Class Notes and Reading Schedule - MRFW Fall 2022

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Return to Moral Responsibility and Free Will

1: AUG 31

First Day of Class Information

  • Introduction to the Course
  • Welcome - personal introduction and welcome.
  • Student self-introductions.
  • About the Course (Overview of course focus. Detail to follow.)
  • Course Websites: SharePoint, Wiki &
  • Overview of Teaching Approach.
  • 1. Student choice in work and grading scheme - Your "grading scheme" (the assignments you will be graded on) has both required and optional elements. You can customize up to 30% of your grading scheme to suite your learning style or motivations in the course.
  • 2. Transparency grade information and student work - You will see most of the writing and scoring for required writing assignments. This will require the use of pseudonyms.
  • 3. Opacity of grade information, peer comments, and student identity - Like blind review in academic life
  • 4. Writing Enhanced - Students participate in reviewing and evaluating student writing. This also requires the use of pseudonyms.
  • Succeeding in the Course:
  • Prep Cycle - view reading notes as you are reading, read, note, quiz, evaluate preparation. Hierarchy of skills and goals.
  • Reading - Keep track of the time you spend reading for the course. Mark a physical text.
  • Writing - Try to learn the rubric, read other students' writing and compare scores, discuss your writing with me, especially during office hours.
  • Keep in mind course research questions Course Research Questions - MRFW Spring 2021
  • Required Assignments and Default Grade Weights for your Grading Scheme
  • 1. Points 45-75% default = 65%
  • 2. Final Paper 25-40% default = 35%
  • More About the Course (Orientation, Content, major research questions)
  • 1st Day Survey of Views about Moral Responsiblity and Free Will - Please take this short survey any time today. It is completely anonymous. You will, of course, see results. I have also asked the Philosophy faculty to take the survey, so we may have some comparative data from them.
  • Why we are discussing moral responsibility today (view course research questions).
  • Major Units.
  • First Day TO DO list:
  • make sure you can find the two course websites and that you understand what information and tools each provides.
  • Browse the top links on the course wiki page
  • Find reading for next class on wiki and pdfs from
  • Buy Daniel Dennett, Freedom Evolves
  • Keep an eye out for Moral Responsibility and Free Will News!
  • Please either come to an office hour or make an appointment to see me.

2: SEPT 7: Unit One: Introduction to MRFW problems


Radio Lab Episode on Blame and Moral Responsibility

  • Segment 1: Story of Kevin and his wife, Janet. Kevin is arrested for child pornography.
  • 15 years earlier. Epilepsy seizures returned after surgery two years earlier. Can't drive so he meets Janet from work, who drives him to work. Romance... Still more seizures. Another surgery. Music ability in tact. But then his food and sexual appetite grew, played songs on the piano for hours. Disturbing behavior. Really disturbing behavior.
  • Reporter tries to get at who it was who did it. Kevin claims compulsion. downloads and deletes files.
  • Orin Devinsky: neurologist testified in court that it wasn't Kevin's fault.
  • Neurological dive: deep parts of our brain can generate weird thoughts, but we have a "censor". Maybe Kevin lost that part of his brain. Observed in post-surgery monkeys.
  • Lee Vartan -- Can't be impulse control. porn at home, but not at work. He must have known that it was wrong. Teret's can be circumstantially triggered even though it is clearly neurological. Poignant exchange with Janet about staying in the relationship. Kluwer-Bucy. Months before sentencing. Medication makes him normal, but eliminates his libido. 5 yrs. - home arrest. Judge ackn. prosecutor's point. You could have asked for help. (Reflect on this a bit. Consider the
  • The T. J. Hooper Case) 26 months federal prison 25 months of house arrest. 2008-2010.
  • Do you agree with prosecutor Vartan's point? What about the Judge's "liability/answerability" argument? Why or why not? What would your sentence have been? (We'll do a small group discussion on this, after adding the information from Nita Frahany below.
  • Segment 2: Blame - person or brain.
  • Nita Frahany - neurolaw professor (law and philosophy!). Might be lots of cases. (argument: isn't this just like blame everything else for what you do wrong? Isn't it too easy?). Thought experiment: deaf person, child in burning building. "emotional inability" would also be damage to a physical structure (as in the ear).
  • David Eagleman, neuroscientist - makes critical point: neuroscience isn't so precise. New technologies will show us how experience is written in our brain. (Back to Descartes. wrong.) Slippery slope, the brain is always involved. Blameworthiness might be the wrong question. Person vs. biology doesn't really make sense anymore. The "choosey" part of the brain (the homonculus!). 36:00 minutes. Funny exchange. Self-modification comes up.
  • Claim: Legal system should drop moral blame. Adopt utilitarian approach. Predict recidivism. Point system exists. Better than people (50% accurate). System 70%. Currently there is appearance bias for example.
  • A point system might be very predictive, but you might not want to convict someone of a future crime. Would it be?
  • Frahany - Blame might serve social function of articulating norms.
  • Frahany thinks there are lots of cases of the criminal justice system punishing unfairly. Are you persuaded? If so, does a utilitarian approach (with or without the point system) make sense?
  • Segment 3: Dear Hector
  • Bianca Giaver (producer) - Hector Black. Hector's backstory - joins civil rights movement, adopts Patricia, a neglected child. Patricia's story (becomes a beautiful and productive person) -- Patricia is murdered. Hector considers whether he wishes the death penalty for him. Hector's statement -- 48min. Writes a letter of forgiveness to the murderer. Ivan's story - son of schizophrenic mom, beat him, horror. Do we still blame Ivan the same way. Hector tells his story. Many letters exchanged. A strange bond. Hector has self-doubts - sending care packages to Ivan???. (Maybe he's just a weird guy.)
  • Ivan tells the original story of Patricia's murder. Ivan hears a voice that sometime comes to him. Commits the murder. Can't make sense of it.
  • Does Ivan's story change your view of the kind of threat he poses -- one from choosing evil/failing a responsiblity vs. compulsion?

3: SEPT 12


  • Sapolsky, Robert. Chapter 16: Biology, the Criminal Justice System, and (Oh, Why Not?) Free Will (580-613)

In-Class topic

  • Topic: Is philosophy an intrinsically interdisciplinary discipline?
  • Reading Sapolsky today, a biologist untrained in philosophical discourse on free will. Why not go straight to the "real" philosophers?
  • What have philosophers read and whose company have they kept, in the West, over the last 2.5 millenia?
  • When does a philosophical inquiry not involve reading across disciplines. Examples.
  • If philosophy is interdisciplinary (today), what implications does this have for your work?

Sapolsky, Chapter 16: Biology, the Criminal Justice System, and (Oh, Why Not?) Free Will

Tear ducts and guilty animals

  • Discusses professional interaction between biologists and legal scholars that may have started “neurolaw”.
  • Radical claim: Current criminal justice system needs to be replaced. (Not talking about policing, right?)
  • Things outside his focus: science in courtroom, min IQ for death sentence, cognitive bias in jurors, cognitive privacy.
  • 583: historic example of scientific evidence disrupting criteria for guilt in witches trials, mid-16th century. Older women might not be able to cry.

Three Perspectives

  • Takes a middle position between believing we are always free and never free.
  • no one now disputes that we sometimes are not free (epilepsy example). Yet medieval europe tried animals for guilt. (Sounds weirder than it is. Just imagine it's about the act, not criminal intent.)

Drawing Lines in the Sand 586

  • endorses a broad compatibilism and the idea of “moral failure”. He develops the competing concept, “Mitigated free will,” read at 587-588.
  • Ultimately, Sapolsky will try to show that this view doesn’t hold up, in part because it depends up arbitrary use of a “homunculus” to explain things. But he's still a compatibilist on free will.
  • 1842: M’Naghten. Rule at 587. Mentally ill murderer. Many objected to his not being found guilty. John Hinckley.
  • "mitigated free will" - homunculus view: we all more or less think this way and then the problem of responsibility comes down to figuring out what to expect from the humunculus. What is it capable of or should it have been capable of?

Age, Maturity of Groups, Maturity of Individuals

  • 2005 case Roper v. Simmons. Age limit of 18 on executions and life terms. Follow debates on this. 590. Note, in particular, O'Connor and Scalia's dissenting argument. (Note also, that the need to draw these lines at all follows from the commitment to "mitigated free will".)
  • 2010 and 2012 cases on rehab for juvies. age related bounds on free will (in the justice system).
  • ”grossly impaired rationality”. Neurolaw critic Stephen Morse concedes that destruction of deliberative centers in frontal cortex defeats MR. Especially relevant to the high correlation bt violent offenders and physical child abuse. (Horrible.)
  • Gazzaniga’s view: responsibility compatible with lack of free will. Responsibility is a social level concern. Time course of decision making. (Sapolsky has trouble with this, but it's really the first interpretation and that's just "illusionism" for philosophers of MR.)
  • disputes about the maturity of adolescents: APA has spoken both ways in court: not mature enough for criminal resp., but mature enough to make an abortion decision. But Sapolsky cites Steinberg: aborition decisions and decisions to shoot occur on different time scales.
  • Causation and Compulsion -- not everything that causes us to act is a compulsion, but for some, it is.
  • works through example of schizophrenic hearing voices. Not all cases would be compulsion. "If your friend suggests that you mug someone, the law expects you to resist, even if it's an imaginary friend in your head." “thus in this view even a sensible homunculus can lose it and agree to virtually anything, just to get the hellhounds and trombones to stop.” 593
  • Starting a behavior vs. halting it. ("free won't")
  • Libet experiment, 1980s, EEG disclosure of “readiness potential” — activity measured before conscious awareness of will. .5 second delay might just be artifact of experiment design. Time it takes to interpret the clock. Libet says maybe the lag time is the time you have to veto the action your body is preparing you for (“free won’t”)
  • Sapolsky’s view is that these debates reflect a consensus about the interaction of biology and free will, whatever that is.
  • ”You must be smart” vs. “You must have worked so hard” - research of Carol Dweck, 90s, saying that a kid worked hard to get a result increases motivation.
  • 596: we tend to assign aptitude to biology and effort and resisting impulse to free will. Sapolsky seems very skeptical that we can justify assigning character (impulse control anyway) to non-biological factors (fairy dust). "Of all the stances of mitigated free will, the one that assigns aptitude to biology and effort to free will, or impulse to biology and resisting it to free will, is the most permeating and destructive." 598.
  • some evidence that pedophilia is not freely chosen or easily resisted.
  • chart showing how we divide things between biology and “homoncular grit”. — Long list of ways out biology influence the items on the right.
  • Conclusions: “worked hard/must be smart” are equally grounded in our physical nature.

But does anything useful actually come of this?

  • Grounds for skepticism about using neuroscience in the courtroom: Stephen Morse. Neurolaw sceptic, ok with M’naugton rule and diminished capacity, but thinks cases are rare. Reviews valid criticisms he makes: 1. Juries might overvalue neuroscience images, 2. Descriptive vs. Normative.
  • Morse supports a strong distinction between causation and compulsion. Causation is not itself an excuse. But Sapolsky argues that this still involves walling off a “homonculus” and that’s not plausible.
  • Acknowledges an apparent problem. Neuroscience typically can’t predict individual behavior very much. Fictional exchange with prosecutor. 600
  • Explaining lots and Predicting Little
  • But is the lack of predictive power a problem in the argument? S. works through some cases in which probability of prediction decreases, but it's still biology. Claim: it's not biology vs. non-biology, but qualitatively different aspects of our biology. 601
  • 602: Important methodological point: There's no less biology in the leg fracture vs. the other disorders, but level of biological explanation is different. Leg fractures are less connected to culture. Behavior is multifactorial and heavily cultural. (Oh god, another Henrich digression. Free will has a history.) Example: how much does biology predict depression? Factors are diverse biological mechanisms, including cultural factors. (But, point is, someone can be disable by depression, just like the leg fracture.)
  • Marvin Minsky, “Free will: internal forces I do not understand”. Sapolsky adds “yet”.
  • Neat charts showing historic trend to connect social behavior and biology in research journals. 604-605.

How They will know us (A view from history given the trends.)

