APR 22

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28: APR 22


  • No readings today. I will give you some lecture material on Dennett's view of Freedom

PP2: Free Will, Moral Responsibility, and Punishment Position Paper

  • Stage 1: Please write an 1000 word maximum answer to the prompt by April 27th, 2021, 11:59.
  • Topic: In this unit, we have explored different ways to think about free will, moral responsibility and punishment. We've looked at arguments (from philosophy and the law) for "moral responsibility skepticism," critiques of our ordinary ideas about free will, and the justification of our culture's approach to punishment. Select and respond to some of these challenges as you provide your own view, with supporting reasons, of free will and responsibility and how we should approach crime and punishment.
  • Advice about collaboration: For this assignment, we need to modify our collaboration advice. You will have access to all of the rough drafts (with all new animal pseudonyms) and you will have read and commented on four of them before finishing your own. You are welcome to cite any ideas from any of the papers. If you borrow ideas from another author, give credit to the author by citing the animal name in your text. This again is what we do in an academic research community (only we don't use animal names).
  • Prepare your answer and submit it in the following way:
  1. Do not put your name in the file or filename. You may put your student id number in the file. Put a word count in the file.
  2. In Word, check "File" and "Options" to make sure your name does not appear as author.
  3. Format your answer in double spaced text in a 12 point font, using normal margins.
  4. Save the file in the ".docx" file format using the file name "MoralResponsibility".
  5. Log in to courses.alfino.org. Upload your file to the "'Position Paper 2' dropbox.
  • Stage 2: Rough Draft Review. Please review four student answers and provide brief comments and a score. We will use our regular assignment rubric, but rather than producing a score for the paper I will ask you to evaluate three specific items in the prompt as you find them in the rough drafts you review. Complete your evaluations by April 30, 2021, 11:59pm.
  • Use this Google Form to review four peer papers.
  • Some papers may arrive late. If you are in line to review a missing paper, allow a day or two for it to show up. If it does not show up, go ahead and review the next animal in the list until you have four reviews. You will receive 10 points for completing 4 rough draft reviews.
  • Your final paper is due on May 5, 2021, by 11:59pm. Please upload it to the "Position Paper 2" dropbox, the same as for the rough draft.

Dennett's Naturalist view in Freedom Evolves

  • Our folk psychological idea of Free will. The homunculus or soul or real self is somehow independent of influences. In philosophy, this is "Libertarian Free Will". Not well supported.
  • Examples of decision making for us to pay attention to: Make a decision in response to the following prompts. 1, 2. Did the decisions feel free? Did you feel absolutely free of influences or did you feel like you
  • Rethinking your concept of free will doesn't require you to deny anything about your "agency" - Your actual capabilities for decision making, reasoning, understanding the world, etc. In fact, it helps to have evidence of this to challenge your folk psychology.
  • The Standard Argument for Incompatibilism that our Folk Psychology encourages. (Should we resist?)
  • If Determinism is true, everything is inevitable. (recall physics consult)
  • If everything is inevitable, the future has no real possibilities. (No "open futures")
  • If everything is inevitable, you can't blame someone for not doing otherwise than they did. (No "alternative possibilities.")
  • If you can't blame someone for their actions, then there is no MR and retributive punishment is unjust.
  • If you are like most people, you will not accept this argument. And you shouldn't. The question is, who has a better solution? Naturalists suggest that our folk psychology confusing us about the consequences of determinism, maybe because it wasn't designed for these kinds of questions. So their solution is to give an analysis of the implications of determinism that makes room for free will and to show how "freedom and free willing" might arise from nature. (If this seems like a stretch, philosophers have been here before. Mind from matter? Surely, you jest!)
  • Digressive note: It doesn't really help to imagine an indeterministic world to solve the problem. There would be no prediction in a world without (causal) regularities. It would at least be a very annoying world, and not obviously "free."
  • Rethinking Determinism. Here are three key challenges to the standard argument for incompatibilism (above) from naturalists:
  • 1. Determinism doesn't make things inevitable.
  • 2. There are real present and future possibilities in a determinist world, just not the "open futures" of folk psychology.
  • 3. Freedom evolved in us in nature.
  • In other words, the naturalist thinks free will and freedom (and some version of responsibility, if not punishment) are possible in a deterministic world with no "open futures". As we will see, part of the strategy is to show just how complicated we are, to be creatures who engage in inquiry and use knowledge to avoid back outcomes and create good ones. So, we might be "Determined (by nature) to improve the future!".
  • Where does all that improvement show up? In culture, but only if things go right (remember Rapa Nui!). As we know from our studies this semester, "going right" in culture means benefiting from cooperation and acquiring cultural "packages" of mental adaptations that address the basic dilemmas of social creatures like us. Ultimately, surviving and thriving.
  • So that's where we're headed. Now let's look at the naturalist's analysis in a little detail.
  • 1. Determinism doesn't make things inevitable.
  • Artificial Life research models how design can emerge from a set of artificially defined "creatures" moving in a completely deterministic manner, as in a video game. (Nerdy digression: Artificial life models can create "touring machines," which means they can solve computational problems.) Some creatures could develop "avoidance capabilities". The birth of "evitability"! You could imagine the computer programmers are acting as "hacker gods" to add design (they don't have to), but imagine instead that the creatures develope R&D capabilities, as we have. Not so implausible that nature designed us to be good "avoiders". We also have circuits for rewards and searching!
  • In evolutionary theory, we describe the emergence of multi-cellular organisms as solving problems of parasitic genes and achieving a stable organism that persists.... Nature is full of "evitability" -- ways organisms avoid harm.
  • 2. There are real present and future possibilities in a determinist world, just not the "open futures" of folk psychology.
  • If something can be "determined to change" then it has, in a sense, an "open future." (Still not the folk psychological one exactly.) In us, meta-cognitive and social processes feed into our decision making, allowing us to re-evaluate the "weights" we give to different possibilities.
  • The way we actually think about possibility when we are engaged in inquiry is compatible with determinism. Analysis of: "I could have made that putt." Makes sense if you mean "If the world hade been slightly different. In inquiry, and with our big brains, we imagine possible worlds in which the wind didn't blow or I wasn't thinking about my taxes while making the putt. But it doesn't make sense to say, "No, I mean that I could have made the putt in this world!", because you didn't.
  • We create real possibilities in the present and future by using reason to replay scenarios and approach them differently. Examples: Improving your social skills, academic skills. If it feels like your "in charge", well, you are. All of these causal forces intersect with you and you happen to have a brain.
  • 3. Freedom evolved in us in nature.
  • If freedom means avoiding bad outcomes and having lots of real possibilities in your life, then it might be possible to account for that in a deterministic world.
  • The evolution of freedom happens through the evolution of the socially evolved behaviors and structures we've been studying. (Dennett's research based isn't as up to date as ours!) Cooperation, culture, accumulated knowledge, complex societies supporting lots and lots of education provide us more freedom than our ancestors.
  • Obvious example: Without vaccines we would be less free.
  • Contrast with traditional concept of free will: binary, metaphysically opaque. Evolved freedom admits of degrees. Lots of potential implications for responsibility and punishment.
  • Implication: We are not all equally free. Freedom is powerful and fragile.
  • Implication: You can hold normal people responsible for their behavior, but there's no justification of absolute responsibility here. You can hold people responsible because they are designed to be responsible.