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 Free will 
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Joined: July 4th, 2008, 5:02 pm
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Just got back from work and re-read what I posted this morning. Actually it's a bit more complicated than that. The processes that lead you to decide what to type phrase by phrase are surely conscious processes. The conscious element in deciding what to type letter by letter depends how practised a typist you are.
So I withdraw the above response, and go to the pub for a much-needed pint. (I've been angle-grinding rust all day) and when I've had a pint or three and a bit of a think, I'll come back and have another go.
Of course, no-one's posted since my previous entry, so, having decided it's carelessly written bollocks, I could just delete it. But I'm leaving it. Because it's a mistake, it might shed some light on the matter in hand.


August 16th, 2011, 5:41 pm
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oh thundril! I was just planning a reply which would ask why you singled out the actual choice bit of a humdrum action like hitting a keyboard for scepticism about its veracity. As you have saved me from preparing this boring post, I have instead tried to sum up some of my thoughts on the thread in the way that you have - with numbers!


1 Genuine (ie unconstrained and unmanipulated) choice, by which I mean what is usually called free will, is a necessary condition for any kind of responsibility; it is not really a sufficient condition though. The more considered and reasoned the choice, the closer to being a sufficient condition for responsibility it is. More fortunate and rational people have a greater potential for such choice-making, and therefore more potential for being held responsible for their actions.

2 Responsibility can be for anything, whether of moral concern or not - for instance, it can be purely functional. See point 5 for more on this.

3 Responsibility is a necessary condition of blame or praise. We should not really be praised for innate gifts like intelligence or beauty, since logically we would have to be blamed for being stupid or ugly. Responsibility is not a sufficient condition for blame or praise, as the latter are judgments which presuppose the sharing of generally accepted opinions about desirable behaviour (whether this is concerns morality or functional performance) between the person blaming/praising and the person being blamed or praised.

4 Blameability (culpability) is a necessary condition for punishment but not a sufficient condition. It is a sufficient condition only if the punishment is controlled, reasonable and purposeful (ie aiming at deterrence and/or reform and/or incapacitation). Vengeance is not punishment in this sense and retributive punishment is essentially a collectively legitimised form of vengeance. Blame may be assigned to an action if appropriate without any substantive punishment, therefore, and it is often itself an effective deterrent, given that it is only appropriate where there is some agreement between the person blamed and the blamer on the rightness or otherwise of the actions concerned.

5 "Punishment" is an ambiguous term. Having defined it the way I have, it requires both utilitarian and culpability justification. In fact it is used to indicate retribution, and it is also used in other ways (such as mere dealing out of suffering to boxing opponents, laboratory animals and so on). I suggest that in TH we henceforth use "punishment" to mean forward-looking and non-retributive punishment which is linked to culpability. For instance, the infliction of so-called "collateral damage" like the killing of civilians in a just war might be justified for utilitarian reasons, but this would not be punishment. Punishment is also more specific than "penalty": a penalty might be getting fired from one's job for mistakes which one could have reasonably avoided; this is nevertheless not the same as punishment, although the words "blame" and "responsibility" can be applied here, as I said above. The important point is that there is a shared acceptance of relevant standards of behaviour, whether ethical or functional.

6 To repeat, blame and moral responsibility presuppose a shared acceptance of certain moral opinions, for instance that killing is more often wrong than not. Whereas you can reasonably blame me for swearing on a humanist forum, or for hitting my dog (if I had one), because I would not myself advocate such behaviour, it makes no sense for us to "blame" (as opposed to condemn) Hitler for the murder of millions of Jews - in the sense that, from his own viewpoint, he may have found his actions meritorious. This leads onto the question of ethical relativism, IMO a more important topic than free will, but from the viewpoint of this thread, I am just distinguishing what I see to be the main features of the blame/responsibility activity.


August 16th, 2011, 7:15 pm
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animist wrote:
1 Genuine (ie unconstrained and unmanipulated) choice, by which I mean what is usually called free will, is a necessary condition for any kind of responsibility; it is not really a sufficient condition though. The more considered and reasoned the choice, the closer to being a sufficient condition for responsibility it is.
Why? What is so special about reason? Is emotion irrelevant? And what does that mean, practically, anyway? Does it mean that we are more responsible for the choices we make that are more considered and more reasoned than for the ones that are more rooted in emotion or impulse? How would that work? How would we even know the basis on which people's choices, or even our own choices, are made? And what counts as reason, and what counts as emotion? If I decide that I'm going to join in the looting of a jewellery store because I don't have much money and I know that stealing jewellery will enable me to get some, is that reason? If so, does it stop being reason because I've forgotten the CCTV cameras and the likelihood of getting caught? Or is it merely acting on the impulse of greed? Acting purely in one's own self-interest could be (often is) considered very rational. Acting altruistically could be considered much less so. How should such things be judged?
animist wrote:
More fortunate and rational people have a greater potential for such choice-making, and therefore more potential for being held responsible for their actions.
Are you saying that more rational people are also more fortunate, and vice versa?
animist wrote:
3 Responsibility is a necessary condition of blame or praise. We should not really be praised for innate gifts like intelligence or beauty, since logically we would have to be blamed for being stupid or ugly.
Yes, and people frequently are blamed for being stupid or ugly, just as they frequently are praised for being intelligent or beautiful. Is that always wrong? None of those things is purely innate. There are environmental factors, too. Sometimes, the choices we make (even the unconstrained and unmanipulated ones) can make us uglier or more beautiful, stupider or more intelligent. So what is it in particular about beauty and ugliness, intelligence and stupidity, that makes it wrong to praise or blame people for having them? And why does that not apply to industriousness and laziness, say, or kindness and cruelty? Is there an assumption that the more innate an attribute is, and the less a consequence of the environment, the more praiseworthy or blameworthy it is? Or is it rather that the less an attribute is a consequence of our own unconstrained and unmanipulated choices the more praiseworthy or blameworthy it is? And if the latter, does it make a difference whether those choices are considered and reasoned?
animist wrote:
4 Blameability (culpability) is a necessary condition for punishment but not a sufficient condition. It is a sufficient condition only if the punishment is controlled, reasonable and purposeful (ie aiming at deterrence and/or reform and/or incapacitation). Vengeance is not punishment in this sense and retributive punishment is essentially a collectively legitimised form of vengeance.
So if blameability/culpability is not a sufficient condition for retribution, what other condition(s) is/are needed for that? And if punishment is controlled, reasonable and purposeful, why is blame necessary in anything more than the simple, legal, identifying-who-dunnit sense?
animist wrote:
Blame may be assigned to an action if appropriate without any substantive punishment, therefore, and it is often itself an effective deterrent, given that it is only appropriate where there is some agreement between the person blamed and the blamer on the rightness or otherwise of the actions concerned.
Oh. Are you saying that it is only appropriate to blame someone for something he/she did if that someone agrees that that something was wrong? If so, this does not follow directly from your earlier point about being responsible for choices that are considered and reasoned. Surely you're not claiming that moral agreement can be reached through reason alone. I think there's a step missing from your argument somewhere.
animist wrote:
6 To repeat, blame and moral responsibility presuppose a shared acceptance of certain moral opinions, for instance that killing is more often wrong than not. Whereas you can reasonably blame me for swearing on a humanist forum, or for hitting my dog (if I had one), because I would not myself advocate such behaviour, it makes no sense for us to "blame" (as opposed to condemn) Hitler for the murder of millions of Jews - in the sense that, from his own viewpoint, he may have found his actions meritorious.
I don't think you've said anything like this before in this thread. Could you explain why you conclude this? Could we see your ... workings-out? Also, if it makes no sense to blame Hitler, and yet blame is a necessary condition for (forward-thinking) punishment, does it not follow that it would have made no sense to punish Hitler?
animist wrote:
This leads onto the question of ethical relativism, IMO a more important topic than free will, but from the viewpoint of this thread, I am just distinguishing what I see to be the main features of the blame/responsibility activity.
And I think that could be very useful, as you've touched on points that are new to me; if you've said them before, I've missed them. But more explanation is definitely needed.