  • If you still believe in mitigated free will:
  • case of Dramer and Springer and the spiritual explanation for epilepsy. Biblical version with Jesus.
  • Sapolsky imagines an Inquisitor (witch burner). Must be puzzled occasionally by fact pattern. Mom has epilepsy.
  • growth of knowledge argument 607-608. read list. Most likely option is that our kids will look at us as idiots about moral responsibility and culpability.
  • 608: practical outcomes. Not about letting violent criminals free. On the biological view, punishment can’t be an end in itself (restoring balance). Retributive punishment is an end in itself.
  • mentions Josh Greene and Cohen's article on Neuroscience and the law (In your links.) Specifically (with respect, Sapolsky misses this one), the make the point that neuroscience might not change the law so much as change our intuitions about how to view people who screw up.)
  • Culpability judgements vs. Punishment judgements: Brain imaging suggests culpability judgements activate the cool and cognitive dlPFC, but punishment judements activate more emotional vmPFC. “A frothy limbic state”. Makes sense that punishment is costly. But we need to overcome our attachment to punishment. It is involved in a lot of unjustified suffering. "Punishment that feels just feels good." (Recount Milan incident 2018.)
  • Recaps the transition we've made with epilepsy 610. Very nice point on 611 about the likely moral seriousness of 15th prosecutors of epilepsy.
  • Car free will. A kind of reductio argument. Car free will means "forces I don't understand yet."

Postscript on reassessing praise

  • (always the undertreated topic in this field). Complimenting someone's cheekbones or their ability to detect ripe fruit. Both are biologically dialed in, but we understand the latter less well.

4: SEPT 14


  • Nadelhoffer, Thomas. "Introduction - Moral Responsibility has a Past - Has it a future?" (16) (Angelo/Scott)
  • Waller. Bruce. "Moral Responsibility is Morally Wrong" (15) (Erik/Dionicio)

Nadelhoffer, Thomas. "Introduction - Moral Responsibility has a Past - Has it a future?"

  • Example of 9/11 crimes -- arguably launched retribution on big scale. War in Afghanistan and Iraq, Guantanamo. Man hunt and execution of bin Laden.
  • global skepticism about MR -- "no one is responsible" vs. local. External vs. internal (revisionism).
  • sources: theoretical argument (Philosophy “proper” conversations) vs. empirical evidence (Philosophers working in the world!).
  • Summary of Waller reading. 1. Problems with "hitting back". 2. Connected to BJW. 3. Faith in self-making powers. Cross cultural analysis to show superiority of non-retributive system.
  • Summary of Nagel's Luck argument. Luck pincer. bt. constitutive and present luck, no MR. Caruso and the quarantine/public health model.
  • Summary of Lemos. While an event causal libertarian, Lemos argues that given the bad alternatives of abandoning MR, and the lack of certainty about free will, we should act as it we have it. This requires replying to the "hard heartedness" of punishment with desert.
  • Summary of Shaw. Legal reform arguments. Social protection approaches. (Shaw helps us see the ethical issues at the institutional level. Coerced therapy would be problematic, for example.). Wants to draw inferences from how we treat non-resp to how a non-retrib system would look.
  • Summary of Coates: wants to undermine a common arg for “source incompatibilism” — Background to Coates: "Manipulation arguments" for incompatibalism try to show that determinism compromises MR as much as manipulation. Original arguments from Mele and Pereboom “In a deterministic universe, we are in the same predicament as manipulated agents. (p. 25). Soft compatibalists accept that manipulation compromises MR, but not that determinism does. In other words, determinism doesn’t undermine FW in the same way that manipulation does. Coates uses possible world semantics to make the distinction. The idea is that in a near possible world that is indeterministic, the agent would have the same desires and goals, and his behavior would be like the determined self on this world. This would seem to undermine a common line of thought leading to MR skepticism. (Note Nadelhoffer registers his doubts.)
  • Summary of Vargas: Instrumentalist - Revisionist. How does MR system benefit us ind/socially? Argues that MR-system is part of how we navigate social space and become a full member of a moral community. Revisionist side argues that we can jettison problematic folk psych theories or metaphysical underpinnings of MR and focus on justifying practices.

Waller. Bruce. "Moral Responsibility is Morally Wrong"

  • MR: atavistic holdover, obsolete, fules retribution, populist punitivism, undermines right, promotes shaming, distorts FW, blocks understanding of behavior, comforts privileged, afflicts the poor.
  • Example of libertarian theorist who ack. limits of theory, but advocates pretending. Waller considers this damning evidence, but we will read a more sympathetic accounting of this position.
  • Peter Van Inwagen considers MR denial "absurd" - character in philosophy, ND. Quote from SEP, "MR Skepticism, p. 39": "I have listened to philosophers who deny the existence of moral responsibility. I cannot take them seriously. I know a philosopher who has written a paper in which he denies the reality of moral responsibility. And yet this same philosopher, when certain of his books were stolen, said, “That was a shoddy thing to do!” But no one can consistently say that a certain act was a shoddy thing to do and say that its agent was not morally responsible when he performed it. (1983: 207) "An Essay on Free Will" (With all due respect to this famous philosopher, what's wrong with this answer?)
  • MRS (MR system): assumed, need excuses to leave it, "strike back desire" suggests with the "Larry, Mo and Curly" comment that MRS promoted hierarchy and dominance.
  • Central Park 5 case as example.
  • 3 features: desire to pass along pain, belief in just world (BJW), belief in self-making.
  • BJW related to "secondary victimization" (35). ex. blaming rape victims. But History of Philosophy (and C. Church) line up for BJW. But even Dennett, who denies BSW, defends the ultimate "fairness" of differences in capacity. "luck averages out in the long run" (Really? The Son Also Rises. Feeds ideology of "try harder"
  • p. 37- begins historical discussion of problem of evil and problem of free will.
  • Is God's punishment of us just?
  • Renaissance Answer 1 - Lorenzo Valla - yes, because you are evil and evil deeds are punished.
  • Renaissance Answer 2 - Pico della Mirandola - quote on our Protean nature. Special powers of self-making. Not at all Valla's answer. Rather, Pico is saying, "It's a good thing about us (our self-making/free will) that merits punishments.
  • St. Paul seems to me to be invoking the argument that we cannot know God's ways. If it's coming from god, it must be just.
  • "people make their choices from characters that are self-made" Note the "humunculus" problem here. "Who is doing the making?" We must read the Nietzsche quote.
  • Dennett's version: "I have created and unleashed an agent who is myself". (note the sense in which that is intuitively true. "OMG, what have I done!" (Note concession at p. 39)
  • "folk metaphysics account of agency" -- transparency of csness, everyone has delib. reason. Cites standard view in psychology: System 1 and System 2.
  • "The skill and fortitude and optimism and confidence with which you "play the cards that were dealt you" are ultimately among the cards that were dealt you."
  • Example of the "chronic cognizer" (Cassandra) and "cognitive miser" (Laura) --
  • Effects in CJ system: Foreshadows Caradino reading.

5: SEPT 19


  • SW1: Do we praise and blame unfairly? or "Pick a problem"
  • Sie, Maureen. "Free Will, an Illusion?" (15) (Dionicio/Angelo)

Examples of Problems you might pick

  • Is the "strike back" impulsion (retribution) atavistic?
  • Do you have to be totally responsible for your actions to be morally responsible for them?
  • Does the "belief in a just world" tilt us toward retributive responses?
  • What is "human dignity"? Does supporting it favor holding someone responsible or being very cautious about undeserved blame, or both?
  • Is it potentially "manipulative" to offer someone therapy instead of prison time?
  • Pick one of the historical points in Waller's essay and learn a bit more about it. Then give a critical response.
  • Is Free Will something that emerges from our practices, ex post facto?

Rubric Training

  • We will look at some writing from a previous version of the course. (Add Waller evaluation)
  • Browse the Assignment Rubric - Note the importance of sensitivity to the prompt.
  • Explain the structure of a peer assessed assignment.
  • Look at some writing. In class, we will briefly look at Olingo and Grasshopper, but you may wish to look at others. Scores ranged from 24 to 20. Sample some of each. Then look at peer reviews.

Sie, Maureen. "Free Will, an Illusion?"

  • Pragmatic sentimentalist approach. Avoiding metaphysics of FW problem. Approached pragmatically, MR & FW solve practical coordination problems.
  • Pragmatic sentimentalist: drawing on Strawson, concept of free will does not precede moral practices, but naturally arises in a practice that is characterized by certain reactive attitudes that we take toward each other. 274
Outline of the paper:
  • 1. social function of MR -
  • 2. this gives rise to a "space of reasons" - how it functions - we adjust ourselves to it and vice versa.
  • 3. evidence from science: we lack transparency, sometimes mistake in our understanding of our actions. That's relevant to free will when the reasons we give:
  • a. fail to cite the causes we have evidence for, like biases, stereotypes, etc.
  • b. cite reasons we have evidence for denying. situationists, reasons as reputation polishing.
  • given that MR and FW has these functions, it isn't an illusion.
  • Section 1: The social function of MR ascriptions
  • coordination of shared practices leads to normative expectations (NE).
  • In Western culture, we put the task of satisfying these expectations on the individual to discover, rather than from pressure or coercion.
  • metaphor of "space of reasons" -- the ongoing discussion of NEs.
  • Arno and the bike pump
  • Section 2: Does scientific evidence of the ability to manipulate choices, env psych, implicit bias, biases, etc. undermine the "space of reasons"?
  • A list: manipulated choice, implicit bias, cognitive biases, emotional influences on decisionmaking (could be stronger claim), lack of introspective access, confabulation
  • "subjective mistinterpretation" (SM) and "agential intransparency" Sometimes we read the situation wrong, and we not aware of that. (I think these can both be considered forms of intransparency.)
  • Sie: This view explains elegantly how SM and can occasionally occur and case distortions in the space of reasons.
  • Also: we could improve our conversations about reasons by incorporating knowledge of bias, etc. (Good point.)
  • Responses to situationists and research on "moral hypocrisy" (really, environmental psychology research showing, for example, that rates of cheating can be manipulated by enviromental conditions. Ariely). Sie ties this to "fundamental attribution error". (Not a perfect comparison.). (Some critical work could be done here. Some of this evidence suggests that we will persist in intransparency, not that we will use it to get better at the “space of reasons” game. Note at 283. Example of expectations of non-racism.)
  • Section 3. Free Will, an Illusion?
  • we need to let scientific evidence influence our pragmatic understanding of the S of R.
  • Interesting final argument: She presents Haidt's more radical challenge to the "rationalist delusion" (his phrase) of philosophers. Let's track her response at bot 286.

SW1: Topic: Do we praise and blame unfairly? or "Pick a problem," present, and assess

  • Stage 1: Please write a three to five page answer to the following question by Monday, September 26, 2022, 11:59pm.
  • Topic: In our first three readings and discussions, quite a few problems have arise. Pick ones (see examples, but feel free to find your own) and develop a critical response to it.
  • Send me your paper and I will put it in a shared folder for us to read. There is no need for anonymity. This will give us flexibility and a chance to talk about your work together more transparently.

6: SEPT 21


  • Dennett, Daniel. Chapter 1. Freedom Evolves. (15) (Hendrick/Erik)

Grad philosophy note

  • "mapping discussions" in a domain of philosophical literature. like real maps, or events, like a match.

Mapping some possibilities in free will discussion

  • Note: We are approaching this without foregrounding the traditional categories: compatibilist / incompatibalist.
  • Some possibilities in our research so far:
  • Free will is real, and pretty much what we think it is.
  • Libertarian / non-causal theory. (Lemos' "open question" strategy.)
  • Free will is real, but not what we thought it was.
  • not dependent on question of determinism (compatibilists, Dennett)
  • has pragmatic reality (Sie)
  • Free will is an illusion
  • A bad one (Waller, Blackmore)
  • A necessary one (Optimist illusionists)
  • Why is FW an illusion?
  • based on bad metaphysics
  • the effect of the Church's "marriage and family plan" (Henrich)
  • cognitive illusion like consciousness.
  • Libet and Wegner -- maybe "free won't"
  • Agency is real, FW is a culturally specific version of it. The "normal competent agent" in the US.
  • has pragmatic reality (Sie)

Some notes on Susan Blackmore's, "Living without FW"

  • Blackmore agrees with Dennett's analysis (but thinks his book should be called "Choice Evolves"), but thinks FW is an illusion.
  • She considers two possibilities: "Living 'as if'" and "Rejecting the Illusion" - favors the latter.
  • "Rejecting the Illusion" -
  • 166: "sitting by the fire" example
  • William James - getting out of bed on cold morning
  • Blackmore 167: going out on a cold night.
  • Thought experiment to her students: "But if I don't have free will why would I get up in the morning? Why would I do anything?" Go ahead try it!
  • Blackmore thinks of consciousness more as events than a place in your head where things "enter into conscious awareness". Likewise, maybe, with free will.

