Thursday, December 10, 2009

Libertarian brainwashing


You go to professional philosophers to determine whether determinism is a natural belief?

Considering the fact that action theories are philosophical theories, why wouldn’t we poll the folks who are conversant with action theory?

People who have had naturalistic determinism pounded into their brains from day one in grad school? You're kidding, aren't you.

The hoi polloi, as Vytautas would call them (including introductory philosophy students), invariably accept libertarian free will. They have to be exposed either to naturalism or to Calvinism before they will even consider the idea that our actions are all determined.

For the sake of argument, let’s stipulate that this is true.

i) Reppert defends the “natural” belief in LFW. And he substantiates that claim by also claiming that the hoi polloi, including introductory philosophy majors, “invariably” accept LFW.

But doesn’t that strike you as an oddly deterministic way to defend the natural belief in LFW? To begin with, wouldn’t a “natural” belief be a predetermined belief? The involuntary result of natural conditioning?

Even if it could be overcome, people didn’t initially choose to believe in LFW. Rather, that’s something which comes naturally.

ii) Then, to make matters worse, Reppert says that, left to their own devices, they “invariably” believe in LFW. But, once again, doesn’t that strike you as an oddly deterministic way to defend the natural belief in LFW?

I mean, if they really had LFW, then wouldn’t we expect some variability on their pretheoretical beliefs about freedom and responsibility? Aren’t they at liberty to accept something other than libertarianism?

iii) Then, to top it off, when confronted by the fact that 86.3% of professional philosophers and grad students (in philosophy) reject LFW, Reppert discounts this statistic on the grounds that they were brainwashed into rejecting LFW in grad school. But, once more, doesn’t that strike you as a oddly deterministic way to defend the natural belief in LFW?

After all, if philosophy majors really had LFW, then why would they be so susceptible to social conditioning and operant conditioning? Don’t they have the freedom to resist peer pressure?

So, Reppert has defended LFW by appealing to such deterministic mechanisms as natural conditioning, social conditioning, and operant conditioning. Seems like a self-defeating argument to me.

iv) BTW, the fact that Reppert was an avid Obama supporter enjoys a high correlation with his academic affiliations. So should we chalk that up to peer pressure?

v) However, let’s to back to the operating assumption. Do professional philosophers constitute a poor sample group? What is Reppert’s alternative? Does he think we should conduct one of those man-on-the-street interviews where a talk show host leaves the TV studio, shoves a microphone in the face of random pedestrians on the sidewalks of Manhattan or LA, and poses the following question:

Which action theory do you accept or lean toward?

i) Compatibilism
ii) Semicompatibilism
iii) Fatalism
iv) Mysterianism
v) Revisionism
vi) Substance-dualist libertarianism
vii) Agent-causal theory
vi) Noncausal free agency
vii) Event-causal free agency
viii) Hard incompatibilism
ix) Freewill subjectivism
x) None of the above

Needless to say, it requires a certain amount of philosophical background to even know what LFW is. Or determinism. Or variants of each.

The idea that we are, in some absolute sense, guilty before God for the things we have done, and liable to everlasting punishment for such misdeeds even though our actions are determined, ultimately, by divine choice, is a thesis that people like Dennett would find simply horrifying and barbaric.

Apparently, Reppert can’t remember his own words. Here’s the statement (of his) that I was originally responding to:

All of which goes to show that belief in determinism, with or without a predestinating God, is a profoundly unnatural belief.

Notice the explicit rider in his statement: “with or without a predestinating God.”


  1. If I remember correctly, one of the contributors to Four Views on Free Will (Blackwell, 2007) points out that whether or not non-philosophers (or perhaps philosophy freshmen) favor compatibilism or libertarianism largely depends on how the two views are presented to them. Either view can be presented in a way that is technically accurate yet inclines a person to accept or reject it. This is mainly because both views appeal to certain pre-philosophical intuitions (albeit different ones).

  2. That's probably a good point, and there are intuitions pulling both ways. But don't you think there is a great deal of naive free-will-ism on the part of a lot of people. If you tell someone that God could have created the world in such a way that everyone freely does what is right, so that God guarantees that no one sins but everyone is free anyway, don't you get blank stares?