Emma


August 17th, 2011, 3:07 pm
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Emma wrote:
animist wrote:
Genuine (ie unconstrained and unmanipulated) choice, by which I mean what is usually called free will, is a necessary condition for any kind of responsibility; it is not really a sufficient condition though. The more considered and reasoned the choice, the closer to being a sufficient condition for responsibility it is.
Why? What is so special about reason? Is emotion irrelevant?
it is not that emotion is irrelevant, since motivation (motive rather than emotive, I suppose) certainly is inescapable in human decision - we are not robots, after all, as I have tried to get over to Alex. However, it seems that the idea of responsibility implies rationality - in the general way that "ought to do x" entails "can do x" and "can do x" requires optimising the chances that x will happen, and that requires ratiocination
Emma wrote:
And what does that mean, practically, anyway? Does it mean that we are more responsible for the choices we make that are more considered and more reasoned than for the ones that are more rooted in emotion or impulse?
yes - back to the riots
Emma wrote:
How would that work? How would we even know the basis on which people's choices, or even our own choices, are made?
why is this relevant?
Emma wrote:
And what counts as reason, and what counts as emotion?
coo, you demand a lot. Emotions/motives are drives, while reason is what connects these drives to their fulfilment - that is my amateur psychology answer
Emma wrote:
If I decide that I'm going to join in the looting of a jewellery store because I don't have much money and I know that stealing jewellery will enable me to get some, is that reason?
yes in principle
Emma wrote:
If so, does it stop being reason because I've forgotten the CCTV cameras and the likelihood of getting caught?
yes, or at least it becomes less reasonable
Emma wrote:
Or is it merely acting on the impulse of greed?
it could be either
Emma wrote:
Acting purely in one's own self-interest could be (often is) considered very rational. Acting altruistically could be considered much less so.
I don't agree: one's motives are one's own (something to do with free will, I believe), and there is something very tautological (and crudely utilitarian) about assuming that we all act in our own interests - quite apart from the selfish gene, etc
Emma wrote:
How should such things be judged?
I can only judge as I have just said
Emma wrote:
animist wrote:
More fortunate and rational people have a greater potential for such choice-making, and therefore more potential for being held responsible for their actions.
Are you saying that more rational people are also more fortunate, and vice versa?
I was not really saying that, but in fact I think rational people are more fortunate - would you not be upset to be seen/seem as less rational than you are? "Vice versa" - redundant
Emma wrote:
animist wrote:
Responsibility is a necessary condition of blame or praise. We should not really be praised for innate gifts like intelligence or beauty, since logically we would have to be blamed for being stupid or ugly.
Yes, and people frequently are blamed for being stupid or ugly, just as they frequently are praised for being intelligent or beautiful. Is that always wrong?
I am starting to think it is unfair, yes
Emma wrote:
None of those things is purely innate. There are environmental factors, too.
yes, innate is the wrong word, I meant out of one's control
Emma wrote:
Sometimes, the choices we make (even the unconstrained and unmanipulated ones) can make us uglier or more beautiful, stupider or more intelligent. So what is it in particular about beauty and ugliness, intelligence and stupidity, that makes it wrong to praise or blame people for having them?
they were just examples. I see what you mean, but I think in these cases the person should be praised or blamed for what they have done rather than for the result
Emma wrote:
And why does that not apply to industriousness and laziness, say, or kindness and cruelty?
in a word, no. (We have of course been thru all this before). Industriousness and laziness: these are words which are used as commendation and condemnation, although, now I think of it, it is only genuinely commendable to be industrious and condemnable to be lazy if the end objective of the industry is itself commendable.
Emma wrote:
Is there an assumption that the more innate an attribute is, and the less a consequence of the environment, the more praiseworthy or blameworthy it is?
no, not as far I am concerned
Emma wrote:
Or is it rather that the less an attribute is a consequence of our own unconstrained and unmanipulated choices the more praiseworthy or blameworthy it is?
I am probably lost here, but I think what I mean is the opposite of what you suppose
Emma wrote:
animist wrote:
Blameability (culpability) is a necessary condition for punishment but not a sufficient condition. It is a sufficient condition only if the punishment is controlled, reasonable and purposeful (ie aiming at deterrence and/or reform and/or incapacitation). Vengeance is not punishment in this sense and retributive punishment is essentially a collectively legitimised form of vengeance.
So if blameability/culpability is not a sufficient condition for retribution, what other condition(s) is/are needed for that?
I was talking about punishment, not retribution, and have stated what I think the sufficient conditions are for this to be justified
Emma wrote:
And if punishment is controlled, reasonable and purposeful, why is blame necessary in anything more than the simple, legal, identifying-who-dunnit sense?
it may or may not be necessary, I don't know, but I think on the whole it helps by legitimising and explaining the punishment (as I think Thundril said) - or it may itself be an effective deterrent
Emma wrote:
animist wrote:
Blame may be assigned to an action if appropriate without any substantive punishment, therefore, and it is often itself an effective deterrent, given that it is only appropriate where there is some agreement between the person blamed and the blamer on the rightness or otherwise of the actions concerned.
Oh. Are you saying that it is only appropriate to blame someone for something he/she did if that someone agrees that that something was wrong?
probably that is too strong, but I think the blame/responsibility nexus presupposes some degree of shared ethics
Emma wrote:
If so, this does not follow directly from your earlier point about being responsible for choices that are considered and reasoned.
it certainly does not follow from the other point, no; they are two quite separate aspects
Emma wrote:
Surely you're not claiming that moral agreement can be reached through reason alone.
not in the way you mean, but I cling to some belief in the rationality of ethics (not to objectivity or validity in the empirical sense). I read a review of the new Derek Parfit book on ethics (2 volumes!), and apparently he is a definite rationalist!
Emma wrote:
I think there's a step missing from your argument somewhere.
it is barely an argument at all, just an attempt to present what the conventional concepts seem to mean
Emma wrote:
animist wrote:
To repeat, blame and moral responsibility presuppose a shared acceptance of certain moral opinions, for instance that killing is more often wrong than not. Whereas you can reasonably blame me for swearing on a humanist forum, or for hitting my dog (if I had one), because I would not myself advocate such behaviour, it makes no sense for us to "blame" (as opposed to condemn) Hitler for the murder of millions of Jews - in the sense that, from his own viewpoint, he may have found his actions meritorious.
if it makes no sense to blame Hitler, and yet blame is a necessary condition for (forward-thinking) punishment, does it not follow that it would have made no sense to punish Hitler?
well, yes, in the sense that it could be regarded not as punishment but as a necessary extermination (at least in spirit) or incapacitation of someone apparently irredeemable and intransigently alien from our own ethical assumptions; but I would also hope that a latter-day Hitler (eg Anders Breivik) could in principle be made to see the error of his ways.