Dennett, Daniel. Chapter 1. Freedom Evolves

  • Chapter 1: Natural Freedom
  • Giorelli quote.
  • introduces evo perspective on consciousness. Goal of book to show that our responsibility and control do not lie in a soul, but this does not lead to the view the "Nothing matters" or "we don't have fw".
  • 2: "Not a single one of the cells that compose you knows who you are, or cares."
  • 3: mini-evo history - eventually organisms that "know" (where supper is, for example). then language, then growth of self-knowledge: we are mammals, we evolved, etc.
  • I am who I am
  • story of guy who leaves his child in a hot car. OMG, Could I do that?
  • historically, we have thought that the question of whether life has a point is threatened by determinism. So, the Epicurean "swerve" or quantum "indeterminacy". James' "How can I have any character that will stand still long enough for praise or blame to be awarded?" (Dennett wants to answer this rhetorical question.)
  • The Air we Breathe
  • The traditional problem of free will is a distractor. 10: We think of FW as a "background conditon" (like math and physics), but it evolved, it is our "conceptual atmosphere" (evolved like the atmosphere). Neither are guaranteed to exist.
  • 11: dillusionists: Whether you believe you have FW or not, you would (if you were the dad who left his kid in the car) have something to regret. Even dillusionists can't help caring. Their regret means something…, not just an spasm.
  • 13: Summary of theses in the book. Read
  • Dumbo's Magic Feather and the Perils of Paulina
  • 14: story of Dumbo the elephant the feather that makes him believe he can fly. Origin of "Stop that crow!" (don't spoil the illusion or Dumbo won't be able to fly). Two points: he's a bit like the crow you would want to stop and free will isn't real because you believe in it. (So no need to "Stop that crow!")
  • 15: naturalism introduced; philosophy in partnership with science, philosopher's job to build integrative theories. Tom Wolfe's anti-science take is wrong.
  • story of Paulina Essunger - AIDs example, but similar to public health issues with the virus. What if the truth about an AIDs cure had a bad public health effect because people let their guard down? Similar to the "Stop that Crow!" crowd that includes some biologists (Lewontin) and religious thinkers who warn against Dennett’s (and naturalists) solutions to philosophical problems. (Really, he's just complaining about the public rhetoric of debates about naturalism.) example: Wright saying that Csness=brain states "means" "Csness doesn't exist".

7: SEPT 26: Unit Two: Traditional Approaches


  • Nagel, Thomas. "Moral Luck" (1979) (10) (Jo/Hendrick)
  • Frankfurt, Harry. "Alternative Possibilities and Moral Responsibility" (1969) (10) (Scott/Kennedy)

Helpful Comments

  • Some thoughts on helpful peer commenting:
  • You are only asked to write two or three sentences of comments, so choose wisely!
  • Giving criticism someone would want to consider.
  • Give gentle criticisms that focus on your experience as a reader:
  • "I'm having trouble understanding this sentence" vs. "This sentence makes no sense!"
  • "I think more attention could have been paid to X vs. "You totally ignored the prompt!
  • Wrap a criticism with an affirmation or positive comment
  • "You cover the prompt pretty well, but you might have said more about x (or, I found y a bit of a digression)"
  • "Some interesting discussion here, esp about x, but you didn't address the prompt very completely ...."
  • General and specific -- Ok to identify general problem with the writing, but giving examples of the problem or potential solutions.
  • I found some of your sentences hard to follow. E.g. "I think that the main ...." was a bit redundant.
  • I thought the flow was generally good, but in paragraph 2 the second and third sentence seem to go in different directions.

Nagel, Thomas. "Moral Luck"

  • famous Kant quote: good will is good apart from nature.
  • but in ordinary moral judgment we do not seem justified in blame people for what is out of their control.
  • cases: atttempted murder, heroism succeeding or failing, not being in Germany in 1930's
  • 2: proposal: separate luck from moral judgement "look for a more refined condition of control". He rejects this proposal - not a hypothetical question
  • Four types of luck:
  • constitutive
  • circumstantial
  • luck in how one is determined by antecedent causes
  • luck in how one's actions turn out (case of the bird taking the bullet)
  • negligence might do some work here, but it's irrational that whether we are found negligent might also be subject to luck, even after the event! (Digress on "felony murder" a strict liability standard for criminal conduct.)
  • decisions under uncertainty - outcomes of revolutions determine whether one is a hero or scoundrel. Problem: sometimes the outcome defines the moral action.
  • Major thesis p. 5: The existence of moral luck undermines the idea that responsibility is dependent on control. 8: "the area of genuine agency ... shrinks .. to an extensionless point."

Frankfurt, Harry. "Alternative Possibilities and Moral Responsibility" (1969)

  • Principle of Alternative Possibilities (PAP): a person is MR for an act only if he could have done otherwise. (Suggests that MR is incompatible with determinism.)
  • PAP is false. "A person may do something in circumstances that leave him no alternative to doing it, without these circumstances actually moving him or leading him to do it."
  • Jones Coercion cases
  • 1. Jones is threatened to do X, but Jones had already decided to do X. Jones is MR. (But this isn't a counterexample to PAP or the principle that "coercion excuses") 831.
  • 2. Jones feels the threat, he may have already decided to do X, can't even remember, but he does X because of the threat. Jones is not MR (though we may fault his character).
  • 3. Jones feels the threat and it would have been powerful enough to coerce him, but he already decided to do X. MR pretty unclear in this case.
  • Jones3 does not necessarily challenge the principle that "coercion excuses" because it's not clear that he was coerced. But whether we say he was coerced or not, the doctrine that coercion excuses is not a particularized version of PAP (In other words, when we excuse a person who is coerced we are not doing it because he/she "couldn't have done otherwise"(PAP). So MR is compatible with determinism.
  • Section IV - Goes further to show that PAP is false.
  • You might object that that Jones3 does not pose a threat to PAP because strictly speaking, coercion doesn't exclude the alternative poss of acting in spite of the threat.
  • We could get into a discussion of what "could have done otherwise" really means, but Frankfurt thinks he has a new case that will show PAP is false.
  • Jones4: Black wants Jones to do X, but he's a subtle manipulator. Only acts to steer Jones if he's not on course to do X. If Jones does X without Black intervening, he is MR even though "he couldn't have done otherwise." PAP plays no role in the explanation of his behavior.
  • Revised PAP: A person is not morally responsible for what he has done if he did it only because he could not have done otherwise. Revised PAP makes sense of Jones1-3.

8: SEPT 28


  • Strawson Galen. "The Impossibility of Moral Responsibility" (1994) (23) (Kennedy/Jo)

Form for commenting on SW1

  • Your SW1 papers are in the shared folder, accessible from the wiki page.
  • Please use this google form to comment on your colleagues' SW1 writing. Try to comment on the set by Saturday night.

What is Ethics? What are Values? How are they enforced?

  • Morality is about problems that can be addressed by values.
  • Values are expectations of others to think, speak, feel, and act in particular ways (and sometimes to refrain from thinking, speaking, etc. in particular ways).
  • We enforce values in social life by many means, from conversation about expectations, gossip about others’ behavior, and, of course, the justice system.

Strawson Galen. "The Impossibility of Moral Responsibility" (1994)

  • Imagines a scenario of choice between buying a cake and giving to Oxfam. Seem up to you, but the Basic Argument says no.
  • Section 1 - Three versions of the argument
  • Basic Argument Conclusion: "We can never be truly or ultimately morally responsible for our actions."
  • Causa sui version: To be MR, you have to be causa sui
  • 10 step version: adds in
  • "What one does is a function of how one is, mentally speaking"
  • "To be truly MR, one must have brought it about that one is the way one is.."
  • "To be MR for the way one is, "in any respect at all", you must have "principles of choice" P1. But one must have chosen P1, by P2, but then to be MR for P2, you need to have chosen P2 by some P3....
  • 3rd version - genetics and experience limit our ability to remake ourselves.
  • Section 2 - What is "true" or "ultimate" MR?
  • Defines MR in terms of possibility of fair punishment (without an pragmatic justification)
  • Clearly affirms (top of 44) the experience of free will. Because we can’t give up belief in our freedom, we literally can't give up belief in true or ultimate MR. (Even if determinism is true.) (really?)
  • "situations of choice" are the "experiential rock" on which belief in MR is built.
  • citation of authorities: Sartre, Kant, Kane, Koorsgaard
  • at 45, he seems to say that if we identify with a trait, we are "in control" or "answerable" (2 diff things) for how we are. (Really seems to tie the "inescapability of freedom and self-creation" to MR, even while arguing that it is impossible.)
  • Section 3 - Another restatement of the Basic Argument
  • gets at "certain mental aspects" "mentally speaking". Acknowledges that basic facts about us are not in our control. Focus on intentionality. You must be MR for your mental life, especially your intentionality. Later, "you must have intentionally brought it about that you are the way you are." 47.
  • Premise 2: "To be truly MR for what you do you must be truly responsible for the way you are - at least in certain mental respects."
  • Premise 3: "But you can't be truly resp. for the way your are so you can't be truly responsibile for what you do."
  • Compatibilists reject 2. Libertarians reject 3.
  • Section 4: Responses to the Basic Argument
  • Compatibilists: Compatibilists consider an action under your control under normal circumstances and without compulsion, etc. So they reject Premise 2 since they are not looking for ultimate responsibility. (He makes it sound like a compatibilist can't be an MR skeptic, but that's not true. -Alfino)
  • Libertarian/Incompatibilist: Kane's "undetermined self-forming actions" (SFAs). But the old objection remains: How can 'indeterminism' help the libertarian. Isn't that luck?
  • Third response: p. 50. You could appeal to a picture of the self, determined or not, which captures MR. Defines the CPM (character, personality, motivations) and then Self as "in some way independent of one's CPM" (note this is the homunculus again). S "incorporates a power of decision" (humuncular grit). But Strawson rejects this response. S is still responding to CPM. Not enough to say we are "fully self-consciously aware of oneself as an agent facing choices". Still working with material that you aren't MR for.

SEP Notes on Strawson's Argument, "Skepticism about MR" p. 16-18

  • Critics
  • Some criticize the definition of "ultimate responsibility" (connecting it to fair punishment)
  • Escape from the regress by offering a sufficient account of "self-creation"
  • Attack the claim that our mental states have to be up to us for our actions to be. (break the connection)
  • Defenders
  • The Basic Argument still works with a weaker connection bt action and source:
  • doesn't rely on the premise that an agent can be MR for an action only if she is responsible for every factor contributing to the action.
  • contra critics who want to "break the connection", it is counterintuitive to say that an agent is MR for A when no factor contributing to that action is up to that agent.

9: OCT 3: Unit Three: Contemporary MR Skepticism


  • Waller, Bruce. Chapter 1. "Moral Responsibility," Against Moral Responsibility (16) (Angelo/Kennedy)
  • Reflective prompt. Waller's first chapter might be a bit redundant for us, so I would like you to focus on the theme of "retributive desires", which he treats in Chapter 1. Specifically, how do you assess arguments about the value of retributive desires and emotions, along with the actions that express them. I'll bring in some of the evidence from "public good games", and a little cultural evolutionary research, but there are lots of ways of assessing retributive emotions or desires. Are retributive emotions justified on their own terms?

