Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Loaded dice-1

Perry Robinson has chosen to comment on a little essay of mine.

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The first general problem is in the definitions that Hays provides. He says that if libertarian free will existed then there are only three logical possibilities: Hard Determinism, Soft Determinism, and Indeterminism. As I make clear if libertarian freedom existed the first two options are logically impossible.

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Going back and reviewing my original piece, I can see now how Perry was thrown off by my elliptical syntax. I was using a chiasmic (A-B-A) style of argument--such as Paul uses in Rom 5:12-19 (A: 12>B: 13-14>A: 15-19)--where I first state the specific option I’m most concerned with, then quickly shift to a general overview of the alternatives, of which that is one, in order to place it in a larger context, then, after this parenthetical aside, go back to the specific option.

So I’m sorry that my abbreviated syntax left him confused on this particular point. Many connections are so obvious to a writer that he assumes things which are obvious to himself, but not necessarily as obvious to the reader.

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Hays attempts to pick out the concept of Hard Determinism by saying that it is the idea that “We are not free to do otherwise even if we wanted to do otherwise.”

This isn’t the idea of Hard Determinism. Hard Determinism put forward by the likes of Derek Pereboom is in part the idea that Determinism is true and Libertarianism is false. If Libertarianism is false, then there cannot be libertarian free will. Hard Determinism is furthermore the idea that since determinism is true we have to modify our ascriptions of freedom and moral praise/blame and moral responsibility accordingly since our everyday or pre-theoretical notions of moral responsibility and freedom are not compatible with determinism. Consequently it is hardly informative to say as Hays does that Hard Determinism is compatible with the idea that freedom is an illusion since that is exactly what the position maintains. Hays is clearly confused as to what is Hard Determinism.

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Actually, Perry is the one who is pretty clearly befuddled here. I was offering some thumbnail definitions. For Perry to say that hard determinism is (in part) the idea that determinism is true and libertarianism is false, is hardly a definition of the operative terms. Indeed, that fails to define either term. Rather, it’s simply an illustration of the excluded middle: if one is true, the other is false. Perry is substituting a consequence for a definition, as if that were any alternative to what I said.

The same applies to making adjustments in our ethical outlook if hard determinism is true. That, again, is not a definition of hard determinism, but a possible consequence.

In addition, it is highly germane to the case for LFW if LFW could be illusory, for the argument from experience is a leading argument for LFW. As one of the major proponents of LFW has put it:

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One reason, certainly a weighty one for many libertarians, lies in the very experience of choice…this experience seems to carry with it the strong conviction that the various alternatives are indeed without our power—that there is nothing at all which prevents us from choosing one way or the other…I would maintain that the intuitive conviction of freedom, sustained as it is by the occurrence of choices in which we seem to determine our own future, is one that we are entitled to take seriously and to treat with great respect as we formulate our answer to the question of freedom and necessity.

W. Hasker, Metaphysics (IVP 1983), 48.

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How am I confused when, in the course of defining a position, I state “exactly what the position maintains”? Perry has a very eccentric notion of what it means to define a term.

This may be because he is committing the word=concept fallacy, as if the mere definition of a word were inclusive of the whole system of thought which the word is being used to designate. That confuses a dictionary with an encyclopedia. Surely it is possible to define General Relativity without having to explain all of the consequences and supply the mathematical formalisms.

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He glosses Soft Determinism as “We are not free to do otherwise even if we wanted to do otherwise.” The problem is that this is not Soft Determinism. Soft Determinism is the idea that determinism is true, we have freedom and determinism is logically compatible with freedom where such freedom does not include being the ultimate source or terminus of one’s actions and having alternative possibilities. Soft Determinism excludes even “wanting” to do otherwise since it excludes any form of alternative possibilities simpliciter. Alternative possibilities are the exclusive domain of Libertarianism.

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The first problem is that he has mismatched my terms and definitions. This is what I actually said:

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a) Hard determinism: We are not free to do otherwise even if we wanted to do otherwise.

b) Soft determinism: We are free to do otherwise if we want to do otherwise—although we are not free to want to do otherwise.

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Somehow he manages to get the definitions mixed up so that he attribute my definition of hard determinism to soft determinism. And I’m the one who’s confused?

He then says that “soft determinism excludes even ‘wanting’ to do otherwise since it excludes any form of alternative possibilities simpliciter,” is if that were diametrically opposed to my definition, when it looks more like a paraphrase of my original definition.

I’d add, though, that to say that soft determinism “excludes any form of alternative possibilities simpliciter,” is just that—simple-minded. All that Perry has done here is to beg the question in favor of LFW.