August 21st, 2011, 9:31 pm
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animist wrote:
it is not that emotion is irrelevant, since motivation (motive rather than emotive, I suppose) certainly is inescapable in human decision - we are not robots, after all, as I have tried to get over to Alex. However, it seems that the idea of responsibility implies rationality - in the general way that "ought to do x" entails "can do x" and "can do x" requires optimising the chances that x will happen, and that requires ratiocination
But not only ratiocination. If emotion is also essential in human decision-making (and there seems to be plenty of evidence for this, from neurological patients with orbitofrontal damage; I can dig out sources if you want them), then why focus only on reason? You seem to be saying more than simply that responsibility implies (or requires) reason. You seem to be saying that reason is the only thing, apart from free will itself, that's important in determining whether someone is responsible for an action. Which suggests that something is true about reason that isn't true about emotion (or vice versa). Is it that you think that our reasoning is more within our own control than our emotions? If so, doesn't that, for you, boil down to free will again?
animist wrote:
Emma wrote:
Does it mean that we are more responsible for the choices we make that are more considered and more reasoned than for the ones that are more rooted in emotion or impulse?
yes - back to the riots
Again, might this be because you think that we have more control over our reasoning and consideration than over our emotions and impulses? But if so, what about the absence of emotions? If a person makes a reasoned decision not to do something that will prevent someone being harmed, say, because that person lacks feelings of, dare I say it, empathy towards that someone, is that person really more in control of the decision-making process, and hence more responsible, than someone who acts instinctively to help someone, without thinking about it at all?
animist wrote:
Emma wrote:
How would that work? How would we even know the basis on which people's choices, or even our own choices, are made?
why is this relevant?
Well, if responsibility is important, then presumably assessing the degree to which someone has responsibility is important. And if it all hinges on how considered and reasoned that person's choices were, then don't we need to have a way of assessing that?
animist wrote:
Emma wrote:
Acting purely in one's own self-interest could be (often is) considered very rational. Acting altruistically could be considered much less so.
I don't agree: one's motives are one's own (something to do with free will, I believe), and there is something very tautological (and crudely utilitarian) about assuming that we all act in our own interests - quite apart from the selfish gene, etc.
I agree strongly. That happens to be a particular bugbear of mine. What I'm trying to get at is that the link between reasoning and responsibility, particularly moral responsibility, isn't at all clear. Acting in one's own interests is not unreasonable. Making moral choices requires something other than reason.
animist wrote:
Emma wrote:
Or is it rather that the less an attribute is a consequence of our own unconstrained and unmanipulated choices the more praiseworthy or blameworthy it is?
I am probably lost here, but I think what I mean is the opposite of what you suppose
Yes, you're right; I meant "the more ... the more" or "the less ... the less". We're back to free will. You think that our intelligence, our ability to reason, is something that is (for the most part?) out of our control (partly innate, partly the consequence of environment), but that our industriousness and our kindness are (for the most part?) within our control. I would agree that we can change some things about ourselves more easily than we can change others, but I wouldn't single out intelligence and beauty as being the only things we have no (or little) control over (and I don't just mean "ultimately").
animist wrote:
Emma wrote:
animist wrote:
Blameability (culpability) is a necessary condition for punishment but not a sufficient condition. It is a sufficient condition only if the punishment is controlled, reasonable and purposeful (ie aiming at deterrence and/or reform and/or incapacitation). Vengeance is not punishment in this sense and retributive punishment is essentially a collectively legitimised form of vengeance.
So if blameability/culpability is not a sufficient condition for retribution, what other condition(s) is/are needed for that?
I was talking about punishment, not retribution, and have stated what I think the sufficient conditions are for this to be justified
Have you? I'm sorry, I was confused. When you said that blameability (culpability) was a necessary condition but not a sufficient condition for punishment unless the punishment is controlled, reasonable and purposeful, that suggested to me that you thought other sorts of punishment (including retributive punishment?) required some other conditions. But I misunderstood. I suppose you seem to be saying two different things, but maybe they're the same thing expressed in different ways: (1) blameability/culpability is a necessary and sufficient condition for controlled, reasonable and purposeful punishment (which is the only kind of punishment you support); and (2) blameability/culpability is a necessary condition for punishment, but not a sufficient one. Other necessary conditions are that the punishment be controlled, reasonable and purposeful. But then ...
animist wrote:
Emma wrote:
And if punishment is controlled, reasonable and purposeful, why is blame necessary in anything more than the simple, legal, identifying-who-dunnit sense?
it may or may not be necessary, I don't know, but I think on the whole it helps by legitimising and explaining the punishment (as I think Thundril said) - or it may itself be an effective deterrent
OK. I understand this. So if we're talking about the simple, legal, identifying-who-dunnit sense of blame, I agree with you that it's necessary for punishment, and that punishment should be controlled, reasonable and purposeful. The stronger kind of blame, the kind I've been calling moral blame, might not be necessary, but you think it's useful. Yes, I think it might be useful too. But I think it's also harmful. The question, for me, is whether it does more harm than good. At the moment, I'm inclined to think so.

Right. I'll get back to this later.

Emma


August 26th, 2011, 7:01 pm
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I've absented myself from TH for a while mainly out of lack of access to a computer, but it's allowed me to let things wash over. I see the original dialogue between Emma and Thundril has started up once more - I'll try and get round to dissecting it.

On the subject of punishment, I agree and very much like this:
Thundril wrote:
Human societies have practiced inflicting suffering as a method of altering behaviour because we have known no other way.
We felt satisfaction because we were doing something that worked, but we felt discomfort because we are empathic. So we developed the ideas of guilt and deserving.
These ideas of guilt and deserving have smoothed over our deeper need, to find a way to develop better behaviour without hurting people. And the religious adoption of 'deserving' as a righteous moral idea has placed those of us who challenge the notion of deserving on the outside, as either wild radicals or wooly liberals, depending on who is calling for the practise of punishment to be maintained or increased.


I'll leave other points for now but I wanted to clarify the point about 'humans = robots' for Animist. I've seen that you use emotion to distinguish us from the logical operations of a computer, but I don't buy it. Emotion is built in to our programming. What we label emotion is what a programmer labels "order of execution". I could give 'emotion' to a robot quite easily, but to replicate the scale of complexity seen in humans would take an unimaginably long time (at today's standard). Emotion is merely predisposition for a particular category of decision making. You use the word emotion as if to give us some special brain stuff. Now I know this is not your belief, and that I'm being picky and playing with words, but I'm trying to show that the very same logic that robots use also applies to us humans. Motivation is exactly the same. Who says a robot cannot be programmed to be self-preserving? Of course a robot plugging it's rechargeable batteries in itself is slightly less remarkable than the variety of actions we as humans can take, but the only difference here is purely scale. Evolution shows us how we get from simplicity to the level of complication seen in us. Once you know how a plant's apical meristem locates and grows toward light it is so easy to see how everything henceforth in evolution was just more of the same all piled into one package organism - us! Furthermore the word 'programming' gives a good parallel. There's a reason why doing such and such with your baby will result in this and this in adult life. We know of many different states of personalities ('conditions') which are the result of particularly unsual situations that the subject has experienced. Genes obviously give us our base instincts but these can be heavily altered, even overriden, by what we actually experience throughout our life. Disregarding genes we are a near-blank-page ready to be written on. Our experiences shape us and how we deal with experiences in later life. Our ability to learn doesn't offer us much difference to robot technologies either. Give a robot a code to remember shapes it sees and categorise them (1, 2, 3 etc...). In this way it will build up its own picture of the world and use that information to assist it in tasks in future. "We are not robots" doesn't say so much because I ask what defining difference distinguishes us from them? I predict that any difference you come up with will be purely superficial, such as "because humans make robots." In fact I'd go so far to say that the only definition of a robot would be just that.