Some evidence from public goods games

  • Review of Public Goods games and typical results with and without "punishment".
  • Without punishment, cooperation, measured by investments in each round, drops to zero
  • Note "punishment" here means "penalizing behaviors". The behavior in question is voluntary, but the penalty is independent of a blame condition.
  • So, this might support the idea that MR is distinct from accountability and MJ.

Waller, Bruce. Chapter 1. "Moral Responsibility," Against Moral Responsibility

  • Claim: Denial of MR is compatible with MJ (moral judgements). Waller acknowledges that this is disputed.
  • Can you still make moral judgements about people (and yourself) if you eliminate the MR system?
  • Goes through a list of philosophers and other who endorse MR in various ways. How should we hold our retributive emotions: Enthusiastically? Righteously (doing justice)? With a sense of resignation (like the Inquisitionist in Sapolsky)? (this is a broader version of our reflective prompt above.) p. 9 for examples.
  • internal vs. external arguments. internal arguments are question begging.
  • no pragmatic solutions: thought experiment. still have to ask if it is just? can't just be efficacious.
  • MR and MJ -- Claim: Accountability is not central to MR. People's accounts are often mistaken (research at p. 6), and when correct, often do not involve MR. So MR and Accountability are separate.
  • Waller's discussion of emotional and use of evolution (I'll elaborate on this in class.)
  • In general, Waller talks about retribution as emotions, but technically, an intuition to punish is an inference supported by an emotion. Emotions are often precursors to action.
  • When is does get to evolution, he is correct about the general point that evolution is retrospective.
  • But his treatment of "tit for tat" is off. p. 12: tit for tat. not exactly the same as "strike back", but also not ineffective.

10: OCT 05


  • Waller, Bruce. Chapter 2. "The Basic Argument against Moral Responsibility," Against Moral Responsibility (23) (Dionicio/Scott)

Stace's defense of compatibilism

1. Philosophers who deny free will don't act that way.

2. Thesis: Free will dispute is a verbal dispute. Example.

3. Free will shouldn't be define as "indeterminism".

"Language Analysis"

JONES: I once went without food for a week. SMITH: Did you do that of your own free will? JONES: No. I did it because I was lost in a desert and could find no food.

GANDHI: I once fasted for a week. SMITH: Did you do that of your own free will? GANDHI: Yes. I did it because I wanted to compel the British Government to give India its independence.

JUDGE: Did you steal the bread of your own free will? STACE: Yes. I stole it because I was hungry.

JUDGE: Did you steal the bread of your own free will? STACE: No. I stole because my employer threatened to beat me if I did not.

JUDGE: Did you sign this confession of your own free will? PRISONER: No. I signed it because the police beat me up.

What distinguishes usages in which we say someone is free from saying they are not free?

Criterion can't be determinism since there are causal influences in all cases.

124 "The free acts are all caused by desires, or motives, or by some sort of internal psychological states of the agent's mind. The unfree acts, on the other hand, are all caused by physical forces or physical conditions, outside the agent."

Waller, Bruce. Chapter 2. "The Basic Argument against Moral Responsibility," Against Moral Responsibility

  • This chapter gives a more detailed account of Waller's "fairness argument".
  • Framing the argument: p.20: MR requires supernaturalism. MR incompatible with naturalism/determinism.
  • Note the reconstruction of Dennett's view: naturalists who believe in limited MR. "MR skepticism arises from misplaced search for an absolute ideal: total before-the-eyes-of-God guilt.
  • Waller: naturalists should be incompatibalists and reject MR. But Dennett will disagree.
  • PVI: MR requires libertarian break in causal fabric.
  • Comparative Unfairness 23
  • Karen and Louise: Karen calls out the racist remark, Louise doesn't. four possibilites:
  • 1. chance
  • 2. first causes
  • 3. situational
  • 4. they were shaped by forces beyond their control.
  • (p. 26: It seems like he is saying that to account for "effort" you need miracles....?)
  • (Karen and Louise really present a version of Strawson's argument a comparative form to see "unfairness". This is a pretty good innovation, regardless of our views of the issue.)
  • (p. 27: note inference: Because we are the products of evolution, we cannot be ultimately responsible for how we are. Try this (Dennett’s) version: Evolution gave us agential capacities for avoiding certain outcomes that make us moderately responsible (mr, not MR) for some of our behaviors.) p. 27 "intermediate self-making"
  • Mele's criticism of Strawson's Basic Argument: MR doesn't require us to have "chosen" the way we are. Strawson commits us to an impossible psychological regress. Rather, practical freedom is an emergent property (description at 30). Example of Betty and her fear of the basement. "intentional self-modification" (ISM) is possible. Mele stops the regress!
  • Waller: (uses his "unfairness" framing device). Imagine Betty and Benji. Benji fails at ISM. Is it unfair to blame him? (Let's pause on this and consider other cases beside fear of basements or becoming racists.)

  • (Is fairness working the same way in the following cases? How does your model of the "normally competent person" and "effort" come into play?)
  • Overcoming a phobia.
  • Becoming aware of one's racism or bias.
  • Overcoming an angry impulse to hit someone. to murder someone.
  • Overcoming a brutally abusive childhood and
  • Overcoming a significant disability. (In fairness, we pay people to compensate them for some disabilities.)

  • research on "cognitive misers" vs. "chronic cognizers".
  • Kane's Libertarianism. dual control responsibility.
  • Waller's "unfairness" framing device again. Betty and Barbara

  • Some critical thoughts.
  • Criticism of the "fairness" argument.
  • 1.
  • Waller makes a pretty straightforward claim in his fairness arguments. If we're not ultimately responsible for our differences, then it is never fair to judge us differently. But is that how we really think of fairness in actually situations. Consider cases:
  • Would a workplace wellness program be unfair because it takes different employees more or less effort to meet the goals and get the rewards? (not a blame scenario)
  • Within a cohort of similarly talented competitors (swimmers), would it be unfair to praise a winner if we found some small difference that the winner had over others? (Note that in some cases we do say it is unfair -- a new swimsuit design maybe?) But always?
  • You go to grad school and you notice that some of the people in your cohort have been studying philosopy in 4 languages for about 3 times the time you have been reading in one. Do you go to the Dean and complain that it is unfair to compare you to them?
  • Joe and Bill have slightly different degrees of alcoholism, but both get DUIs. Do we need to calibrate the penalties to track this possible difference in culpability?
  • I'm not sure our fairness judgements really involved the kind of ideal standards that we actually use in making things "fair enough". Practical judgements of fairness might be just even if they operate with "ranges" and "normal performance expectations"
  • In general, you could say Waller's critique requires the "ultimate/absolute" language. Moderate intentional self-modification is pretty plausible, even if it cannot be traced to absolute .
  • 2.
  • A second line of critical thought, still pretty inchoate, is that much of the MR scepticism literature focuses on a "deep dive" into the "self". If we don't find the kind of "self-making" they are looking for, could it be because the model of self is wrong? (A clue: Waller has trouble imagining a naturalistic account of effort.)

11: OCT 10: Conference style Seminar

  • Today we will pretend we are in a conference session on evaluating Waller's view. Each of you will make a brief statement, and a lively discussion will ensue. We will debrief individually on your experience.


  • Seminar Topic: Waller Evaluation
  • Today's class will be a true seminar on these three approaches, as well as aspect of our topic that you want to raise for discussion. There are no assigned readings for today's class. Waller Evaluation!
  • In class we will here from most or all of you, but you should write up your notes either before or after class and post a 2-3 page summary of your thoughts both as a record and in case we do not get to your issues. You will receive 10 points for posting your Seminar notes within two days of the Seminar.

12: OCT 12


  • Dennett, Daniel. Review of "Against Moral Responsibility, (10) (Erik/Angelo)
  • Clark, Tom. "Exchange on Waller's 'Against Moral Responsibility"(12) (Hendrick/Dionicio)
  • Dennett lecture from "Thinking Tools" [1]

Dennett Review

  • Waller tries to separate naturalism from MR, but he winds up excluding naturalist solutions from “counting” as possible substitutes for traditional MR. (Guilt-before the eyes of God MR).
  • Method point: concept of MR “doesn’t just drop from the sky into your theory”
  • D: Modern MR is a taming of desert MR. (Q: Why assumes that fines are punitive? Isn’t there another “taming” which reduces punishment?)
  • D: “fair enough” - MR is “artifactual”. (Part of social world - Also the world that Henrich discusses as cultural evolutionist.)
  • Critical Question: Is a “no blame” system unable to remove “flawed characters from their roles”?
  • D: Punishment might be better than rehab.
  • D: Proposes “Take charge responsibility” (TCR) as “non-retributive” punishment. Discuss . “A system that works”…

Old notes:
  • Let's get clear on what the "original mistake" in Waller is, according to Dennett.
  • Being against MR
  • Equating MR with extreme retributivism.
  • 2nd thoughts: Isn't is a big problem that we aren't talking about group responsibility alongside individual?
  • Yes, these are related dynamically. How can you assess the driver's responsibility for a crash without reference to a standard for a safe road (something we are presumably collectively responsible for)?
  • No, our list of expectations of a "normally competent person" can reflect the line bt ind/group R.
  • The Dennett review helped me think more about the connections among: punishment and suffering (maybe punishment by definition involves suffering).
  • What is the diff bt "retributive punishment" (retribution) and "punishment as penalties" (penalties/consequentialist)? Both involve "quid pro quo", but only retribution requires "eyes-before-God" ultimate moral responsibility (as in Waller, Strawson, and Nagel). Reasons for favoring one or the other?
  • (Note that "punishment" in public goods games doesn't necessarily involve blame.)
  • Some inferences:
  • 1. All punishment requires desert.
  • 2. Deserving retributive punishment additionally required "ultimate moral responsibility".
  • 3. Deserving a penalty only requires a valid social contract and legitimacy of institutions (plausible consequentialist rationale).
  • Proposals:
  • Let's use Take Charge Responsibility (TCR) in connection with consequentialist punishment and Moral Responsibility (MR) for the kind of moral responsibility that would justify retributive punishment. This might only make sense if you agree that there are two senses of punishment to discuss, each requiring different accounts of responsibility. Feel free to push on that!

13: OCT 17


  • Reading for today are in a subfolder of the shared folder - "Collective Responsibility Articles"
  • Browse SEP article on Collective Responsibility
  • May, Larry. The Morality of Groups, C1 and C2
  • Browse other folder articles or follow a subtopic from SEP (or any CR issue) that interests you. An applied case would be great, too.

May, Larry. The Morality of Groups, C1 & C2

  • May argues for a theory of collective responsibility (CR) that is between collectivism and individualism. He thinks groups can be CR by just displaying the capacity for joint action or common interest, as in a mob. Groups are individuals in their relationships.
  • Before developing his own theory, he reviews Individualist and Collectivist theories. Legal scholar Lon Fuller is skeptical about the “legal fiction” of recognizing groups like corporations. He suggests we judge the usefulness of the fiction. He is right to doubt that the collective exists independently of the individuals, but undervalues the structures and relationships that enable corporate action. (He also reviews Watkins theory of “methodological individualism” 14-18.
  • The main collectivist he considers is Durkheim, who argues that we should think of social facts, as well as collective beliefs and traditions as evidence that the collectivity is independent individuals. Like language, we inhabit them without being able to change them. May grants that social traditions are ontologically ind of individuals, but denies that groups of people who come together to create corporate action. French is another collectivist May partly agrees with. He thinks that “conglomerates” are groups that have identities not reducible to the individuals. Lists of individuals in a conglomerate can change without change in the identify of the conglomerate. Against French, May thinks even aggregates may be CR. Also, things predicated of conglomerates can also be predicated of individuals.
  • In developing his own theory, May draws on J.P. Sartre’s analysis of collective action in the storming of the Bastille. Groups can have collective identity partly by how they are treated by other groups, even without formal decision making structure, acts of incorporation, etc. The solidarity seen in spontaneous mob behavior is enough.
  • May develops his theory from Sartre’s insights about mob by giving an account of “vicarious agency,” using the case of Yale’s CR for sexual harassment of a student. Vicarious agency does require a formal relationship between a corporation and corporate individual.
  • Hydrolevel case.

Theory of Mind and Babies

  • What is the capacity: Theory or Mind?