    Which means, of course, you can't settle the free will question by pretheoretical intuitions.

  3. Steve: If I were arguing that libertarianism is true because it's natural, these observations might be a problem for me, but since I never said any such thing, they are neither here nor there with respect to what I have said. There is a lot of naive free-will-ism out there, and an inherent resistance to determinism.

  4. Professional philosophers are a bad sample group, because most of them are philosophical naturalists. It might take some work to get the whole story told about most people's intuitions.

    But I think without exposure to Calvinist theology, if people accept determinism, they will give up on retributive punishment.

  5. "But I think without exposure to Calvinist theology, if people accept determinism, they will give up on retributive punishment

    But I think without exposure to Christian theology, if people accept a God and an afterlife, they will hold to some kind of works righteousness.

    Victor, I'm trying to figure out just what the force you think these moves have. They seem so easily subject to some obvious counter examples.

  6. The upshot is pretty limited, as I pointed out on the other thread. I was responding to what I thought was a bad argument against a statement of mine. If I successfully show that determinism is unnatural, I wouldn't for a moment expect this to deter someone who thinks that there are good biblical, philosophical, and theological arguments for Calvinism. I think everyone is over-estimating the impact I think these considerations have on the overall debate on Calvinism.

  7. One wonders why you spend time posting things you admit have limited upshot. However, one also wonders if you think works righteousness has an upshot? Limited, albeit, but an upshot nonetheless. If not, what limited upshot does your claim about naturalness (granting it for the moment) have?

  8. Good arguments in the article, Steve.

    I would have to observe that the "hoi polloi" often don't even muse about such things. Whether being involved in various discipleship or simply meeting people and getting to know them, I generally try to feel them out to see where their intellectual capacities lie. What I see is that average people don't dwell on issues such as free-will and determinism, much less whether free will is libertarian or determinism is beset with theological compatibilism or not. Only this to the extent that they have had a life event where such a thought as God caused it or humans caused it affects their mental stability by challenging their presuppositional structure too greatly. I certainly wouldn't make generalizations beyond such tendencies. People groups are simply not as monolithic as we would like to think in their general characteristics.

    That is what I suspect one might learn on the man-on-the-street interviews.

  9. Sometimes my project is to understand something, or to get a clearer understanding of it. When people are accustomed to the "blogging is war" model of blogging, it's hard to see how someone somehow isn't engaged in "warfare" when they are blogging, or that they aren't trying to pursue some agenda.

    In response to my claim that determinism, and hence Calvinism, is an unnatural belief, I would have expected Calvinists to say "Hell, yes, it's unnatural! Calvinism is the one view that really gets in the face of the natural man, the strips his pretensions at works-righteousness away, that confronts his true, total depravity, his worthiness only to be punished everlastingly, and his absolute dependence of divine irresistible grace in order to know God. If it weren't human nature to resist this idea, it wouldn't be the gospel." I don't think this argument works, but I think it's the most authentic Calvinistic response.

    I would actually have to go back and look at why I made the original comment, but it has been quite awhile since I have written anything that is a direct attack on Calvinism, and I think it came in the context of something that I said wasn't an attack on Calvinism. Of course, feel free to say that I'm really attacking Calvinism when I say I'm not, and I may indeed be responding to Calvinism from an unsympathetic perspective, but I am usually pretty clear about what I think an argument proves and what I don't think it shows.

    I think if you were to talk about someone being excused from punishment with something like a "twinkie defense," I think people would react negatively to it, and in doing so appeal to a doctrine of free will which is going to look a lot like libertarianism.

  10. Victor,

    Take this for what it's worth: you do not come across as trying to learn something, or just asking a question. And furthermore, your comments sections turn into mouth-frothing Calvinist-bashing sessions, and you don't step in to make sure everyone knows you didn't give an argument. Why do so many Arminians come in and agree with what you said and then proceed to list problems with Calvinism?