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August 26th, 2011, 9:01 pm
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animist wrote:
Emma wrote:
Are you saying that it is only appropriate to blame someone for something he/she did if that someone agrees that that something was wrong?
probably that is too strong, but I think the blame/responsibility nexus presupposes some degree of shared ethics
OK. I suppose the question then becomes to what degree. And is the assumption that a person’s ethics are not within his or her control? Can we not blame people for having abhorrent (as we see them) ethical views? It seems somewhat arbitrary to say that we can blame someone who has the same ethical views as us, and who thinks a bit before acting against those ethical views, but we cannot blame someone who has different ethical views and thinks a bit before acting in accordance with them. Especially as I suspect that a lot of people (including Hitler, perhaps) develop their ethics to match their attitudes and behaviour, rather than the other way round.
animist wrote:
I cling to some belief in the rationality of ethics (not to objectivity or validity in the empirical sense). I read a review of the new Derek Parfit book on ethics (2 volumes!), and apparently he is a definite rationalist!
It looks very interesting. Makes me wish I had to read it, because I fear that without some kind of compulsion/coercion/manipulation, I won't! Ah, well. Onto the wish list it goes. Or maybe I'll just find it in a library and read Chapter 11 of Volume 1, on free will and desert.
animist wrote:
it is barely an argument at all, just an attempt to present what the conventional concepts seem to mean
I see. I'm sorry, I didn't pick up on that. I suppose that a lot of what you were suggesting didn't seem at all conventional to me.
animist wrote:
Emma wrote:
if it makes no sense to blame Hitler, and yet blame is a necessary condition for (forward-thinking) punishment, does it not follow that it would have made no sense to punish Hitler?
well, yes, in the sense that it could be regarded not as punishment but as a necessary extermination (at least in spirit) or incapacitation of someone apparently irredeemable and intransigently alien from our own ethical assumptions; but I would also hope that a latter-day Hitler (eg Anders Breivik) could in principle be made to see the error of his ways.
It does seem, then, either that (1) blame is not necessary for controlled, reasonable and purposeful (ie aiming at deterrence and/or reform and/or incapacitation) punishment, or that (2) ethical agreement is not necessary for blame. One or other (or both) of these assertions must be wrong. I suppose if we're talking about blame as the simple identification of the perpetrator, then 1 is true but 2 isn't. But if we're talking about strong moral blame, 2 is true but 1 isn't. I understand the conventional view as being that (strong moral) blame is necessary and sufficient for retributive punishment. Perhaps what I've called strong moral blame is closer to what you've called condemnation. But I don't see how you can define blame (and punishment, and ethical agreement) in a way that makes both 1 and 2 true.

Emma


August 27th, 2011, 10:38 am
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Emma wrote:
I suppose that a lot of what you were suggesting didn't seem at all conventional to me
I'm tempted to say that's a bit rich coming from you, who wishes to overturn an entire realm of conventional ethical parlance and thinking! Not that this means you are wrong to, of course. Can you give me some examples of my unconventionality? I have myself mentioned a way in which my thoughts on MR and punishment do seem unconventional: I don't see why people get more opprobrium/longer sentences for doing things which happen to have serious effects (eg murder) compared with failed actions (eg attempted murder).


August 27th, 2011, 11:32 am
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Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
Or maybe I'll just find it in a library and read Chapter 11 of Volume 1, on free will and desert.
Aha. I've found a pdf file of a draft of 23 January 2009, and I've read most of Chapter 11. Perhaps I'm being ridiculously over-optimistic, but I think that just maybe we (animist and I) might find some agreement here.

Fingers crossed.

Emma


August 27th, 2011, 11:56 am
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animist wrote:
Emma wrote:
I suppose that a lot of what you were suggesting didn't seem at all conventional to me
I'm tempted to say that's a bit rich coming from you, who wishes to overturn an entire realm of conventional ethical parlance and thinking!
Then you shouldn't have yielded to temptation, because I am neither criticising you for being unconventional nor claiming to be conventional myself, so "a bit rich" isn't at all appropriate. I genuinely don't think that you and I are that far apart in our thinking, though we are further apart in our parlance. I am still hopeful that we will find a way of reaching common ground.
animist wrote:
Can you give me some examples of my unconventionality? I have myself mentioned a way in which my thoughts on MR and punishment do seem unconventional: I don't why people get more opprobrium/longer sentences for doing things which happen to have serious effects (eg murder) compared with failed actions (eg attempted murder).
Yes, I'd intended to comment on that at some point, because it surprised me, because I'd thought you were a utilitarian and so primarily concerned with consequences. But I'll come back to that later. I've already said that I understand the conventional view as being that (strong moral) blame is necessary and sufficient for retributive punishment, which is not something you seem to hold. And I don't think it's very conventional to say that it makes no sense to blame Hitler, because he had different ethics. But, to repeat, I wasn't objecting to your not being conventional. I wasn't even objecting to your claim that you were being conventional. I was just commenting that what you said didn't seem at all conventional to me. But perhaps that was because I didn't understand it properly.

Emma


August 27th, 2011, 12:25 pm
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Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
animist wrote:
Emma wrote:
I suppose that a lot of what you were suggesting didn't seem at all conventional to me
I'm tempted to say that's a bit rich coming from you, who wishes to overturn an entire realm of conventional ethical parlance and thinking!
Then you shouldn't have yielded to temptation, because I am neither criticising you for being unconventional nor claiming to be conventional myself, so "a bit rich" isn't at all appropriate.
to be superpedantic, I did not actually say this, I just informed you of my temptation to do so. The other point is that IMO your views preclude you from telling me that I should/should not have done a particular thing
Emma wrote:
I genuinely don't think that you and I are that far apart in our thinking, though we are further apart in our parlance. I am still hopeful that we will find a way of reaching common ground.
are you? But then we'll have to stop talking!
Emma wrote:
animist wrote:
Can you give me some examples of my unconventionality? I have myself mentioned a way in which my thoughts on MR and punishment do seem unconventional: I don't see why people get more opprobrium/longer sentences for doing things which happen to have serious effects (eg murder) compared with failed actions (eg attempted murder).
Yes, I'd intended to comment on that at some point, because it surprised me, because I'd thought you were a utilitarian and so primarily concerned with consequences.
yes I am, as I cannot see much beyond consequences (though like all ideas, it has its limits). The point you make had occurred to me, but I don't think this is a conflict (and Alex, like me, appears to be both a utilitarian and to think like me on this point). The fact that a particular unintended outcome ensued (whether it was the failure of a murderous intention or tragic deaths resulting from negligence) does not affect the utilitarian value of a particular punishment, since the objective of any punishment is to affect future intentional behaviour, deterring harmful intentions and enforcing desirable conscientiousness
Emma wrote:
But I'll come back to that later. I've already said that I understand the conventional view as being that (strong moral) blame is necessary and sufficient for retributive punishment, which is not something you seem to hold.
that's true and it's part of wanting to take a utilitarian view as far as possible
Emma wrote:
And I don't think it's very conventional to say that it makes no sense to blame Hitler, because he had different ethics.
I don't know, I think the point here is that I am being basically lexical rather than philosophical. Can you actually imagine someone saying (ignoring the anachronism involved and with apologies for the Monty Pythonish flavour) "It's that Adolf Hitler I blame for what's happening to all the poor Jews who keep disappearing into them camps". I know that there are many revisionist historians who try to disprove the Holocaust and all that, and of course the Nazis themselves did not admit at the time what they were doing, and instead kept up a sham of some adherence to conventional ethics (ie that you do not commit genocide). But my hunch is that AH at least was quite sincere in his beliefs about the need for "vengeance" against Jews. Do you see what I mean? The question of blame IMO presupposes some shared desiderata regarding what should or should not be the case; in the absence of this it is a matter of condemning rather than blaming
Emma wrote:
But, to repeat, I wasn't objecting to your not being conventional. I wasn't even objecting to your claim that you were being conventional. I was just commenting that what you said didn't seem at all conventional to me. But perhaps that was because I didn't understand it properly.
dear Emma, you will never offend me, so you need not explain this sort of thing! But thankyou for doing so, anyway - I could talk to you all day! BTW, congrats on making your avatar match your user name - I suppose I should image someone bowing down to a tree, but I do like the Max Ernst.