Method in May — Conceptual Surgery and cross-pollination

  • May’s work is pretty standard, methodologically. Examine the range of positions and develop your own opinion by making careful conceptual distinctions grounded in argument.
  • May also shows the value of “cross-pollination” when he uses an insight from existential thought as the germ of his own theory.

Some Notes on Collective Responsibility

  • Interesting theoretical discussion in CR: do we have the conditions for assigning CR. Do you need mind to have responsibility? (Note the argument can be flipped around.)
  • Larry May, p. 10 - existentialist social theory - read def of CR.
  • Forward looking / Backward looking CR.
  • Cases:
  • Germany for holocaust
  • Military or nation for actions of soldiers.
  • Town for dangerous road
  • Slave owning cultures for reparations
  • Organizations for their "climate" (on race, gender, etc.)
  • Societies for their rulebreakers.
  • Note that in the last two cases, you could claim that recognizing CR has effects for MR. "Diversity training" helps satisfy CR, but also increases ind. MR.

14: OCT 19: Unit 4: Free Will and Culture


  • Dennett, Daniel. Chapter 2: "A Tool for Thinking about Determinism" Freedom Evolves. (300) (25-63) (Jo/Erik)

Dennett, Daniel. Chapter 2: "A Tool for Thinking about Determinism" Freedom Evolves.

  • Chapter 2: A tool for thinking about determinism
  • People go wrong in thinking about determinism. Three claims:
  • 1. Determinism doesn't imply inevitability.
  • 2. Indeterminism doesn't give you freedom or free will.
  • 3. In a deterministic world there are "real options".
  • Laplace's demon -- first modern expression of scientific determinism, idea of being able to predict all future states of a system from knowing the position and movement of everything at some moment.
  • Dennett suggests we design a "toy problem" to think about this image of the "demon". Draws on Quine's concept of "democritean universe". Really trying to model a "design space" (term from Darwin's Dangerous Idea) in the Library of Babel and the idea of "Vast" and "Vanishing"
  • 34: You could makes some Universes deterministic and some indeterministic. read. Indeterminate universes exclude Laplace's Demon. Determinism is just one kind of regularity a universe can display. Eliminable vs. Ineliminable probabilities.
  • 36: To make the point a different way, he turns to Conway's Life World research. (Artificial life.)
  • translation rules are like physics in a real world.
  • Initially, the deterministic "life worlds" look like our stereotype of determinism. boring.
  • But with more translation rules, we get more complex events. At the design level, we have persistent objects in motion, contingencies ("usually this happens"). But at the physical level, there is no motion, only on and off. (How do you design creatures that can survive?)
  • 43: Some objects in the life world have powers just by virtue of their shape (and the "physics"). Like walls. “Avoidance” might be more expensive.
  • Persisting might include "avoiding" impending harms that are predictable. "The birth of avoidance." 43
  • In this model, you still have "hacker Gods" designing the creatures. You could eliminate the hacker Gods by building the "r&d" into the creature. This is a move from the design stance to the intentional stance. This is also a feature of an evolutionary "life world". You might just need life worlds that can have "Universal Touring Machines" -- which means they can solve any computable problem. Conway shows that his life worlds can instantiate Touring machines. (48)
  • necessary ingredients for "avoiders" (Whom we might hold responsible?)
  • 51: describes a feature of genetic history of dealing with parasitic genes: design problem, solution in design space, "actions taken". (Note than design and intentional terms are very apt here, even when talking about fruit fly genomes that don’t really “know” what the hell is happening to them.)
  • 53: A process with no foresight can invent a process with foresight.
  • read at 54. “We are virtuoso avoiders, …”
  • 56: Core argument for “Determinism doesn’t imply inevitability”.
  • 56: Objections and Replies
  • 1. It's not real avoidance because the object's fate was never in doubt.
  • Determined avoidance is real avoidance. What's the diff?
  • 2. It's not real avoidance. Real avoidance changes something that "was going to happen" into something that doesn't happen.
  • depends upon meaning of "going to happen". Avoiding a baseball coming at you is real avoiding even if the ball was never going to hit you because of your avoidance system. You can also avoid avoiding (get hit by the ball on purpose to get on base). And so on... avoid avoiding avoiding.
  • 3. It's not real avoidance. Real avoidance changes the outcome.
  • you can only change anticipated outcomes, and that's what we are doing in "determined avoiding".
  • 4 (60). The creatures in the life world have their powers "inevitably" thanks to the determinism of that world. They are just what they are due to their starting points and events. “Determinism is the friend, not the foe, of those who dislike inevitability.” (You could use this to make a strong claim that we can only have free will in a universe that is at least partly deterministic.)
  • This is exactly the link between "determined" and "inevitable" that D wants to break. Our powers are determined by the past, but that doesn't mean our actions are inevitable.
  • Bonus argument: inevitability is also a feature of indeterminist worlds. You can't dodge an undetermined lightning bolt. (That suggests we are packing something illicit into the term when we think it only spoils free will in a determinist world.)
  • 60: Determinism is the friend of those who dislike inevitability.

15: OCT 26


  • Dennett, Daniel. Chapter 3: "Thinking about Determinism" Freedom Evolves. (300) (63-97) (Kennedy/Hendrick)

Some Context for discussing Determinism

  • Really, we are confronting the "spectre of determinism", like the "spectre of evolution". It may feel like a loss. It might feel like alot is at stake.
  • Recall Henrich. Western "free will" is at least an artifact of Christian culture, whether it is metaphysically true or not. Again, it may seem like Christianity itself is at stake!
  • Lowering the stakes
  • The modern concept of free will is not an article of faith. Is it?
  • Naturalizing free will isn't the denial of free will. (Further assessment, is it FW "worth having"?)
  • We have lots of example of "naturalizing" phenomena from pseudo-explanations and false metaphysics. Witches, mental illness, but also understanding how "mind can come from matter," what human nature is, etc.
  • Moreover, religions appear to evolve. (OT to NT God..., separation from culture of origin's views of women, men, sexual orientation, slaves, metaphysics, etc.
  • What if rethinking determinism puts FW and MR on a better foundation?

Dennett, Daniel. Chapter 3: "Thinking about Determinism" Freedom Evolves

  • Chapter 3: Thinking about Determinism
  • Three Errors in thinking about determinism:
  • 1. We think determinism limits what is possible. (Austin's putt)
  • 2. We think determinism implies that "S(0) causes or explains S(t)". This misses the way causal inquiry works. (Computer marathon / JFK)
  • 3. Determinism rules out self-directed change, change in character or "life-hopes". (Closed/open futures)
  • Dennett believes his arguments in showing these errors apply to both det and indet worlds.
  • Defining possibility, necessity , and causation in terms of "possible worlds"
  • Necessity -- What is true in all possible worlds.
  • Possibility -- Whatever isn't "necessarily not" the case. Roughly, all of the possible differences one might imagine between worlds. (Informal and identification predicates come in here.)
  • Determinism -- There is at any instant one possible future. In possible worlds talk, "A world is deterministic if it has the property such that, if it shares the same S(0) with any other world at time 0, it will share S (the same state description) at t." Determinism is about causal sufficiency, not necessity.
  • Causation - How do we assign causes? (Note: Laplace's demon knows state descriptions not causes!)
  • Causation -- Two logically distinct senses:
  • "Causal necessity" - without A, C would not happen. Had Bill not tripped Arthur, he would not have fallen. In all of the possible worlds in which Bill trips Arthur, he falls.
  • "Causal sufficiency" - A is sufficient to cause C, but other antecedents might as well. Arthur's fall is an inevitable outcome of being tripped. In any world in which Bill trips Arthur, Arthur falls.
  • Evaluating counterfactuals (as in the causal necessity example) requires establishing a "comparison set X" of worlds approximately similar to ours in which tripping Arthur leads to his falling. The selection of the comparison set is crucial. Many problems of causation and necessity turn on how we choose the comparison set of possible worlds
  • In assigning causes, we also typically assume "independence" and "temporal priority". But here are some cases to show how various considerations are used to assign causation in different contexts:
  • The Sharpshooter Case -- The sharpshooter has a low probability of hitting the target, but does. We favor 'causal necessity' over sufficiency in this case in saying he cause the death.
  • The King and the Mayor (overdetermination) - Both issue exile orders for someone. Neither is necessary. Pick one, maybe the king?
  • Billy and Susie - Billy's rock is sufficient to cause a bottle to break, but Susie's gets there first. We favor temporal priority in assigning the cause.
  • French Foreign Legion case -- a series of "but for" causes, all of which are sufficient. Which is the cause?
  • Austin's Putt --
  • narrow method for choosing comparison set X - worlds identical to Austin's prior to his putt. If you choose the set this way, Austin could not have made the putt (looks like determinism eliminates the possible). But you could choose a slightly different comparison set and in some of those worlds, Austin makes the putt
  • It follows that even in det world it makes sense to say that he might have made the putt.
  • Austin seems to choose the narrow method, but equivocates about "further experiments" (which imply changing the antecedent conditions).
  • Conclusion (77): The truth or falsity of determinism should not affect our belief that certain unrealized events were nevertheless "possible," in an everyday sense of that term.
  • Point: Possible worlds analysis of causation shows that "assigning causes" is not as straightforward or "inquiry independent" as we typically think. Everyday talk about determinism tends to confuse "causal necessity" with "causal sufficiency". Determinism only entails causal sufficiency.
  • Computer Marathon
  • random number generators. To generate variations in the play, we introduce slightly different conditions.
  • With this random variation, you find the A beats B a thousand times in a row. It would not be explanatory to say A was caused to beat B. You have to go up to the design or intentional level to explain A's behavior. A has a competence that B lacks.
  • 81: "...the determinism of their world does not rob them of their different powers, their different abilities to avail themselves of the opportunities presented."
  • Could B have castled? You have to do the analysis. Might look at related possible worlds and say it was a fluke B didn't. Or you might find that B would have found the option if he's been coded a bit more efficiently. Point: (82) Philosophers choose the narrow set (Could I have done something different in exactly the same universe as I am in?) when thinking about determinism and free will, but no one seriously investigates possibility and causation that way.
  • 83: read at: "The universe could be det on even days...."
  • Events without causes in a deterministic universe
  • 1st error: Determinism is about causal sufficiency, not necessity. The actual universe at S(0) was sufficient to lead to JFK's death, but we don't know if it was necessary. Note that we wouldn't say that S(0) caused JFK's death.
  • 2nd error: Philosophers who assert that under determinism S(0) "causes" or "explains" C miss the main point of causal inquiry.
  • coin flips have "no cause" even though they occur in a deterministic universe. Note details. Important thing is to create conditions that make prediction impossible. In a sense the coin flip amplifies micro-variaitons and thereby reduces necessity.
  • Randomized Control Trials and Randomized Experiments. Use "uncaused events" break the influence of patterns we want to exclude for purposes of the experiment (and to determine causation).
  • 88: Why do we focus on necessity if it confuses us about free will? Our rationality requires it. Example of man falling down elevator shaft. Landing is inevitable, maybe dying isn't. We can change the future because evolution designed us that way. We have search algorithms, we are "anticipator-avoiders" (who look for necessary relationships). The fatalists lose in the the evolutionary competition.
  • Third Error: Determinism rules out self-directed change, change in character or "life-hopes".
  • Whether the future is Open or Closed is independent of determinism / indeterminism. Things can be "determined to change" "In some deterministic universes there are things whose natures change over time, so determinism does not imply a fixed nature."

16: OCT 31


  • Dennett, Daniel. Chapter 4: "A Hearing for Libertarianism" Freedom Evolves. (300) (63-97) (Scott/Jo)

Two arguments for resisting Dennett's view

  • Push back on idea that the determinism of the actual world is about causal sufficiency.
  • The possible worlds talk is all in your head. The actual world is the only one we have and everything in it happens from necessity. But note that might not be his problem and might still be compatible with FW.
  • Push back on idea that states of affairs (S(0) etc.) are not somehow causally related. Even if "state descriptions" aren't causal, it isn't false to say the each state of the universe produces the next.