    Regarding what you expected from calvinists: We question things, Victor. We love truth. I don't know what the "natural" view on free will is. I do know what it is not. It's not the sophisticated philosophical thesis of either contemporary compatibilism or the many varied forms of libertarianism. In fact, there are "natural" impulses pulling against both. People seem to think that a determinism threatens freedom and that an indeterminism does so too (and that is why Kane made this point and why I cited him).

    Based off my samples (and I actually did try surveying people, but didn't get far as other responsibilities took over), and just listening to other people, it seems to me that a naive classical compatibilism fits more nicely as man's "natural" belief. But, I can't say with any confidence. And neither can you. So I questioned your claim. Odd thing for a philosopher to become upset when others don't let his assertions go unchecked.

    Now, I would say that Calvinism is unnatural, but then I don't make "determinism" the sine qua non of Calvinism as you seem to do. The reason calvinism is unnatural is just the reason historic Christianity is unnatural. In fact, historic Christianity asks us to believe all kinds of "unnatural" things, things we wouldn't "naturally" come up with. At the same time, it has many parts that resonate with common sense or intuition. In the end, as your C.S. Lewis said:

    "Reality, in fact, is usually something you could not have guessed. That is one of the reasons I believe Christianity. It is a religion you could not have guessed. If it offered us just the kind of universe we had always expected, I should feel we were making it up. But, in fact, it is not the sort of thing anyone would have made up. It has just that queer twist about it that real things have. So let us leave behind all these boys' philosophies--these over simple answers. The problem is not simple and the answer is not going to be simple either."

    And the Apostle Paul: "Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! 'Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?'"

    Or God through Isaiah: "'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,' declares the LORD."

    Or Moses: "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law."

    Would the common man come up with a three-in-one God? An incarnation where one and the same person both knows and does not know the same proposition? Salvation by grace?

    As far as the Twinkie Defense, read Fischer and Ravizza on that.

  11. I went back and looked at what I was thinking about when I made the statement that determinism is unnatural. This was in the context of my trying to argue that if predestination were true, it would not make sense to make statements like "If I hadn't shared my faith with Jones, he would not have been saved."

    It seems that, when we deliberate and decide, it seems to us, and must seem to us, as if the future is genuinely open, that we can choose one thing or another, and that no particular choice of ours is guaranteed. We envision what the world will look like if we do one thing, and envision what the world will look like when we do another thing. Both possibilities seem open to us when we decide. But if Calvinistic determinism is true (and by the way I once did a post arguing that you could be a five-point Calvinists and a libertarian on free will), then in fact there aren't any possible worlds in which we do anything other than what we do, so long as God's predestinating is determined by his nature.

    As for Arminians who attempt to spin anti-Calvinist arguments out of what I have said, they are free to do that. The arguments are theirs, not mine.

    Your reply about the "unnaturalness" of Calvinism is what I thought the original Calvinist response would be to my claim that Calvinism is unnatural.

  12. Victor,

    "This was in the context of my trying to argue that if predestination were true, it would not make sense to make statements like "If I hadn't shared my faith with Jones, he would not have been saved."

    Odd that you use the language of classical compatibilism to underwrite your claim in the unnaturalness of determinism + compatibilism. You've just said, in effect, that "If the past had been different, the future would have been." Indeed, that you resorted to this underscores my intuitions that naive classical compatibilism (i.e., hypothetical compatibilism) is the natual default view.

    Your second comment merely affirms open theism and denies foreknowledge. So at this point you've carved out a niche and are acusing far more tyhan Calvinist traditions as "unnatural."

    However, my little survey turned up most people saying that when they deliberated over two things this meant, for them, that they could pick whichever one they wanted; again, somthing compatibile with classical compatibilism.

    I know you wrote a post about five point Calvinism and libertarianism. Not only do I disagree, the bigger problem is that you seem to equate Calvinism with the five points. Could one be a Calvinist and a libertarian? I don't think so, and quite apart from the five point issue.

    Lastly, I still want to know what you think of that Lewis quote. I've used it so many times to undercut your claims, I wonder if it grates on your nerves? :-)