August 27th, 2011, 6:36 pm
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Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
If emotion is also essential in human decision-making (and there seems to be plenty of evidence for this, from neurological patients with orbitofrontal damage; I can dig out sources if you want them), then why focus only on reason?
because it is reason which moderates the emotions, and remember that I distinguished between emotion and motivation. I cannot imagine decisions without motivation, but there might not be open emotion involved. For instance, I do some work for Amnesty International and any decisions I make are motivated by a desire to further its aims; if I read much about these aims, I might well feel openly emotional, but most of the time I am not feeling this.
Emma wrote:
You seem to be saying more than simply that responsibility implies (or requires) reason. You seem to be saying that reason is the only thing, apart from free will itself, that's important in determining whether someone is responsible for an action. Which suggests that something is true about reason that isn't true about emotion (or vice versa).
yes in a way
Emma wrote:
Is it that you think that our reasoning is more within our own control than our emotions?
that is a strange way to put it; our reasoning is not more under control than our emotions, it is our reason which helps us control our emotions
Emma wrote:
If a person makes a reasoned decision not to do something that will prevent someone being harmed, say, because that person lacks feelings of, dare I say it, empathy towards that someone, is that person really more in control of the decision-making process, and hence more responsible, than someone who acts instinctively to help someone, without thinking about it at all?
well yes I suppose so, and that's a good point. I assume you have hit on the infinite ambiguities of the word "responsible". The person who fails to prevent serious harm to another from a selfish motive (apart from a reasonable wish for self-preservation) is not acting "responsibly" in the commendatory meaning of that word, but he is possibly "responsible" for failing to help another person if the situation was one in which the threat to the other person far outweighed any consideration of his own wellbeing. The empathetic person who instinctively helps another has behaved neither responsibly nor irresponsibly, but of course he has acted commendably. I think in fact your example illustrates the reason-based nature of what we think as moral responsibility
Emma wrote:
Well, if responsibility is important, then presumably assessing the degree to which someone has responsibility is important. And if it all hinges on how considered and reasoned that person's choices were, then don't we need to have a way of assessing that?
OK, I think I see what you mean, but there is no obvious answer. My paradigm for MR is someone like myself who is not noted for impulsive behaviour and has no pressing problems requiring immoral behaviour, so I suppose an examination of a culprit's general lifestyle and personality traits would be the only way to quantify MR
Emma wrote:
I suppose you seem to be saying two different things, but maybe they're the same thing expressed in different ways: (1) blameability/culpability is a necessary and sufficient condition for controlled, reasonable and purposeful punishment (which is the only kind of punishment you support); and (2) blameability/culpability is a necessary condition for punishment, but not a sufficient one. Other necessary conditions are that the punishment be controlled, reasonable and purposeful. But then ...
but then what? I think you are correct to say that I have said the same thing in different ways. In point 4 I said that culpability was sufficient for punishment only if punishment was controlled, reasonable and purposeful, then in point 5 I tried to clarify the actual definition of punishment prescriptively to mean these three features.
Emma wrote:
So if we're talking about the simple, legal, identifying-who-dunnit sense of blame, I agree with you that it's necessary for punishment, and that punishment should be controlled, reasonable and purposeful. The stronger kind of blame, the kind I've been calling moral blame, might not be necessary, but you think it's useful. Yes, I think it might be useful too. But I think it's also harmful. The question, for me, is whether it does more harm than good. At the moment, I'm inclined to think so.
well obviously I don't make the distinction that you do, and moral blame is not a "stronger" blame but a type of blame which is moral rather than functional, IMO (ie it is not about functional inadequacy or foolishness but about wilful culpability). This "simple" whodunnit thing that you often mention would not be simple in practice, and I can't imagine how the terminology of responsibility would not be used - it is not just a matter of identifying someone to "punish" (my sense) but of assessing a complex set of actions and interactions (as with the phone hacking affair). One other point about blame-with-emotion is that it might actually be a sort of catharsis, making the demand for substantive punishment less not more strong - but I don't know either. Wilson never seemed to quite make the distinction between an understandable desire for vengeance in some cases and an actual justification for it (sorry to take your name in vain, Wilson, if you're there! Please lambast me if you want to)


August 29th, 2011, 7:28 pm
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animist wrote:
to be superpedantic, I did not actually say this, I just informed you of my temptation to do so.
Nonsense. You said it, you slippery bugger, at the same time as you informed me of your temptation to do so, and then you didn't retract it. If you'd said, "I'm tempted to say ... but that wouldn't be fair," I'd have let it pass.
animist wrote:
The other point is that IMO your views preclude you from telling me that I should/should not have done a particular thing
If you're talking about "ought to have implies could have" again, then we've already been through this in the Do/can we have free will and moral responsibility? thread, and didn't really get anywhere. When I say that you should have resisted the temptation, that does imply that you could have resisted the temptation, and I can say that in a way that is completely compatible with my views, using "could" in a hypothetical rather than a categorical sense (to use the terminology that Derek Parfit uses).
animist wrote:
The fact that a particular unintended outcome ensued (whether it was the failure of a murderous intention or tragic deaths resulting from negligence) does not affect the utilitarian value of a particular punishment, since the objective of any punishment is to affect future intentional behaviour, deterring harmful intentions and enforcing desirable conscientiousness
A long time ago, when we were discussing utilitarianism, you said, "Re act versus rule utilitarianism, I could never see much point in the latter," and I suppose I've assumed since then that you still favoured act utilitarianism. Even if you have since changed your mind, I still find it odd that you say, "I don't see why people get more opprobrium/longer sentences for doing things which happen to have serious effects (eg murder) compared with failed actions (eg attempted murder)." If you used to be an act utilitarian, I'd have thought you'd at least have understood that approach, even if you no longer think it's the right one. Act utilitarians consider the consequences of an act when determining the degree to which it's right or wrong.
animist wrote:
Emma wrote:
I don't think it's very conventional to say that it makes no sense to blame Hitler, because he had different ethics.
I don't know, I think the point here is that I am being basically lexical rather than philosophical. Can you actually imagine someone saying (ignoring the anachronism involved and with apologies for the Monty Pythonish flavour) "It's that Adolf Hitler I blame for what's happening to all the poor Jews who keep disappearing into them camps". I know that there are many revisionist historians who try to disprove the Holocaust and all that, and of course the Nazis themselves did not admit at the time what they were doing, and instead kept up a sham of some adherence to conventional ethics (ie that you do not commit genocide). But my hunch is that AH at least was quite sincere in his beliefs about the need for "vengeance" against Jews. Do you see what I mean? The question of blame IMO presupposes some shared desiderata regarding what should or should not be the case; in the absence of this it is a matter of condemning rather than blaming
No, I don't see what you mean at all. The point about being "basically lexical" seems to be a red herring. Saying "It makes no sense to blame Hitler" is obviously not the same as saying "It would sound really odd to use the phrase "I blame Hitler" in normal conversation." You repeat that (in your opinion) blame presupposes some kind of agreed ethics, still without explaining why, and certainly without demonstrating that such a view is conventional, which was what we'd been talking about.
animist wrote:
dear Emma, you will never offend me, so you need not explain this sort of thing!
I wasn't explaining it because I was concerned that I'd offended you. I was explaining it because I didn't think you'd understood my point. But now I think you're just being slippery again. Admit it, man! Your views are unconventional! Embrace your unconventionality!