Dennett, Daniel. Chapter 4: "A Hearing for Libertarianism" Freedom Evolves.

  • Characterizes the traditional argument motivating libertarianism:
  • If Det true, no FW. If no FW, no MR.
  • If we think of states of affairs as causing other states of affairs (something he argued against in C2), then we need a break in the causal matrix, a GAP, to own our action, saving FW and MR.
  • Mentions, but leaves aside "unrepentant dualists" (feel free to explore these), who try to give accounts of "agent causation" . By contrast Kane is a naturalist like Dennett.
  • Kane's goal. To show that we can be the "ultimate creator and sustainer of our ends and purposes"
  • Where should we put the gap?

  • i. desire
  • ii. rational will
  • iii. striving will
  • gap goes somewhere bt i and ii. Case of Business woman, two neural clouds around "stay" or "go".
  • 105: a little background on chaos. Old debate about AI. Are "hardware neural networks" (in which the indeterminacy is modelled physically v. virtually) non-algorithmic? Yes, but this feature of hardware neural nets doesn't explain their powers since they can also be modelled in a computer, which is algorithmic (computational) at the physical level.
  • Point: D is criticizing Kane for confusing chaos with indeterminism. The point about neural nets raises the question: Will the indeterminacy (non-computational moment) in Kane's theory really do any work?
  • Kane's Model of Indeterministic Decision-making

  • Basic model: If we can introduce a gap of quantum indeterminacy into your decision making than we can say about some of your acts that at some moment "t" you could have done otherwise. Moreover, in the context of practical reasoning, it is plausible to think that these acts are "self-forming acts" and yours.
  • 108: Input-Output model: "striving will" is a kind of "resistance". Look at cases. Clarify notion of "clutch". weakness of the will.
  • Do we put the clutch inside or outside? Memory inside or outside? Randomizer inside or outside? If these outside us, then the are part of the input (or after the output in the case of deciding right and not doing it) and 'determining' us. If inside, then they don't determine us? But we just moved the boundary.
  • You could "send out" for randomness, but that's like flipping a coin. Would that make it not "determining"you?
  • 115: Kane's model is focused on deliberative choice, but D raises questions about how to draw that line. A habit can be acquired deliberately. Case of strangling the dentist.
  • Kane allows for some determinism in his model, which helps account for the case of Martin Luther.
  • SFAs can enter into subsequent deterministic processes (such as one leading to Luther's statement) and still be "ours". (Note how far we are from Strawson at this point! Ultimate Responsibility is weaker here.)
  • Kane's principle of alternative possibilities. (AP) and discussion of "t" 118-121
  • Kane's ultimacy requirement. (U). You can only be MR for something, if you are MR for everything that was a sufficient condition for that. SFAs satisfy U. read at 122. (I still don't have a clear way to say this.)
  • If you make yourself really small, you can externalize virtually everything.

  • How do you get the indeterminacy to be "inside" us? Echoes of idea of "Cartesan theater" (wiki notefrom Consciousness Explained). Doesn't exist, but philosophers invoke it in discussion of consciousness.
  • Kane's solution: "plural rationality" Imagine two sets of reasons around a decision, both of which you "own" or endorse. (not sure about D's skepticism at 125). K's intuition: in such cases we are working with potential choices that are "ours". The indeterminancy doesn't imply that the outcome is a fluke.
  • 126: Big Criticism (made in next section): Kane's "incremental self-making" is a version of FW worth having, but you don't need indeterminacy to get it.
  • Beware of Prime Mammals
  • Point of fallacy: result of a desire for a regress stopper, but that is only needed because you assume essentialism. Kane thinks SFAs are regress stoppers because the gap breaks the chain of causation to the past. You could have done otherwise and it still would be you.
  • D: SFAs are prime mammals. The key to stopping the regress, but not discernable or discoverable, possibly because there is no such thing. 127: no way to tell a real SFA from pseudo. Oppenheimer: like speication events, only discernable retrospectively. Luther1 and Luther2.
  • Kane's defense might be that it is a problem in the world that it is hard to discern. But then: Why should metaphysically unknowable features count more than discernable ones (upbringing, abuse, etc.)?
  • As in the prime mammal fallacy, events in the distant past are not up to me, but events in the recent past might be and this gives me room to extend a self. (This would apply to Strawson as well, I think.)

17: NOV 2


  • Dennett, Daniel. Chapter 5: "Where Does all the Design Come From?" Freedom Evolves. (300) (141-170) (Angelo/Jo)

Doing Justice to the Prime Mammal Fallacy

  • The PM fallacy is generated by imposing essentialist (binary, all or nothing, impervious to time) conditions for identity onto a naturalistic process.
  • SFAs are "prime mammals" in the sense that they are an essential characterization of a kind of event that allows for self-making. They are also "regress-stoppers" 127. What if self-making (later design) occurs incrementally from ordinary events? (In other words, there is no prime mammal, but there are mammals.)
  • It generalizes a bit. Used in regresses. Conflicts between essentialist thinking about naturalist thinking in general.
  • In the context of our course research project, you could say the "prime mammal" is broadly the search for special moment in human action, or condition of our existence, that guarantees our freedom. It seems like "something special" (FW) can only come from "something special". But natural processes show us that this isn't the typical case. Mind from matter, design from (pseudo)randomness.

Dennett, Daniel. Chapter 5: "Where Does all the Design Come From?" Freedom Evolves

  • Design in the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
  • Darwinian strategy: go back in time and look for the emergence of design that supports freedom.
  • 144: Eukaryotic revolution - symbiosis (recall the artificial life model) . The design came from outside (maybe like culture).
  • 146: step to multicellular life required alot of biological machinery. Who paid for all that R&D? A billion years of prokayotic life.
  • The Prisoner's Dilemma
  • Cooperation in Biology needs explaining.
  • PD: can be generalized for any cooperative events with similar pay off relationships. ESS's
  • E Pluribus Unum?
  • How do we explain "cellular group solidarity"?
  • 151: reintroduces physical level, design level, intentional stance. Some of my cells (somatic) are in a "dead end", no branching possibilities. But germ line cells (related to reproduction) do. Differential reproduction.
  • Mitosis vs. Meiosis -- 153. Argues that the blindness of meiosis undercuts selfish gene strategies. Selection of a genome for reproduction borrows randomly from paternal and maternal lines. Sort of like Rawls' "veil of ignorance". Update: 154 about "intergenomic conflict" (example from Sapolsky). Point for Dennett: You need the intentional stance to express even the rules governing gene-conflicts. metaphor of "parliment"
  • Notes from Sapolsky:
  • Parent-Offspring Conflict -- conflict based on lack of complete gene sharing bt parent and offspring. weaning conflict. other biological conflicts between fetus and mother. slightly diff evo agendas.
  • Intersexual Genetic Conflict -- In species with low paternal investment, a father's interest might be with the child and against the mother. "imprinted genes" part of the mechanism for intersexual conflict. If they come from Dad, it favours more nutrition for the kid. Tournament species have more imprinted genes than pairbonding (as you would expect).
  • Comparison of evolutionary R&D and conscious human R&D (which includes the PD): both involve strategic moves, avoidance, retaliation, choice, and risk.
  • Compared to our somatic cells (which are ballistic missiles), at the organism level, we are "guided missiles". By definition, organisms have a working solution to the problem of cooperation.
  • Digression: The Threat of Genetic Determinism
  • We are not determined by our genes. Eyeglasses. Medicine. But somewhat.
  • Environment also determines a lot. Whether you know a language, for example. [Recall neuroplasticity - compulsive liars]
  • Importance of Chance -- description of neuron formation.
  • 159: Nature/nurture discussion recalls inside/outside issue in Kane's view of practical reason. In both cases, we have limited control over the future. (Freedom isn't just an "internal" condition.)
  • Focus on "what we can change" whether the world is deterministic or not.
  • Recalls Diamond's Guns, germs, and steel - importance of environment. "Knowledge of causation is the friend of freedom."
  • Degrees of Freedom and the Search for Truth
  • Even a switch has some "degree of freedom" . Compare to a brain.
  • Is learning worth the trade offs? Depends. Tapeworms don't seem to need it. We spend a good 15-25% of our lives in formal education.
  • Freedom of birds, primates and "false belief" - Ends with idea that culture is a big source of human freedom.

18: NOV 7


  • Dennett, Daniel. Chapter 6: "The Evolution of Open Minds" Freedom Evolves. (300) (170-193) (Dionicio/Kennedy)
  • Henrich, Joe. "The Dark Matter of History" The WEIRDEST People on Earth. (469-489) (Erik/Scott)

Dennett, Daniel. Chapter 6: "The Evolution of Open Minds" Freedom Evolves

  • Offers a "circa 2003" account of cultural transmission. We will update this a bit with Henrich.
  • New leaf preference for butterfly can be "imprinted" Point: transmissable trait without genetic change.
  • Alludes to "phenotypic selection" . In recent gene/culture theories, this is more central (Sapolsky). "Unibrow example"
  • Considers various mechanisms by which nature "outsources" traits that promote transmission: prolonged parent-offspring contact, attentional biases of babies and children to parents. (My examples: recent research on "thinking your child is special" and judgements of beauty in partners.)
  • Primate examples of transmission of learning. Culturally specific norms 173.
  • Transmission independent of language, but human language makes a huge diff. A "virtual machine" in our heads that extends the self. Language makes possible memes.
  • Memes -- theoretical concept for modelling cultural "variants". Odd image of the lancet fluke. Henrich will give us a more updated way of thinking about this.
  • Memes do nicely modelled the paralled process of genetic mutations.
  • Memes like other can be parasites, commensals, or mutualist. examples 177.
  • Important point here. You don't have to assume that we create memes intentionally with a clear idea of why they might be good for us. As we'll see in Henrich, when cultural variation produces viral memes, even intentionally, the distant consequences (secular society) might not have been intended at all!
  • To question about "meme science" on 178. No, probably mostly an imagination stretcher.
  • Back to the Fluke! Interesting to think of how memes "capture" our minds. 179 fanatacism.
  • The concept of the "extended self" -- review. What is that's where the freedom is? In the virtual machine that we are running in our heads, through language and culture, to connect ourselves to each other, partially, through shared memes.
  • Memes as "pure information" haven't survived in the theoretical discussion. Better though of as automatic processes (recall examples from above) and automatic inferences (intuitions).
  • Religion as cultural system. One reason for Henrich is that he's not preoccupied, as Dennett is, with the range of possibilities for theorizing religion.
  • Religion likely an example of "convergent evolution".
  • Reasonable to ask whether a religion is serving the human good or not. Rapa Nui. Radicalized forms of religion.
  • Last section (186): quote.
  • Idea of Darwinian evolution as "substrate neutral" (hence, it could be instantiated in a virtual machine, or network of virtual machines, processing memes. Society!

Henrich, Joe. "The Dark Matter of History" The WEIRDEST People on Earth.

  • This chapter summarizes The WEIRDest People in the World by J. Henrich.
  • "The cultural evolution of psychology is the dark matter that flows behind the scenes throughout history."
  • Basic story: kin-based institutions emerge from sedentary agriculuture (clans, cousin marriage, corporate ownership, patrilocal residence, ancestor worship). With the emergence of cities, universalizing religions created "variations" in social life that favored the emergence of WEIRD psychology, modern market morality and penal institutions.
  • Church's "marriage and family plan" was a hit! Some features of it relevant to MR and FW:
  • Individualism, self-focus
  • Impartial rules and principles
  • Intentional morality (focus on guilt and responsibility)
  • Guilt culture over shame culture (also and internalization of morality).
  • Individual centered law (no family guilt for crimes).
  • Connection with Jared Diamond and "biogeography" - Diamond explains global inequality up to 1,0000 - 1,200ad, but effects of early ag diminish after that. Henrich thinks the effects of emerging WEIRD cultural start to kick in by then.
  • Diffusion of WEIRD culture: examples of cultures that copied more easily than others. Japan, S. Korea, and China vs. Egypt, Iran, and Iraq (which have more developed kin based institutions).
  • Affluence & Psychology - little reason to think wealth was a driver of change.
  • Genetic change vs. Cultural Change (psychology and behavior)
  • gene/culture coevolution (example of lactase production) - cultural selection pressure.
  • Example of genes going one way, memes another -
  • Natural selection seems to be reducing genes that would predict schooling (by 8 months), while cultural selection drove up schooling by 25 months and raised IQs.
  • Urban graveyard effect - urban life reduced fitness, but culture drove us to cities. Only recently did urban life predict better life outcomes.
  • Interesting point: A WEIRD world favors learning from cultural peers rather than genetic parents.
  • Colonialism as a "mismatch" between WEIRD and non-WEIRD cultures.

