problem in the end.

    Yes.

    Not quite. I wasn't taking about joining any old something, but something precisely defined as "the set of factors causing the outcome". To say that nothing can join that set without affecting the outcome is of course tautological, but let's look at the team player you bring up to see what the general point is:

    A player joining a game has many effects, of course: He will be seen to have joined the game, he may get enjoyment from playing, tomorrow's papers will report he played, and so forth. In all of these ways, he did affect outcomes, and I'm happy to say he joined the game. But if his team lost with him playing, then clearly I can't consider him part of the cause for his team winning; and if in addition to that, I know for an absolute fact that they also would have lost in every scenario in which he did not join the game, then I won't consider him a cause for their defeat either. So I won't say he was part of the cause for their losing the game in any way.

    In real life, we can never be absolutely sure whether his participation affected the outcome, but that is once more about limits of knowledge, not about limits of facts in the universe. The analogy isn't about our ability to perfectly determine causes and effects in real life situations, but about imagining non-deterministic events alongside those that have clear causes and effects. I take it that your Jedi example previously was one attempt to mitigate those limits of our knowledge: When you stand aside just concentrating your non-existant telekinesis on an object, we both feel comparatively comfortable assuming you won't affect that object. And if a player called onto the field stood right at its edge for the whole game, just waving his hand and whispering "these aren't the goalies you're looking for", I would be so sure he didn't affect the outcome of the game I might be tempted to say he didn't in fact properly join the game even if the records show he technically did.


    Yes.

    Not quite, and I have some hope that this might lead us somewhere good, so I'll discuss it at greater length right at the end.

    No, I'm fine with the interplay. I'll just demand that for any x, x is only part of a set that makes up a viable cause for y iff ceteris paribus, y will happen if x is true and y will not happen if x is false. Ceteris paribus, mind you; if other causes don't interact with x in the same way, x might not cause y. Liekwise, other elements could interact so that y comes about without x.

    Right, because not only taking away the concrete, but adding packed dirt returns a new set that is also a viable cause for the jar breaking. But consider for a minute why you chose to talk about the concrete: I believe it's because we both understand that we need some hard object for the jar to hit, so that it will break. Take away that hardness by replacing it with infinite empty space, or a mattress, whatever is easier to come by, and not only will the jar not break, but we only accept the concrete as part of the preconditions of the cause for the jar breaking because we know that it might be replaced with something that will stop it from breaking. That's veto power -- depending on your choice of notation, either a general veto power for 'hardness' or even a veto power for 'concrete' with ceteris paribus including that there is no packed dirt there either way.


    ------------------

    Since I wouldn't call them decisions in that case, the answer has to be analytically no, just as if you'd ask me if I had come by my conviction because of round squares.

    Absolutely, and I did in fact say just that, before I read Augustine, Kant, and the others. But that's not really what you were trying to ask me, I think. What I think you want to hear is that given all the experiences and thoughts and idiosyncratic values I had had at the time, I could not have embraced compatibilism, just as given all the input I have had since then, I cannot deny it now. Note that the main difference is my engagement in philosophy. So what changes a mind, in my view, is, among many other possibilities, philosophy.

    The quality of those inputs considered as proof, of course. And we consider their quality by the standards we have learned because we've studied logic, and so forth. This, to me, makes both positions and their opposition as it plays out in debate valuable. If, given all the reasons you have for denying determinism, all the experiences, thoughts, arguments you have invested into this problem over the years, your decision to embrace or deny it were now just an unrelated matter of whim, I'd spare my breath. Even if I convinced you, you might as well change your mind again int he next second; in fact, I might never find out. What is more, I might never find out even if I changed my mind because of your arguments, because there would be not one single necessary observable consequence from such a change in opinion, even to myself.

    But neither are the processes identical -- we haven't considered the same sources, arguments, and experiences --, nor is either process over now! At the (Zeno-esque removed) end, the factors that go into the opinion potentially encompass everything in the universe, meaning everything that is the case, and everything there is to know about following correctly from those fcats. The resultant statement is then far from trivial.

    ------------

    Now what I would like to do is re-examine, by both our descriptions, how that murdering protagonist of our thought experiment may or may not be burdened with responsibility. After all, we both agree that he should be morally responsible, even if we are diametrically opposed as to which worldview will allow this.

    Protagonist P, then, goes out on the evening of February 18th, 2013, to shoot his neighbour, Q. He does so because Q has slept with P's wife, let's say, and she has just told him so and left him. P goes to his safe, gets his gun, walks over to Q's house, Q answers the doorbell, and bang, he's dead.

    We want to arrive at a view of this event that places moral responsibility on P, right?