Emma


August 31st, 2011, 1:42 pm
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animist wrote:
Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
... why focus only on reason?
because it is reason which moderates the emotions, and remember that I distinguished between emotion and motivation. I cannot imagine decisions without motivation, but there might not be open emotion involved. For instance, I do some work for Amnesty International and any decisions I make are motivated by a desire to further its aims; if I read much about these aims, I might well feel openly emotional, but most of the time I am not feeling this.
One could equally say that most of the time you are not reasoning about the value of working for Amnesty International or the good that the organisation does. It is misleading to say that reason moderates the emotions. I think one's reasoning has an huge impact on one's emotions, but the opposite is true, too. And the impact is not only a moderating one. And, of course, reasoning and emotions don't really encompass everything that's involved in decision-making. Also relevant are belief and perception and memory and imagination and pain and hunger and lots of other things. They all interact; each has an impact on the others. (And they can all contribute to motivation.) They're not all equally relevant in every decision that's made, let alone every act that is carried out (not all of which are the consequence of a conscious decision), but they're all significant. I still see no reason for a determinist to focus on any one of them and ignore all the others in assessing the degree to which someone is responsible for his or her actions.
animist wrote:
Emma wrote:
You seem to be saying that reason is the only thing, apart from free will itself, that's important in determining whether someone is responsible for an action. Which suggests that something is true about reason that isn't true about emotion (or vice versa).
yes in a way
Emma wrote:
Is it that you think that our reasoning is more within our own control than our emotions?
that is a strange way to put it; our reasoning is not more under control than our emotions, it is our reason which helps us control our emotions
What do you mean? I would agree that reasoning can act as a brake on a particular emotion, but it can also trigger or enhance a particular emotion. And an emotion can act as a brake on a particular line of reasoning, as well as triggering or enhancing it.
animist wrote:
Emma wrote:
If a person makes a reasoned decision not to do something that will prevent someone being harmed, say, because that person lacks feelings of, dare I say it, empathy towards that someone, is that person really more in control of the decision-making process, and hence more responsible, than someone who acts instinctively to help someone, without thinking about it at all?
well yes I suppose so, and that's a good point. I assume you have hit on the infinite ambiguities of the word "responsible". The person who fails to prevent serious harm to another from a selfish motive (apart from a reasonable wish for self-preservation) is not acting "responsibly" in the commendatory meaning of that word, but he is possibly "responsible" for failing to help another person if the situation was one in which the threat to the other person far outweighed any consideration of his own wellbeing. The empathetic person who instinctively helps another has behaved neither responsibly nor irresponsibly, but of course he has acted commendably.
No, that's not what I meant at all. I was using the word "responsible" in the sense of "responsible for the consequences of his or her action/inaction"; I wasn't talking about the desirability (or commendability) of the action.
animist wrote:
I think in fact your example illustrates the reason-based nature of what we think as moral responsibility
How? OK, maybe I was oversimplifying. I shall elaborate a bit on the example in a separate post.
animist wrote:
Emma wrote:
Well, if responsibility is important, then presumably assessing the degree to which someone has responsibility is important. And if it all hinges on how considered and reasoned that person's choices were, then don't we need to have a way of assessing that?
OK, I think I see what you mean, but there is no obvious answer. My paradigm for MR is someone like myself who is not noted for impulsive behaviour and has no pressing problems requiring immoral behaviour, so I suppose an examination of a culprit's general lifestyle and personality traits would be the only way to quantify MR
Not practical. Not reliable. Not fair. Not on. You have criticised my ideas in the past for not being practical. Whether you're right about that or not, I could certainly level that accusation against this particular idea of yours.
animist wrote:
well obviously I don't make the distinction that you do, and moral blame is not a "stronger" blame but a type of blame which is moral rather than functional, IMO (ie it is not about functional inadequacy or foolishness but about wilful culpability). This "simple" whodunnit thing that you often mention would not be simple in practice, and I can't imagine how the terminology of responsibility would not be used - it is not just a matter of identifying someone to "punish" (my sense) but of assessing a complex set of actions and interactions (as with the phone hacking affair).
Yes, I agree that the whodunnit kind of blame is not really simple, but it is simple compared to your type of blame, which seems to me to be extraordinarily complex, as well as fundamentally flawed. The kind of blame that many people (not you) seem to employ is associated with the belief that the person blamed deserves to suffer. That's why it is considered to be a necessary condition for retributive punishment. On reflection, your kind of blame does seem closer to my "functional" blame than to that kind of extreme moral blame. I would probably accept the idea of a moral blame that was a combination of identifying the causes and causal agents of an act and a moral assessment of that act, and I would even agree with you about the need for some kind of ethical agreement. (Though I don't agree with your focus on reasoning.) But when so many people (I think most people) use blame in the way that suggests that a person deserves to suffer for what he or she has done, I'm still very uncomfortable about using the word to mean something very different, unless it's obvious from the context. I think it's misleading, and I'd rather find other ways of expressing such things.
animist wrote:
One other point about blame-with-emotion is that it might actually be a sort of catharsis, making the demand for substantive punishment less not more strong - but I don't know either.
I suppose that's possible, though it seems unlikely. But it's not just the emotion that strikes me as problematic; it's the belief that a free agent should suffer as a consequence of his or her harmful actions, regardless of the effectiveness of punishment to deter, protect, rehabilitate, etc., and that if one demands such an outcome one has moral right and logic on one's side. I strongly suspect that such a belief feeds on emotions of anger and hatred and resentment, and vice versa.

Emma


August 31st, 2011, 5:31 pm
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This is my attempt, animist, to elaborate on the example I gave earlier, which you said illustrated the reason-based nature of what we think as moral responsibility.

Suppose there's a riot going on in your city, and you live in a flat above a jeweller's shop that is in the path of a violent mob that's setting fire to shops and houses. You've managed to get your wife and young child away to safety, but you've dashed back to your flat to pick up some important papers and photographs. You come out of your front door, with a rucksack containing the papers and photographs on your back, and you lock the door. You hear shouting and the sound of breaking glass. Turning to your right, you can see a crowd of masked people making their way up the street, smashing shop windows and throwing things inside them. You can smell smoke. You turn back and start to run up the street, away from the rioters. Suddenly you see a woman lying on the ground on the other side of the street, with blood pouring from her head. You recognise her as the owner of a local shop. She seems to be conscious. There are several possible decisions you might make, but to look at just two: (1) you stop and go over to help the woman; (2) you keep running. For each of those decisions, there are several possible motivations, based on various reasoning processes, emotions, perceptions, beliefs, imaginings, etc. But just to look at a few examples:

1(a) You feel terrified, but you also feel compassion for the injured woman. You want to help her, but you're concerned that the rioters are going to reach you very quickly, and there won't be time for you and the woman to get away, or even to get back to the flat. You promised your wife and child that you'd go straight back to them. You're terrified that the rioters will catch you and hurt you or even kill you, and you're also terrified of leaving your wife a widow and your child an orphan. You force yourself to ignore the woman and run.
1(b) You feel no particular emotions — no terror, no compassion. You just want to get away, to safety, and you know that stopping to help the woman will slow you down and reduce your chances of success. You ignore her and run.
1(c) You feel terrified. You see the woman but you don't process what you see. There's no time to think. All you can think of to do is run. You run.
1(d) When you first see the woman, you feel compassion, but that disappears when you realise who she is. You've always hated her. You hope she gets what's coming to her. Feeling slightly elated, you run.
1(e) You feel both terror and compassion. You can see good reasons for stopping and helping the woman, and good reasons to just keep on running. As you run towards her, you keep switching from one decision to the other and back again. As you reach her, you've got to the point where you've just decided to stop and help, so you do.