19: NOV 9


  • Henrich, Joseph, "Hell, Free Will, and Moral Universalism" (Hendrick/Angelo)


  • Report from Physics

Henrich, Joseph, "Hell, Free Will, and Moral Universalism"

  • This excerpt from The WEIRDEST People in the World comes in the context of a section on "universal moralizing gods" which characterize the major world religions (though Buddhism requires some discussion). H's theory is that this cultural innovation in religions allows societies to grow, solving the problems associated with living with so many strangers, something our evolved psychology did not really prepare us for.
  • The three innovations of moralizing religions are:
  • contingent afterlife:
  • free will: encouraged follower to believe they could comply with moral code by acts of choice and will.
  • moral universalism:
  • The rest of the excerpt goes into evidence of the effects of each feature on social life. The research related to free will is at top of p. 148. Specifically, belief in FW is correlated with:
  • less likely to cheat on math test.
  • less likely to take unearned cash payments
  • more likely to resist temptation, help strangers, and solve problems creatively.
  • Also, "priming" for moral universalism suppresses cheating and raises charitable donations..
  • Discussion Area 1: What consequences, if any, does this research have for our thinking about the modern problems of free will and moral responsibility?
  • Henrich -- 148
  • Generalizing, consider the following inferences:
  • (Close inference) -- Free will has its origins in psychological adaptations that allow us to live in large societies.
  • (Medium generalization) -- Cultural variants on ways of thinking about agency make real differences in social morality...
  • (A challenge to coherence of explanation) -- The philosopher's concern with the metaphysical problem of free will is hard to reconcile with the cultural utility of a belief in free will. If free will (and contingent afterlife and moral universalism) were inculcated in the West by the Church over six centuries, what does it mean for philosophers and theologians to come to the lectern and declare its metaphysical reality? (Holy cow!) One possibility:
  • Discussion Area 2: Do these lines of thought strengthen or weaken (or leave unchanged) our commitment to moral responsibility as justifying retribution?

Report from consultation on determinism

  • Science is predictive and, so, inherently deterministic.
  • Quantum theory is open to interpretation, but genuinely "open futures" are not a live possibility.
  • Quantum theory doesn't change the basic intuition behind Laplace's demon. (S(0) --> S(t))
  • One can hold out hope in various ways: perhaps the laws of nature don't cover everything. (?) perhaps free will is "emergent" (as in the naturalist account).
  • Options:
  • WEIRD free will and moral responsibility are cultural phenomenon that are tied to a "package" of adaptations. There can be a mismatch between (assumptions behind) a cultural idea and physical reality, but the efficacy of cultural ideas is not determined by this mismatch. (Other examples - love, faith)
  • We might try to develop "mixed intuitions" - seeing people as both free and determined, without assuming a metaphysical difference between these accounts. So, determined to be free. We could then judge the "mismatch" in light of the coherence of these mixed intuitions. Here's what that might look like:
  • A responsible person is predictable. We imagine that a person who is free is "unpredictable," but are they? Isn't that "acting randomly"?
  • A free person looks like a self-regulating and self-repairing "system" or "machine". Purposeful, values driven, revisable.
  • A person might lack freedom for internal or external reasons. Lacking the internal conditions for freedom is like being a broken thing. Failures of responsibility might be viewed as breakdowns. Lacking external conditions often takes the form of oppression or oppressive circumstances.
  • Cultures that promote freedom also promote ways of "fixing" broken things. Doctors, therapists, friends. Or just controlling them. Police, jails and prisons, hospitals.
  • An implication: We are not all equally free (even if we are treated as if we were equally free).

Drawing inferences from the culturalist/naturalist approach

  • 1. The naturalist account of culture is predictive and deterministic.
  • 2. We can find our specific cultural concepts of FW and MR in this account.
  • 3. The Catholic church's MFP profoundly altered culture and psychology. Our specific concepts of FW and MR emerge from this development, even though we apply them in secular jurisprudence.
  • 4. On a naturalist account, the philosophical problem of MRFW changes from establishing the essential conditions for MR or FW, to critiquing the actual operation of our evolved psychology in relation to cultural goals for "surviving and thriving". Note: The level of cultural analysis may be "rock bottom".
  • 5. Cultural evolution gives us "degrees of freedom" over genetic evolution. Freedom evolves.

20: NOV 14


  • Dennett, Daniel. Chapter 7: "The Evolution of Moral Agency" Freedom Evolves. (300) (193-221) (28) (Jo/Dionicio)

Dennett, Daniel. Chapter 7: "The Evolution of Moral Agency" Freedom Evolves

  • Sober and Wilson quote.
  • Theme of the chapter: How nature supports the emergence of morality and moral agency. A further argument is needed to show that moral agency gives us a kind of freedom "worth having."
  • Benselfishness - "far sighted self-interest"
  • Sober and Wilson '03 book Unto Others - altruism can evolve.
  • Is altruism a "cul de sac" in evolutionary terms? Not if it can be established incrementally in a population as a stable strategy.
  • Back to Prisoner's Dilemma -- problem is to undermine defection as the best strategy. 198: In a sense evolution solved an analogue of this problem at the cellular level - competition between organism and parasite.
  • By modelling payoffs and costs of defection, you can build an artificial life toy version of the problem of altruism. You can then add in "choice" and "learning". Now you can detect freeloaders and even punish extreme altruists. (Mention evidence on prosocial punishment vs. altruistic punishment.)
  • Conclusion: The benselfish agent would prevail. "prudent disposition to cooperate plus shared disposition to punish" (Let's pause on this. Is game theoretic punishment retributivist?)
  • Being Good to Seem Good
  • Mencken quote.
  • 203: Note that he is lacking the cultural evo thesis about universalizing religions and city size.
  • Frank "commitment problems" when it's in our interest to limit future self-interest."
  • freeloaders set off an "arms race" for bluffing and bluff detection. "Part of becoming a responsibile agent is making oneself into a being that can be relied upon to be relatively impervious to such offers (to defect or freeload)." Zahavi's "costly signal" theory. (Think of examples. Church all week, transparency, showing concern, showing up early . . . ).
  • self-control problems - Ulysses and the Sirens - we often solve control problems by "self-binding" (a metaphor in the lit on self-control that connects with old Ulysses' problem).
  • Learning to Deal with Yourself (Discounting)
  • Recall the psychological adaptations in Henrich that relate to this: patience, discounting.
  • 209: We have evolved a psychology with hyperbolic discounting, which does not serve our long term interests (and makes it harder to have long term interests).
  • "willpower" reimagined (using the Anslie source) as a competition in our heads of reward seeking possibilities. Like Ulysses, we have to take a different attitude toward our future selves to make sense of the competition. (Think about how you manage this conflict in your own life. Willpower, but also habit.
  • Our costly merit badges
  • Thesis: Being good is an effective way of solving a control problem. Recall the Luther example. "Making yourself so that one could not have done otherwise" is an innovation. Reputation (our merit badges) help with this.
  • The fear that determinism robs us of possibility (which he addressed theoretically early in the book) almost gets it backwards: "We can only be free in a morally relevant sense, if, in fact, we learn how to render ourselves insensitive to many opportunities that come our way."

21: NOV 16


  • Dennett, Daniel. Chapter 10: "The Future of Human Freedom" Freedom Evolves. (300) (289-311) (22) (Kennedy/Erik)

Dennett, Daniel. Chapter 10: "The Future of Human Freedom" Freedom Evolves

  • How do we negotiate between freeriders and scapegoats?
  • "universal exculpation" (making the person really small and externalizing everthing) and blame in the face of real exculpatory evidence. D. suggests this is a "rolling equilibrium" as knowledge changes and as we change.
  • Might use a "threshold" approach. "Smith didn't know as much as Jones about the crime, but enough." Adjustable: we can remove categories of offenders from those "responsible" without changing the idea of responsibility.
  • "People want to be held accountable" -- Core argument here (292): Moral responsiblity is a good deal. Exchange for benefits of cooperation. [This could be developed as a "negative social contract". Think about Rawls, "Not knowing if I will be a criminal in the society, what would a rational set of principles be for holding criminals responsible?"
  • Example: Pedophiles often choose to have their libidos suppressed. We often seek medications to solve problems in our lives, even to fix temptations.
  • Two more times on possibility and determinism Or, stop saying "Yes, but..."
  • 1. (296): Thinking about possibility using the definition of determinism obscures the actual growth of possibilities that has occurred through our evolution.
  • 2. "Ought implies can." Again, if you use the definition of determinism, it looks like ought shrinks to zero. No alternative possibilities. But on the morally relevant sense of "can" we clearly have more possibilities than our ancestors. (In a sense, our current freedom is their making.) "The expanding can"
  • Thanks, I needed that!
  • Theory (White) that punishment can be justified in the eyes of the person punished.
  • Considers various cases of match /mismatch between offender's understanding and acceptance of the deal.
  • Imagines a kind of 3-way social process here: the state, the offender, and society's idea of a "normally competent person."
  • Anticipating failures of responsibility
  • We don't think about being convicted of "likelihood to commit a crime, but you wouldn't want to think of that as a "right to a first blow".
  • 301: imagines someone going before a judge and wanting to be exonerated for an act resulting from a condition they knew about, could have treated, but didn't. (Examples.)
  • Returns to the negligent father in Chapter One. He has a choice to make himself really small or not.
  • Seems to endorse a "public health" view going forward. "The field of public health expanded to include cultural health will be the greatest challenge of this century"
  • Freedom is fragile

22: NOV 21: Unit 5: Proposals and Applications


  • Greene, Joshua and Jonathan Cohen. "For the Law, neuroscience changes nothing and everything" (20) (Scott/Hendrick)

Greene, Joshua and Jonathan Cohen. "For the Law, neuroscience changes nothing and everything"