It is perfectly coherent to conditionalize alternative possibilities: X could do otherwise if he wanted to do otherwise.

This is necessary to distinguish soft determinism from hard determinism.

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As to Indeterminism Hays interprets it as “We are free to want to do otherwise.” Here again he seems to miss the mark. Indeterminism isn’t a thesis about desires or willing at all because it isn’t a thesis about agency. Indeterminism like determinism is a thesis regarding causation.

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As I already explained in the second installment of my essay, “Is God the author of sin?”--I regard compatibilism as a special-case of determinism, and incompatibilism as a special-case of indeterminism. We’re dealing here with a set/subset relation.

Perry then sets up a remarkably tendentious antithesis between volition and causation, as if agents can’t be causes.

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To his credit Hays correctly notes that the Westminster Confession opts for a kind of Soft Determinism but this is hardly news.

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When Perry can’t be substantive, he can always be petty. It is certainly pertinent to my purposes to locate the Westminster Confession along the determinist/indeterminist continuum.

For a champion of Byzantine theology, it is odd that Perry judges the value of a position by its newsworthiness.

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To be thorough I must note that off the bat that Frankfurt cases are not cases of Hard Determinism… Frankfurt argues that the subject appears to be free and to be morally responsible for choosing A even though he could not have done otherwise… Others, like Kane and Widerker, have argued that Frankfurt cases either presuppose determinism since the prior sign that tips the controller off as to what the subject is going to do can only indicate what the subject is going to do if it is a causally sufficient condition for the subject’s action. If there is no antecedently sufficient prior sign, then the controller can’t preempt the subject’s choice.

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Perry begins with a denial that Frankfurt-cases are cases of hard determinism, but then proceeds to lay out some contrary interpretations. So how does that undercut my argument?

In the meantime, Perry disregards my explicit shift from the stronger ontological thesis of determinism to the weaker epistemic thesis of whether the agent is in position to tell, from experience, if he enjoys LFW.

Hard determinism doesn’t have to be true to make my case. Soft determinism doesn’t’ have to be true to prove my case. Indeterminism could be true, and my case would remain.

For the point raised by the Frankfurt-case is the “possibility” that an agent is under the illusion of LFW when, in fact, is does not enjoy LFW.

I spelled that out in the very passage which Perry quotes verbatim:

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Frankfurt-cases are generally deployed to show that LFW is not a necessary condition of moral responsibility. But aside from their relevance to the ethical issues raised in the debate between compatibilism and incompatibilism, they are also relevant to the epistemic question of what would count as evidence for LFW, were it true.

The problem which Frankfurt-cases pose for libertarians is that the subject of the experiment believes himself to be free, even though he isn’t. There is nothing in his experience to falsify his belief that he is other than free, even though his belief is false. On this view, not only is hard determinism compatible with moral responsibility, it is also compatible with the illusion LFW. It is not my purpose to make a case for hard determinism. Rather, I’m arguing from the greater to the lesser. If the indeterminist can’t even disprove hard determinism, he can scarcely disprove soft determinism. The problem is that an agent is in no position to know, from the inside out, whether his actions are determined by an external source.

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Moving right along:

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Is the problem for the subject in Frankfurt cases that he believes himself to be free but isn’t? If he isn’t free, then this certainly not what Frankfurt aimed to show. Rather Frankfurt aimed to show that the subject was free even though he could not have done otherwise. Here Hays gets it wrong. (This is the polite way of saying that he can't seem to accurately reproduce the ideas of others reliably.) Moreover, since Frankfurt cases were designed to help grasp a concept in metaphysics, the subject’s knowledge or lack thereof plays little or no explanatory role as to whether libertarian freedom is a coherent concept or alternative possibilities are necessary for free will or what the concept of freedom is.

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To begin with, Perry has already documented the fact that Frankfurt-cases are emendable to more than one interpretation, including determinism.

Second, there is obviously a difference between accurately reproducing an “idea” and reproducing the “aim” of the idea. Perry is confounding the substance of a position with a particular application.

In Perry’s blinkered outlook, if a thought-experiment was designed to illustrate one thing, then it’s impermissible to creatively adapt that thought-experiment to illustrate anything else.

As such, Perry never bothers to interact with the logic of my own argument. He acts like a scribe rather than a philosopher.

2 comments:

  1. Steve,

    If you notice I corrected the mismatch on soft determinism a day or so ago.

    Perry

    ReplyDelete
  2. steve, you write with seemingly no philosphical interest other than to use philosphical terms to boost your ego. Your writing makes you appear arrogant and shows you to be uninterested in philosophy itself, you appear to be more keen to raise your status. Try writing something useful.

    ReplyDelete