2(a) You feel terrified, but you also feel compassion for the injured woman. You think about how you would feel if you subsequently discovered that she was dead, and you think about what you would want someone to do if it were you lying there bleeding, and you realise that the right thing to do is to stop and help the woman, even at the risk of your own safety. You stop and help her to her feet, and make your way slowly up the street.
2(b) You feel no particular emotions — no terror, no compassion. But you think it's quite likely that the woman has seen you, and knows who you are. If she survives, she might tell other people that you failed to help her, and that will lower you in the esteem of other people, including your own wife and child, perhaps. You decide that it's in your interests to help her, so you do.
2(c) You feel terrified, but as soon as you see the woman a feeling of compassion becomes paramount. Without thinking of the consequences, you stop and help her.
2(d) You feel scared but at the same time elated. Adrenaline is pumping. As soon as you see the woman, you see the chance of becoming a hero. You imagine your name and photo in the newspapers. You imagine the glory. As you stop and help the woman, you imagine Nicholas Cage playing you in some future movie.
2(e) You feel both terror and compassion. You can see good reasons for stopping and helping the woman, and good reasons to just keep on running. As you run towards her, you keep switching from one decision to the other and back again. As you reach her, you've got to the point where you've just decided to keep running, so you do.

As I've said, there are many other possibilities, involving various combinations of various lines of reasoning, various emotions, perceptions of what's happening, imaginings of what's going to happen, perhaps memories of similar events, beliefs about what's right and what's wrong, and about yourself, and about what sort of person you want yourself to be, etc., etc. It seems to me that working out the degree of responsibility (for one's action/inaction) in the above scenario using your own criteria would be pretty much impossible, even if one knew the details of the motivation. But of course no one apart from you would know all those details, and even you might not be fully aware of them or remember them by the time you reached safety. And for everyone else, there might be nothing more than some grainy CCTV footage of a man running, then pausing or not pausing before stopping or running on. The pause might suggest that there's some reasoning going on, but even that's not necessarily the case. You might be pausing to think nothing more than "Oh shit, what am I going to do? Shit, shit shit! I don't know what to do! Oh, shit! This is awful!", etc.

But quite apart from the practicalities of it all, I don't see how this example might illustrate the reason-based nature of what we think as moral responsibility.

Emma


August 31st, 2011, 5:37 pm
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Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
animist wrote:
to be superpedantic, I did not actually say this, I just informed you of my temptation to do so.
Nonsense. You said it, you slippery bugger, at the same time as you informed me of your temptation to do so, and then you didn't retract it. If you'd said, "I'm tempted to say ... but that wouldn't be fair," I'd have let it pass.
don't think what you say would stand up in court, but yes, I did imply your ideas are much more unconventional than mine on the face of it, though I agree that utilitarianism to the extent of pushing fat men off bridges might be unconventional; I am not that interested in arguing who is more unconventional (or slippery) than whom
Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
animist wrote:
The other point is that IMO your views preclude you from telling me that I should/should not have done a particular thing
If you're talking about "ought to have implies could have" again, then we've already been through this in the Do/can we have free will and moral responsibility? thread, and didn't really get anywhere.
well I know we have been over it there, but my take on that thread is that you have not answered my challenge
Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
When I say that you should have resisted the temptation, that does imply that you could have resisted the temptation, and I can say that in a way that is completely compatible with my views, using "could" in a hypothetical rather than a categorical sense (to use the terminology that Derek Parfit uses).
I am not talking about the hypothetical statement "you could have if..." but the condemnatory statement "you should have", and I get the sense that you are shifting your views on this (and see my comment in the last post in the Riots thread); formerly you were insisting that one could not in retrospect act other than how one did. Can you explain this with reference to your quoting Derek Parfit? I note that he is quite OK with "blaming", though not with "deserving to suffer", and I can go along with this - but surely you cannot
Emma
Woolgatherer wrote:
animist wrote:
The fact that a particular unintended outcome ensued (whether it was the failure of a murderous intention or tragic deaths resulting from negligence) does not affect the utilitarian value of a particular punishment, since the objective of any punishment is to affect future intentional behaviour, deterring harmful intentions and enforcing desirable conscientiousness
A long time ago, when we were discussing utilitarianism, you said, "Re act versus rule utilitarianism, I could never see much point in the latter," and I suppose I've assumed since then that you still favoured act utilitarianism ... Act utilitarians consider the consequences of an act when determining the degree to which it's right or wrong.
yes they do, but this discussion in TH is not really about acts as such but about "punishing" people for their acts. The obvious distinction is between the act and the actor, and what I am saying is that the intention (construed in terms of harmful or beneficial intended consequences) of the actor is the relevant criterion for punishment. I see act-utilitarianism as essentially a matter for the individual actor, and rule-utilitarianism as a matter for legislators and rulers.
Emma wrote:
animist wrote:
I think the point here is that I am being basically lexical rather than philosophical...The question of blame IMO presupposes some shared desiderata regarding what should or should not be the case; in the absence of this it is a matter of condemning rather than blaming
No, I don't see what you mean at all. The point about being "basically lexical" seems to be a red herring.
if you don't understand what I am saying you can't really judge it as a red herring
Emma wrote:
Saying "It makes no sense to blame Hitler" is obviously not the same as saying "It would sound really odd to use the phrase "I blame Hitler" in normal conversation."
true, not the same, but linked
Emma wrote:
You repeat that (in your opinion) blame presupposes some kind of agreed thics, still without explaining why, and certainly without demonstrating that such a view is conventional, which was what we'd been talking about.
does anyone else understand what I mean? It is not really a question of "explaining why" - I just think that is the way that we speak, and that therefore the issue is literally one of linguistic convention (though it is not such a rigid convention as all that, which is probably why you don't see what I mean). I am not even sure that this point is all that important, but I suppose that I got to it by reflecting on the Nowell-Smith distinction (which I have mentioned several times before) between wickedness and moral weakness. Hitler is evil and condemnable because he believed bad things, whereas if I kill my aunt for her money I would probably be morally weak and blameable: if found out, I would not attempt to justify my action because I would agree that it is wrong to kill one's relatives, but I might have tried to implicate someone else and thus deflect the proper attribution of blame.


September 3rd, 2011, 12:05 pm
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animist wrote:
does anyone else understand what I mean? It is not really a question of "explaining why" - I just think that is the way that we speak, and that therefore the issue is literally one of linguistic convention

Blame is such a vague term, conventionally.
I can yank a blackened capacitor out of a circuit and announce 'Aha! there's the culprit!'
A pair of mechanics can discuss whether they think the carburettor or the spark plug is 'to blame' for an engine's poor performance. No shared moral sense is contemplated, in either case.
If a discussion has staggered on for so long, and linguistic precision has been proven useless, then recourse to conventional usage is not going to help.