  • Summary of key theses:
  • 1. Neuroscience findings do not pose a challenge to the legal system, but will provoke a conflict with ordinary intuitions about blame and this will delegitimate
  • 2. Our sense of agency is created in the brain. (Strong version of this. Dennett might object.)
  • 3. The "problem" of free will and determinism is not solvable because it is generated by two different cognitive structures in your brain.
  • 4. Neuroscience will lead us to show universal compassion in handling criminal behavior. (!)
  • 1. Introduction
  • "Mens rea" - a guilty mind.
  • Existing legal principles make no assumptions about the neural level, so can accommodate new science. But, neuroscience does reveal "something fishy" about our conceptions of human action and responsibility.
  • Argument preview: 1776: Current legal doctrine is grounded in a "metaphysically overambitious" libertarian view of free will, which is threatened by new neuroscience and determinism. Discrepancy will show up in the public's mind as they watch the CJ system operate.
  • The authors will "diagnose" the free will issue as a discrepancy bt folk psychology and folk physics. The version of free will that folk psych gives us is an illusion. [But that doesn't exclude a non-illusionary account of FW.
  • 2. Two Theories of Punishment
  • Background of skepticism about utilitarian punishment: could be Draconian, could punish the innocent. Critics respond that these scenarios would not satisfy utilitarian intuitions.
  • Retributivism does a better job of capturing our intuitions about punishment. Desert. "Internal wickedness"
  • 3. Free Will and Retributivism
  • reviews arguments of hard determinism, libertarianism, and compatibilism.
  • Libertarians wind up believing things there is no evidence for. Urges rejection of the "panicky metaphysics" of libertarianism.
  • Compatibilists "normalize" free will. Roughly rational, non-coerced action.
  • Retributivists must deny hard determinism, so, in absence of evidence for LibFW, they (and the retributive CJ system) are compatibilists. (Hence, the law may accommodate other compatibilist frames.)
  • 4. Neuroscience Changes Nothing
  • Stephen Morse (from podcast, I think). General idea of a rational person. "The law doesn't care if people have "free will" in any deep metaphysical sense..."1778
  • Greene and Cohen's argument: Morse is right about neuroscience and the law, but if neuroscience changes people's intuitions about blame and punishment, then we have a problem of legitimacy of the law. “In our opinion, the fundamental psycholegal error is . . . A reflection of the gap between wha the law cares about and what people care about.”
  • 5. What really matters for MR?
  • The law is interested in "diminished rationality" but people are asking something deeper, "What it really him?" vs. SES, genes, highly contingent circumstances. We have dualist and libertarian folk psychology, not just religious folks.
  • Cites "humuncular thinking" in CJ expert Pincus. Other experts saying "some of the diffs"...? Third example, Sternberg and Scott, write as if we needed neurological evidence rather than behavioral evidence.
  • The public's fascination with neuroscience evidence is evidence that they are looking for something that the law isn't looking for. "What it him?"
  • "The Boys from Brazil" problem. Mr. Puppet. The law just wants to know if Mr. P was rational at the time. But we "folk" feel that something is wrong about holding him MR. But if det is true, we are all puppets. People are led by their dualist/nonmaterial intuitions to reject determinism. But maybe neuroscience will reschool those intuitions.
  • 6. Neuroscience and the Transparent Bottleneck
  • From "black box" to "transparent bottleneck". Predicts that we will have very granular real time observation of decision making processes.
  • After enough new neuroscience, it will be pointless to ask, "Was it him or ....?" In a sense, everyone is a "victim" of a "neuronal circumstance" (A phrase I might enjoy promoting.)
  • 7. Folk Psychology and Folk Physics Collide
  • Endorses Wegner's "Illusion of Conscious Will" (2002), which brought together research on how we deceive ourselves into believing we are in control. (Still, relevant, more so than Libet's particular experiment.)
  • Additional considerations: Research suggesting that minds would naturally develop distinct module for animate an inanimate objects. Hidder and Simmel's research on attribution of agency to shapes. Andrea Heberlein's work on amygdala damaged subjects. Didn't see agency. "Intentional Stance / Theory of Mind" (distinguish). Other research on people who do not see agency- autism spectrum folks. Different ontologies.
  • "Attributive Free Will" is the unavoidable tendency to attribute free will to others.
  • bot. 1782: we are in a bind. Two standpoints. "The problem of free will and determinism will never find an intuitively satisfying solution because it arises out of a conflict between two distinct cognitive subsystems that speak different cognitive 'languages' and that my ultimately be incapable of negotiation." 1783 col. 1.
  • 8. Free will, Responsibility, and consequentialism
  • FW an illusion, but not MR.
  • They do allow that consequentialism will generate a kind of account of FW, but this is "hard determinism".
  • Interesting: Thinks we will be led to the French maxim, "to know all is to forgive all". universal compassion. (not so sure, myself).
  • Objections to Consequentialist punishment.
  • Could justify overpunishing.
  • Could justify underpunishing. [It is true that we will notice recidivism more if policy changes.]
  • Objections to hard determinism and denial of FW.
  • 1. Doesn't that fact that you can raise your hand show that you have FW? No. Wegner.
  • 2. Isn't attribution of FW and MR practically inevitable? Cites good early evidence (Henrich would be an update in the same tradition of Cultural evolutionary accounts) that we are adapted to FW and MR to meet challenges of social life. Response: Analogous to the diff between Euclidean and Curved space. May only need to overcome Euclidean intuitions when you launch a rocket into space. Likewise (big concession) we may not overcome our FWMR intuitions in everyday life, but in CJ contexts we must.
  • 3. Why do anything if hard determinism is true? Same answer as earlier. Try it. You're not built that way.

23: NOV 28


  • Cavadino, Michael and James Dignan. "Penal policy and political economy". (17)

Cavadino, Michael and James Dignan. "Penal policy and political economy"

  • Crime rates by country [2]
  • Homicide rates by country [3]
  • Some data on the board about income tax rates and taxation as % of GDP.
  • Two claims:
  • Diffs in penality likely to continue in spite of globalization
  • One reason for this is that penality tracks political economy.
  • Starts with an overview of the influence of the US on global penal policy. To the extent that US exerts influence on other countries to move in a neo-liberal direction there may be "penal convergence". Also, incarcertation systems are one of our global exports! "correctional imperialism"
  • Some elements of the US "justice model" (retributive punishment and retributive deterrence) travel faster than others. "3 strikes" and "zero tolerance"
  • In Europe, the European Convention on Human Rights is influential. Moved Russia away from capital punishment.
  • 441: Table: Typology of political economies and their penal tendencies.
  • Neo-liberal
  • Conservative corporatism
  • Social democratic corporatism
  • Oriental corporatism
  • Let's review some of the connections the authors make in their discussion. (bring in crime rates)
  • 447: Table: Political economy and imprisonment rates.
  • Is neo-liberalism "criminogenic"?
  • Possibly: Evidence that unequal societies with weak community relationships suffer from worse rates of crime. 447.
  • Interesting: Weak link bt crime rates and imprisonment rates.
  • Some possible mechanisms: Neo-liberal societies have high social exclusion: labor market and CJ failures. The authors suggests a "feedback loop" here: the socially excluded confirm the neo-liberal narrative.
  • By contrast, Corporatist and social dem states are inclusionary, have a communitarian ethos. (Think back to "Are you alright?" MRFW News!). "Welfare" can involve locking people up or giving them money.
  • Beckett and Western (2001) and others claim that high welfare spending correlates with low incarceration (except Japan). Also, economic inequality predicts high incarceration rates.

Drawing some implications from Cavadino & Dignan

  • Weak link bt crime rates and imprisonment rates. What might follow from this? Maybe imprisonment rates are driven "MRFW ideology"?
  • Neo-liberal political economies may be indirectly "criminogenic". How might a traditional MR defender respond? Like my conservative friend to homelessness? Better to live in a society that takes responsibility seriously than...(lots of ways to finish this sentence).
  • Methodological Point: We've sampled three kinds of writing about MR&FW. It might be interesting to think about these together.
  • 1. Traditional and current MR&FW defenders and sceptics;
  • 2. Contemp Naturalism and Cultural Evolution; and, now
  • 3. Contemp Political Science.
  • Culturally stable strategies. How do you get to a new equilibrium?

24: NOV 30


  • Caruso, Gregg. "The Public Health-Quarantine Model" (22)

Planning for last resources on 26th and 28th

  • Please review the candidates for final readings / resources. Think also about any resources you are bringing into your work from outside the course resources.
  • Options: Fixed readings vs. Student-chosen resource/brief verbal report.

Caruso, Gregg. "The Public Health-Quarantine Model"

  • A defense of the public health - quarantine model.
  • 1. Review of Free will skepticism
  • Works through traditional non-naturalist positions.
  • Identifies as a "hard incompatibilist" (note the pairing of a quasi-libertarian view of FW with determinism. That's how you get a "hard landing". The "problem / solution set" for FW MR skeptics is pretty traditional.)
  • 2. Public Health Quarantine Model
  • Pereboom basic argument. Analogy bt crime and public health. Based on self-defense and defense of others. (note Bradley also) not utility. Avoids some objections to utility. Principle of least infringement. Identifies with public health ethics. Recent book on SDH and SDPH.
  • Includes social justice - understood in terms of capabilities approach of Nussbaum and Sen. Health, reasoning, self-determination, attachment, personal security and respect. Substantive freedom (Sen)
  • [This looks oddly like Dennett's conception of freedom.]
  • "It is a mistake to hold that the criteria of ind. accountability can be settled apart from considerations of social justice and the social determinants of criminal behavior."
  • 3. Proportionality and Human Dignity
  • Retributivists might argue that treating people as "broken things" undermines their dignity.
  • Cites empirical evidence suggesting that retributive CJ systems like US appear pretty disproportional. Seems more likely that punishment systems are responding to beliefs about MR and self-determination than proportional fitting of penality to crime.
  • Skeptic of the coherence of proportionality. Comparing different things vs. incarceration typically.
  • American supermax prisons are horrible places. Overuse of solitary confinement. [Note this applies to policing in the US as well. ]
  • Cardinal and ordinal proportionality.
  • Argues that the PH model protects dignity better. Principle of proportionality and least infringement.
  • 4. Victim's Rights
  • [This section reminded me of Greene and Cohen's prediction.]
  • Alliance for Safety and Justice data -- what victim's want
  • Even if they wanted "vengence" it's not clear that would be morally ok. Retribs need a distinction.
  • Restorative justice.

Final Paper Prompt

  • Let’s take some time today to discuss the final paper prompt. It could be as brief as, “In light of your course readings and other knowledge and commitments that you have, provide your own theory of moral responsibility and free will (freedom). Then show what implications your theory has for how we should think about praise, blame, and punishment. You may also identify implications for our interpersonal ideas about praise and blame.”

25: DEC 5

  • Shaw, Elizabeth. "Justice Without Moral Responsibility" (15)
  • Some videos/websites about prisons:

Shaw, Elizabeth. "Justice Without Moral Responsibility"

  • Interested in the implications of MR scepticism. Specifically, wants to address retributivist concerns about the rights of offenders and those accused of crimes.
  • Many Concerns:
  • 1. Framing the Innocent
  • 2. Grossly disproportionate punishment
  • 3. Absence of due process safeguards (against evidentiary requirements for coercive treatment and right to challenge one's case).
  • Insight: Retribs aren't just advocating a view of just punishment, but also (often) defending a set of rights.
  • Major argument premise: There are examples in the law from non-retributive contexts (where moral desert doesn't even arise) to suggest that MR sceptics can address the "rights violation concerns" of retributivists.
  • 97: Sim/diff with Pereboom and Caruso.
  • Moral Responsibility and Retribution
  • Basis of retributive theory in punishment based on moral desert.
  • MR Scepticism doesn't rule out a "moral protest" account of MR (New in the course!!) - add to earlier idea of "accountability" Moore: "Suffering of the guilty intrinsically good."
  • C.S. Lewis' retributivist intuition: No "just cure" . Removing someone from a deserved punishment is unjust. It removes them from the sphere of justice altogether. Shaw rejects this.
  • Framing the Innocent
  • Presents the retributivist argument: Utilitarians would go along with framing an innocent person (under conditions described). But, compare to framing a non-responsible person, Timothy. Retributive desert doesn't arise, but we don't have trouble describing what is unjust about framing Timothy.
  • worries about the quarantine model: Public health law allows detention without finding of harm. Scarier analogy for rights violation worries.
  • Non-retribs can appeal to prohibitions against manipulation.
  • Benjamin Vilhauer (2013) Rawlsian account. Note rationale: For FW skeptic, no moral desert so it is a morally arbitrary thing about you. Should be excluded from veil. Claims contractors would rule out "framing the innocent". (Interesting digression on how it might be rational to allow the state to deceive the public under some circumstances. 104.
  • Proportionality
  • Rights violation concern: state might medicalize criminality and lose sight of proportionality.
  • Reply: This concern ignores how we actually currently protect the rights of individual where no moral desert arises (care of non-responsible persons). Stricter protection than utilitarian.
  • Due Process
  • Note: Dennett's view can justify either retributivism or non-retributivism (pause on this. It might matter to your papers.)
  • Again, Shaw plays here "major argument premise" -- there are lots of due process protections in contexts where moral desert and criminality do not arise.

26: DEC 7

Candidates for last day resource sharing

  • Two prison reform groups:
  • Documentary on Vipassana Meditation in Donaldson Correctional Facility, Bessemer, Alabama. [9]

Older Resources

Concluding Course Comments

  • Philosophical Method in our study
  • Naturalism and the "dissolution" of traditional philosophical problems.
  • Doing philosophy "in the world" vs. esoteric methods which deliver "results" to the world.
  • Three Ideas
  • How different the problem of moral responsibility is on interpersonal vs. impersonal levels.
  • The challenges of a cultural evolutionary approach.
  • Passive vs. Active Approaches to Responsibility
  • What is an active intellectual?

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