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 Do/can we have free will and moral responsibility? 

Can we have free will and moral responsibility?
Yes 65%  65%  [ 13 ]
No 5%  5%  [ 1 ]
Don't know 10%  10%  [ 2 ]
Don't agree with how the question is presented 20%  20%  [ 4 ]
Total votes : 20

 Do/can we have free will and moral responsibility? 
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thundril wrote:
I've just looked up Hume, and a couple of other Wiki entries, on th 'is-ought' problem; but I can't find any reference to your "ought implies is' rule. Who says it's a rule? How does that work, without presupposing that opinion and reality are indistiguishable?
Also, I'm afraid I haven't got clear the distinction between 'implies' and 'entails' yet.
About the dog-kicking: in most societies, at most times in human history, kicking or stoning stray dogs has been the accepted thing. (Probably as a defence against rabies). In some cases, regularly dishing out a very severe beating to one's strongest working dogs has been essential. (For example, to maintain dominance over a pack of huskies.) So no, I don't think it's 'wrong, it's just that you and I both find animal suffering undesirable.
it is not "ought implies is", it is "ought implies can" - maybe you are understandably mixing this up with the question of deriving an "ought" from an "is", which I am pretty sure really is from Hume, and maybe I have misled you about DH - sorry if so. But the point remains that most ethicists do hold that "ought" implies "can", and in fact the Emma/you objection to moral responsibility does depend on this principle: you both think that as we can never transcend our genetic/environmental backgrounds, we are not "ultimately" or "really" responsible for what we do, including kicking dogs to make ourselves feel better. Moving on to this topic, I am not saying that such ill-treatment that you mention could never be wrong (though I would be very dubious about the way that even rabid dogs were treated): my example was a case in which making another living creature suffer was of some comfort to me - would you not try to stop me behaving in such a manner?

Implies and entails - AFAIK there is no distinction. Entails seems better and clearer


June 1st, 2011, 12:17 pm
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animist wrote:
"ought implies can" - maybe you are understandably mixing this up with the question of deriving an "ought" from an "is", which I am pretty sure really is from Hume, and maybe I have misled you about DH - sorry if so. But the point remains that most ethicists do hold that "ought" implies "can"
Thundril, the idea seems to come from Kant, Hume's near contemporary and rival (I think). Here's a short piece on it: http://www.butterfliesandwheels.org/200 ... thout-can/


June 1st, 2011, 7:42 pm
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Thanks for the link. Useful and thought-provoking.
On the matter of moral responsibility: I am not much concerned with the question of whether we can 'really' or 'ultimately' be responsible for our actions: I take the idea of moral responsibility as a useful (mostly) measure of our capacity to act as society (on a large or a small scale) requires of us. In this context I agree that there is a linear relationship between ought and can; ie, to the extent that we can, we ought.
On the matter of free will: If it were possible for 'me' to act in a direction contrary to that resulting from all the objectively existing pressures upon me, (for example, to 'resist temptation') then that power to defy pressure would have to come from somewhere., and since I do not believe in the supernatural, I don't see where it could come from; nor where it could reside.
On the matter of dog-kicking: I very well might feel inclined to stop you kicking some poor mutt out of spite; but what does this tell us? My own personal equivalent of the Cogito is: 'The only thing I can take as absolute truth is the knowledge that I can be wrong'. Applying this to my moral judgement, I can only say that, however strongly I believe that you ought not to kick dogs, it's just my opinion. "You ought not to kick dogs without great need" certainly exists as an idea in my head, and in yours, apparently, and in a lot of other people's heads too, very probably; but this rule doesn't exist outside people's heads. Unlike, for example, Ohm's Law, or the fact that there are only five Platonic solids.


June 2nd, 2011, 12:33 am
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Fia wrote:
I'm pretty convinced we can rise above our experience - especially with help - but don't know how we can rise above our genetic make-up. Of course the two are in tandem in the people we are. But I think it's perfectly possible we can work towards changing the person we are into the person we want to be: by confronting, evaluating and filing the experiences which hold our personal growth back. Not be a victim if you like.
It seems fair to say that we can rise above the effects of an experience, even several experiences. If we're equipped to do so by our genes and our environments. But I do not believe that it makes any sense to say that we can rise above our experience, in total, because apart from our genes that is all there is. (And we can rise above the effects of a gene or group of genes, too. But again, only if equipped to do so by our (other) genes and our environments.)
Fia wrote:
I could have used the personal experience of abuse by my father as an excuse for lack of my own moral responsibility, and I share his genes too. This is the "fluffy stuck needle record" thanks Animist :) But I chose to address it, feel the pain again, cry about it, recognise the damage it did, deal with it and was able to move on. To me this feels like Free Will. I could have sunk. I chose to swim, and swim well :D
It is impossible not to admire you for this. It clearly says something very positive about the sort of person you are. But I can't help wondering what else you have experienced that has helped to make you that sort of person. When you say that we can rise above our experience "especially with help", you seem to be putting your finger on something vital. Any help you receive to rise above a particular experience is as much a part of your overall experience as the particular experience itself. Help might come from other individuals directly, or indirectly from books or articles you've read or TV programmes you've seen, or it might be a matter of pure luck — a path chosen virtually at random that led to some beneficial change in you. You might even have had help from your genes — even some of the same genes you inherited from your father. Without any help of any kind, and with a certain critical mass of additional detrimental experiences, unhelpful people, faulty genes and downright bad luck, you might well have sunk, as many people do sink. But I don't think that would have meant that you'd chosen to be a victim.
Fia wrote:
I share my experience to show it is possible within my experience, not to imply that those who are in the fluffy stuck needle record only need the 'will'. I was lucky to have great friends and support. Would that all of us could have that...
Ah. I'd written the above before reading this response. But your comments do confirm that what your experience shows is that it is possible to avoid the possible or probable or anticipated consequences of a particular experience, just as it is possible to avoid being hit by a brick that someone has thrown at you. You ducked, and the brick flew over your head. What you didn't avoid, can't avoid, it seems to me (and perhaps nor would you want to), were/are the consequences of all your genes and your experiences in total.