September 3rd, 2011, 11:41 pm
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thundril wrote:
animist wrote:
does anyone else understand what I mean? It is not really a question of "explaining why" - I just think that is the way that we speak, and that therefore the issue is literally one of linguistic convention

Blame is such a vague term, conventionally.
I can yank a blackened capacitor out of a circuit and announce 'Aha! there's the culprit!'
A pair of mechanics can discuss whether they think the carburettor or the spark plug is 'to blame' for an engine's poor performance. No shared moral sense is contemplated, in either case.
If a discussion has staggered on for so long, and linguistic precision has been proven useless, then recourse to conventional usage is not going to help.

well I will take that as a "no"! Actually I am not trying to use conventional usage as an argument for anything, just trying to analyse what it is on the issues of moral responsibility and blame. Surely, in one way our status as (potentially) rational and responsible individuals does preclude us from being blamed in the purely causal sense that you mention: if my very existence causes some calamity, I do not (or certainly should not in our ethical system) get the "blame" for it - to be blamed in this way would "not fair". Of course, in some cultures, even in the modern world, this regrettably does not seem to hold: a woman who has been raped seems somehow to be "blamed" (and, more importantly punished) for this event over which she had no control. In some cultures there seems to be a kind of collective responsibility and punishment, as in vendettas; clearly the concept of responsibility as related to individual conduct just does not hold


September 4th, 2011, 8:53 am
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Emma wrote:
But quite apart from the practicalities of it all, I don't see how this example might illustrate the reason-based nature of what we think as moral responsibility.
a strangely weak way of ending an impressive multiple-scenario demonstration of the confused mix of motives, reasoning and behaviours likely in a crisis. I think it confirms my hunch that MR does presuppose a degree of (pre)meditation - and guess what characterises this, reason. I have many things from your posts to answer, but can I plead that (possibly apart from utilitarianism and rejection of retributive punishment, whether institutional or individual) my purpose is not really to present my own views but to try to dissect the nature of MR as I see it expressed in our relatively individualistic and secular society.


September 5th, 2011, 8:25 am
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animist wrote:
well I know we have been over it there, but my take on that thread is that you have not answered my challenge ... I am not talking about the hypothetical statement "you could have if..." but the condemnatory statement "you should have"...
First, "you should have" is not a condemnatory statement; it is a normative statement. Second, I thought your argument was that I couldn't say "you should have" because I can't say "you could have", and my argument is that I can say "you could have" in the sense that allows me to say "you should have". Derek Parfit seems to make a similar argument in On What Matters. Have you managed to have a look at the pdf file of the draft for which I gave a link? It is rather large and unwieldy, but I can send you a file of just Chapter 11 if you'd like.
animist wrote:
and I get the sense that you are shifting your views on this (and see my comment in the last post in the Riots thread); formerly you were insisting that one could not in retrospect act other than how one did.
I think I have consistently said that it is true that one couldn't have acted differently from how one acted, given the circumstances (both internal and external) that existed at the time, but that it is also true to say that one could have acted differently if the circumstances had been different. This is pretty much what Parfit says in Chapter 11.
animist wrote:
Can you explain this with reference to your quoting Derek Parfit? I note that he is quite OK with "blaming", though not with "deserving to suffer", and I can go along with this - but surely you cannot
It seems unlikely that both of us would go along with everything that Derek Parfit has to say, but I felt optimistic, after reading just the one chapter of the draft of On What Matters, that we might be able to agree on a fair bit of it. The "deserving to suffer" part of it is the most important element for me, and, as I said just a few posts ago as well as early on in this thread, my main problem with blame is that it is often linked to the idea that someone who is to blame deserves to suffer. That might more normally be expressed using the words "deserves to be punished", but the very use of the word "deserves", in my opinion, indicates that the purpose of punishment that the speaker has in mind is retribution, making sure that someone gets their just deserts, not rehabilitation or deterrence or reparation or protecting the public, which are matters of need or prudence rather than desert. Parfit hints at this when he says, "We can deserve many things, such as gratitude, praise, and the kind of blame that is merely moral dispraise. But no one could ever deserve to suffer. For similar reasons, I believe, no one could deserve to be less happy." His reference to "the kind of blame that is merely moral dispraise" indicates that he is rejecting the idea that we deserve a different kind of blame, one that is linked to the idea that we could ever deserve to suffer. Unfortunately, I can't find any explanation in the text for why we can deserve gratitude, praise or moral dispraise, so I don't know how he reaches the conclusion that that's compatible with determinism. I am more inclined to do away with the whole idea of desert, but if I can find his argument I'll revisit that. To be frank, though, I don't entirely follow his argument for why we don't deserve to suffer. I just happen to agree with his conclusion. :D
animist wrote:
yes they do, but this discussion in TH is not really about acts as such but about "punishing" people for their acts.
But presumably you would only punish people for their acts if you judge those acts to be wrong, and presumably you would apply a punishment based on the perceived degree of wrongness of the acts, so wouldn't the acts normally be your starting point?
animist wrote:
The obvious distinction is between the act and the actor, and what I am saying is that the intention (construed in terms of harmful or beneficial intended consequences) of the actor is the relevant criterion for punishment.
I don't agree with you. It's not that I think intention is irrelevant. And it's not that I think that only acts that cause actual harm are wrong. But I think that in practical terms it makes sense to assess the degree of harm done, as well as the risk that harm might have been done, and not only the harm that was intended. All three are relevant. A person who does a lot of harm may still be dangerous and in need of correction even if they did the harm unintentionally. There may be a need to deter other people from doing the same thing. And, perhaps most importantly for me, if harm is done, there is need for reparation. And the greater the harm, the greater the need for reparation.

If, after an argument, someone screamed, "I want to kill you, you arrogant cow," and then picked up a heavy ornament and hurled it so that it missed my head by about ten centimetres, they might have really been trying to kill me, or they might have had no such intention. Actually, they might have had no such intention even if they'd hit me. One can't know what was intended. Perhaps even the hurler couldn't know for sure. One can only judge on the basis of the act itself and its consequences. There is clearly a need for behaviour change, but from my point of view there is nothing to be put right (apart from repairing any damage done by the flying ornament to my own property, perhaps). If, on the other hand, the ornament hit me on the head and caused brain damage, meaning that I needed constant care, then there would be a lot to put right. Even if the person hadn't intended to kill or injure me, it would be reasonable to expect them to have a concept of responsibility that includes the idea that they should attempt to make amends. This is a notion of moral responsibility that I not only accept but particularly like, and yet I've been forgetting about it, which is remiss of me. I think it's quite common (even conventional) in people's ordinary interactions with each other, but less common in the context of criminal justice.
animist wrote:
I see act-utilitarianism as essentially a matter for the individual actor, and rule-utilitarianism as a matter for legislators and rulers.
OK. I think I see what you mean, but I think rule utilitarianism is sensible for individual actors, too. I think having a rule like, "Don't throw heavy objects so that their path passes very close to people, even if you're a good aim and think you can't possibly hit them, because something might go wrong and you might hit them by mistake" is eminently sensible.
animist wrote:
if you don't understand what I am saying you can't really judge it as a red herring
I said, "seems to be a red herring".
animist wrote:
does anyone else understand what I mean? It is not really a question of "explaining why" - I just think that is the way that we speak, and that therefore the issue is literally one of linguistic convention (though it is not such a rigid convention as all that, which is probably why you don't see what I mean). I am not even sure that this point is all that important, but I suppose that I got to it by reflecting on the Nowell-Smith distinction (which I have mentioned several times before) between wickedness and moral weakness. Hitler is evil and condemnable because he believed bad things, whereas if I kill my aunt for her money I would probably be morally weak and blameable: if found out, I would not attempt to justify my action because I would agree that it is wrong to kill one's relatives, but I might have tried to implicate someone else and thus deflect the proper attribution of blame.
Well, now I'm a little more certain that the issue of linguistic convention is a red herring. Just as no one would say, "It's Hitler I blame for that Holocaust," no one would say, "It's John Smith I blame for the death of his aunt," if John Smith had pushed his aunt downstairs in order to get hold of her money. If, on the other hand, John Smith was a social worker who had neglected to follow up his aunt's concerns about the mental health of her downstairs neighbour, and the neighbour set fire to the building where his aunt lived, and she died in the blaze, then there would be hoards of people anxious to blame him for his aunt's death. Funny how these linguistic conventions work, eh?

Emma


September 5th, 2011, 6:01 pm
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