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27: DEC 7


  • Dennett, What is Free Will? 6 minute video [1]
  • Greg Caruso and Daniel Dennett, "Just Deserts" [2].

Caruso & Dennett, "Just Deserts"

  • Caruso: What we do and the way we are is ultimately the result of factors beyond our control. [No Ultimate Resp. thesis - NUR]
  • Dennett: [Seems to defend "mitigated free will"]. Some people have mental disabilities that makes them not responsible, but normal people are morally responsibility and deserve praise or blame. Need to distinguish between causation and control. There are causal chains that turned you into an autonomous, self-controlling agent. [The "normally competent agent" - NCA]
  • Caruso: No problem with NCA, who is "responsive to reasons". NCAs are autonomous and have control. But they don't possess the characteristics that would justify "basic desert" responsibility. People don't deserve to have "something bad happen to them just because they have knowingly done wrong". Totally "backward looking". Retributivism overlaps with consequentialism (explain) but the distinctive different is that retributivist thinks punishment is justified. I don't because of NUR. There may be "forward looking" reasons to keep certain systems of punishment and reward, like "incapacitating, rehabilitating and deterring offenders" [what we've been calling "penalties and interventions"]
  • Dennett: I too reject retributivism, along views of free will [libertarian] that support it. [This will be a major point of dispute between them.] But there is a "backward looking" justification for punishment: [read example of promise breaking]. "deserving of negative consequences". This is something autonomous people accept as a condition of political freedom. Analogy of sports penalties. They can be deserved. Argument against NUR: So what? We grow into our autonomy.
  • Caruso: [Are you sure you're not a retributivist, DD?] Isn't "deserving negative consequences" retributivism? The consequentialist benefits of punishment don't require "desert" [but just MR as "accountability" -- You did it, maybe on purpose...]. There are good [forward looking] reasons to keep penalties. [References the "moral luck" literature from Nagel.] Luck doesn't "even out", SES affects brain development, educational inequalities....[In a word, lucky privileged people.]
  • Dennett: I'm using the "every day" sense of "deserve". I want to avoid "case by case" considerations of MR. You are "entitled" to the praise you get from good things and the "criticism, shame, and blame" from breaking the law. I'm still for criminal justice reform -- shorter sentences, no death penalty, rehab and reinstatement.
  • Caruso: It doesn't help to appeal to the everyday sense, since that includes retributivist beliefs -- 1. backward-looking; 2. just deserts, and that's what we are trying to figure out (e.g. you're begging the question). If you say that the murderer deserves to go to prison for "a very long time" irrespective of future consequences, you are a retributivist. [ Think "strike back".] Example of Einstein. We can "attribute" things to Einstein.... You do offer a "forward looking justification for backward looking MR" [Roughly, we don't get the benefits of a stable society without punishing people in the "moral desert" sense.] But that's an empirical question; it's not justified by "moral desert" but only if the consequences follow.
  • Dennett: Non-retributive punishment (visiting negative consequences on people because they deserve it) is justified in part by the need to promote "respect for the law" [connect to Henrich] Cites Hobbes.
  • Caruso: [a bit frustrated] You say you're baffled that I don't see that you are not a retributivist, but you said that earlier that there are "backward looking" justifications for punishment based on desert. But when you elaborate that, it's all about forward looking justifications. [We're better off punishing.] Cites the "public health argument" from his book. Focusing on backward looking punishment keeps us from looking at the social causes of crime. Obama quote. [Note connection with Cavadino: We're looking at neo-liberal ideology....]. Claims society won't fall apart in the Hobbesian sense.

Small Group Discussion: Assessing the Caruso - Dennett discussion

  • Here some questions from the discussion that it might be helpful for you to sort out your thinking about:
  • Is Dennett ultimately a retributivist?
  • Is there a "backward looking" justification for punishment apart from forward looking consequences?
  • Is the "backward looking" approach a relic of an early cultural adaptation (Henrich) or still important to social stability? In other words, even if your are "justified" in "striking back," should you, should we?

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.