    But we have already agreed that what with P being who P was at lunchtime, that outcome might well have been fully deterministic. (I say 'might' because I think that although you pointed out that you would not commit murder because of who you are, you might still entertain the possibility that some people are such that their decision to murder is "free" in your sense in that very moment. It suffices for my thought experiment that you can conceive of a protagonist for whom that reaction is fully part of who he is right now.)

    For me, that's fine. Borrowing from Rick's post, that person has a bit of programming that says IF ADULTERY(x, my_wife) THEN DONOTSUFFERTOLIVE(x). Like Rick, I would say that that line of programming is (part of) who P is, and that because of this, the responsibility for shooting Q falls squarely on P's shoulders. Freedom is in the fact that it was his programming, rather than some element outside of him, that was directly involved in pulling the trigger. That other factors in his past determined that programming is no problem; they made him the person he is, and the person he is is the one who is responsible.

    But for you, the whole idea of programming makes P seem less than free. And yet IIUC, you agree that at that moment, P conceivably was fully programmed to act as he did. But you reintroduce your understanding of freedom by making that programming a consequence of many little choices over the many years before Feb 18, 2013. In many cases, we might imaigine, P refrained from considering the morality of taking a life, decided against joining a creed that would teach him to value human life, did not care to examine his anger issues and his growing obsession with the need for revenge along with his archaic concept of male pride, and so forth:

    (In passing, note that there is a bit of Zeno in this as well, which intrigues me; we both can't uphold our worldviews without some sense of liminal sums. Peirce beckons.)

    Now let's look at any one of those 'small' decisions. I understand that no one of those decisions makes him a murderer, but the lot of them put together do, and the following questions could be asked not only of any, but of all of them. If we have no way of answering them, we have a real problem.

    To choose any one, let's say we're interested in why he slept late on the first Sunday in October, 1999, rather than going to Bible study. What are his motives?

    First of all, we do not assume that he knows at this point that he is slwly turning himself into a murderer and chooses not to go BECAUSE he wants that outcome. If he wanted to be a murderer back in 1999, he was already the kind of guy whom we're saying he is only to eventually become. But note that this also means that for each of those small free choices that eventually sum up to make him responsible of murder, there is not one in which he deliberately embraces that result. This already makes me doubt that he could be fully responsible in this worldview.

    Secondly, I don't think we're considering honest misgivings here. Another person might not refrain from Bible study because they'd prefer sleeping late, but because they are unsure about the Bible as well as the study group, are concerned that their head will be filled with untrue superstitions if they go, and decide against it on those grounds. Now for the sake of the argument, they might be utterly wrong about this; but even so, given their false belief, I doubt you would be happy pointing to this decision to stick to what they consider truth and say that because of many such decisions in favour of truth and against superstition, you now hold them responsible for murder. I certainly wouldn't be comfortable with that.

    Instead, we're more likely dealing with a case of P "taking the easy way out", as you said earlier. Meaning he chooses a trifling short-term gain, sleeping late, over a horrendous long-term damage, turning into a morally decrepit murderer. This is where the full weight of philosophical optimism comes to bear. We have to ask: Why do people ever take the easy way out? Let's look at a number of possible reasons:

    a. They disbelieve, or do not even know about, the long-term damage. If P truly believes there is NO relevant harm done in skipping Bible study, I cannot fault him for staying at home in his bed. I doubt you can.

    b. They value the short-term gain more highly than the long-term damage. But to have such values is to have determining factors within yourself that MAKE you choose one thing over another. This only shifts the problem from this event, now fully deterministic, to another, perhaps earlier still.

    c. So the only thing I see left is to look at the person who clearly sees that long-term damage may ensue if he stays at home, and clearly values that damage more highly than any short-term gain from staying in bed, and yet because he is free does the opposite of what those two beliefs imply.

    This, as I see it, is what freedom in your definition boils down to: Watching yourself, helplessly, as you do something that does not fit your motives at all. Addicts sometimes report experiencing events that, to them, feel as if this were the case. To a lesser degree, I am sure that we all sometimes do, although I differ from you by beleiveing that we are mistaken in our interpretation. But either way, the point is this: are those instances the moments, and indeed the only moments, that make us call ourselves free? When for reasons we do not understand, because there are no reasons to understand, we do something that contradicts our actual intention in every conceivable way, and then leads to a result we could never have guessed?

    To me, that is the very opposite of freedom, and it would result in the very opposite of responsibility. How can I place on a person the responsibility for an action that happened in every sense despite himself?
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  30. Black Dove

    Black Dove Mildly Offensive

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    FTFY