Saturday, June 14, 2014

Resolving Definition/Redefinition Arguments in the Debate for/against Free Will With a Simple Pragmatic Requirement

In the debate for/against free will, a common theme seems to be disagreement about what free will actually means, or how it is defined. If all sides of the debate have different definitions of free will, then saying one's opponent's definition doesn't exist is somewhat less than useful.

I propose as a resolution to this dilemma the requirement that any definition of "Free Will" must include as a component of its definition, a valid foundation on which the slightly less specious term "Moral Agency" can be built. After all we do not have the debate of whether free will exists or not for no reason. When we debate whether free will exists or not, we do so because there are practical and somewhat urgent ethical ramifications for knowing whether or not it exists. Most poignantly the concern of "Moral Agency", thus the requirement I have laid out for a definition of free will to have pragmatic ability to sufficiently provide the foundation for Moral Agency. Else, why have the debate?

The question of Moral Agency is posed this way; Does an individual by his or her choosing, between multiple (presumably multiple, or intuitively assumed to be multiple, though perhaps only multiple in an illusory sense)* courses of action, bear the responsibility for the rightness or wrongness of the decision made.

This clarifies the debate and limits attempts at redefinition or removes inadequate definitions from the debate, such as the overly intuitive: "Free Will is the feeling I get that I am the one deciding between flavors of ice cream", or the logically impossible (though perhaps valid Ad Absurdum as a way to show that free will is itself logically impossible): "Free Will is the ability to have done otherwise than that which was done."

Given this pragmatic restriction to the debate, it makes sense to reanalyze the mainstream positions on Free Will, compared and contrasted in this flow chart:
 First we will take a look at what Determinism means:
In this illustration A has a deterministic causal linkage to B that should be abundantly clear. Red Guy shoots Blue Guy, Blue Guy having been shot, ends up on the ground in a puddle of blood from a gunshot wound.

Pretty Simple.

Now let's take a look at what a Non-deterministic universe would look like, keeping in mind that the Libertarian view of Free Will, holds that Moral Agency is possible in a "Non-deterministic" Universe and that is the kind of universe we live in:
 In this example, Red Guy and Blue Guy are hugging and kissing in moment A, then only a moment later at B, Red Guy is holding a literal smoking gun over Blue Guy's bleeding corpse. This is very odd indeed, but in a universe where the state of the universe at Event B is not determined by the state of the universe at Event A, such events are arguably entirely possible. Let's look at some other things that are possible in a non-deterministic universe before we decide if Moral Agency and Free Will are possible in a non-deterministic universe:
In Non-deterministic universe 2, again Red Guy and Blue Guy are peacefully making out in one moment, then in the next moment, A Duck. Of course this too is odd, but in a non-deterministic universe, the state of the universe at Moment A does not determine the state of the universe at Moment B. Please, allow me to present one more example, just to humor me, because I feel I am owed that, after debating with countless adherents to the idea of Libertarian Free Will:
In non-deterministic universe 3, we see a duck blowing its own brains out with a gun in Moment A, then since Moment B is not determined by Moment A. Red Guy and Blue Guy make out. Who would make out after seeing a majestic mallard take its own life tragically? People in a non-deterministic universe, perhaps.

I would argue that it is obvious in non-deterministic universe 1, that Red Guy is not morally responsible for Blue Guy's death. After all he was making out one moment, then apparently a murderer in the next with no explanation given for how he even got the gun, much less why he would shoot his lover Blue Guy.
Nor, in non-deterministic universe 2 are Red and Blue Guy morally responsible for A Duck, just because they made out a moment before A Duck.
So too, in non-deterministic universe 3, A Duck, is probably not morally responsible for causing Red and Blue Guy to make out, even though A Duck's suicide was very tragic indeed.

If this all seems silly, it's because non-deterministic universes would allow for this kind of silliness and you really can't have Moral Agency with such a breakdown of causality. Thus, Libertarian Free Will, should be put to rest as a pretty silly idea.

Moving on to Compatibilism then...

In case it wasn't clear in the flowchart, compatibilism is the belief that even in a deterministic universe, free will exists. Compatibilists are the ones who admit that the universe may be governed entirely by cause and effect, but because they still "feel" like they are making choices, Free Will exists. However, I began this writing by stating that not only must proponents of each stance define Free Will, they must include in their definition, for reasons of pragmatism and out of urgent ethical necessity, a solid foundation for Moral Agency within that definition.

Now, I feel like this is a mistake, because I'm really sick of this debate and frankly my confidence in humanity is waning, but I'm going to present another situation to you, describing compatibilism, in the hopes that you, dear reader, will come to the right conclusion on whether or not compatibilist free will includes within its definition a solid foundation for Moral Agency. (Then I'm going to tell it to you like it is anyway.)

Ok, I apologize, that is totally ridiculous, I'm obviously skewing the debate with ridiculous notions.

Consider for a moment though, that Moment A is not so ridiculous. Consider that Moment A could be replaced instead by the entire history of the Universe, including billions of years (or ~6,000 years of "Biblical History" if you're one of 'those people'. It makes little difference.) before Red Guy is even born, up to the point at Moment B where he pulls the trigger. In a deterministic universe, (please be kind to me and remember that we've already banished non-determinism to a silly fate), holding Red Guy morally responsible and guilty as a Moral Agent in his murder of Blue Guy, is to also say he is responsible for every single thing that ever happened before Moment B, including things that took place before his birth, which would necessarily include the very creation of the universe. To say he was guilty and morally responsible for his action of murder would be to say that he created an entire universe, billions of light years across, filled with countless stars and planets, all to kill Blue Guy. Even if that dastardly sonuva-bitch Red Guy was God, as one might infer from the amount of things he is apparently responsible for, do we then presume to judge Red Guy for this murder?

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