Emma


June 2nd, 2011, 1:59 am
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Alan C. wrote:
Sam Harris' blog is interesting.
It's a long one so make yourself a coffee :smile:
Morality Without “Free Will”
Extremely interesting, Alan. Thanks for this.

Emma


June 2nd, 2011, 2:00 am
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animist wrote:
it is not "ought implies is", it is "ought implies can" - maybe you are understandably mixing this up with the question of deriving an "ought" from an "is", which I am pretty sure really is from Hume, and maybe I have misled you about DH - sorry if so. But the point remains that most ethicists do hold that "ought" implies "can" ...
I'm sorry, but I can't resist quoting the beginning of Sam Harris's blog entry, the one that Alan linked to:
Quote:
Many people seem to believe that morality depends for its existence on a metaphysical quantity called “free will.” This conviction is occasionally expressed—often with great impatience, smugness, or piety—with the words, “ought implies can.” Like much else in philosophy that is too easily remembered (e.g. “you can’t get an ought from an is.”), this phrase has become an impediment to clear thinking.
Gosh. Even I wouldn't have gone that far.
animist wrote:
... and in fact the Emma/you objection to moral responsibility does depend on this principle: you both think that as we can never transcend our genetic/environmental backgrounds, we are not "ultimately" or "really" responsible for what we do, including kicking dogs to make ourselves feel better.
Why does that depend on "ought implies can"?
animist wrote:
Moving on to this topic, I am not saying that such ill-treatment that you mention could never be wrong (though I would be very dubious about the way that even rabid dogs were treated): my example was a case in which making another living creature suffer was of some comfort to me - would you not try to stop me behaving in such a manner?
I would. I hope.

Emma


June 2nd, 2011, 2:06 am
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Emma wrote:
animist wrote:
... and in fact the Emma/you objection to moral responsibility does depend on this principle: you both think that as we can never transcend our genetic/environmental backgrounds, we are not "ultimately" or "really" responsible for what we do, including kicking dogs to make ourselves feel better.
Why does that depend on "ought implies can"?
I have been meaning to mention this earlier. Seems to me that your ideas challenge not only moral responsibility but morality itself - the two are pretty much the same except that MR focuses on attribution of blame rather than the content of moral systems. Moral judgments are either prescriptive (you should do this) or recriminatory (you should have done that) and the latter involve your bete noire, blame. What other activity than blaming is involved in saying to someone "you should have done that; if you had, the problem would not have occurred"? Both prescription and recrimination are equally moral judgments, and in both the "ought" requires, respectively, a "can" or a "could have". I don't see how (if this what you think) that you can prescribe actions (I assume on the basis of "ought implies can" - you have not queried the principle itself) yet deny the same principle in judgments which are the corollary to these prescriptions, ie the cases where the prescription was violated. And since you deny that really and ultimately we can ever do other than what we in fact do, I do not see how moral judgments are at all possible for you.


June 2nd, 2011, 12:54 pm
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animist wrote:
Emma wrote:
animist wrote:
... and in fact the Emma/you objection to moral responsibility does depend on this principle: you both think that as we can never transcend our genetic/environmental backgrounds, we are not "ultimately" or "really" responsible for what we do, including kicking dogs to make ourselves feel better.
Why does that depend on "ought implies can"?
I have been meaning to mention this earlier. Seems to me that your ideas challenge not only moral responsibility but morality itself - the two are pretty much the same except that MR focuses on attribution of blame rather than the content of moral systems. Moral judgments are either prescriptive (you should do this) or recriminatory (you should have done that) and the latter involve your bete noire, blame. What other activity than blaming is involved in saying to someone "you should have done that; if you had, the problem would not have occurred"?
But haven't we've covered this already? I'm pretty certain that I've already said that I am not ruling out the kind of blame that involves identifying someone as being responsible, or partly responsible, for an action (or inaction) that has had negative consequences (not necessarily morally negative), and claiming that it would have been better if that someone had acted differently (supporting that claim with evidence where necessary). One can "blame" a rainstorm or an avalanche in a similar way, but the difference is that doing that to a rainstorm or an avalanche will clearly have no effect on the future behaviour of weather systems or snow-covered slopes. What one says or does to a human adult, and to a human child, and to many non-human animals, on the other hand, becomes part of the experiences that shape them. The kind of blame that you describe as my "bête noire" is the kind that goes beyond assigning responsibility and pointing out the consequences of actions (or inactions) and involves despising or looking down on or getting angry with or condemning or hating or shunning or punishing the person blamed. Except that even that isn't my bête noire, because I think it's a perfectly understandable way for people to react to other people's harmful actions. I just don't think it should be encouraged, or used as the basis for our legal system.
animist wrote:
Both prescription and recrimination are equally moral judgments, and in both the "ought" requires, respectively, a "can" or a "could have". I don't see how (if this what you think) that you can prescribe actions (I assume on the basis of "ought implies can" - you have not queried the principle itself) yet deny the same principle in judgments which are the corollary to these prescriptions, ie the cases where the prescription was violated. And since you deny that really and ultimately we can ever do other than what we in fact do, I do not see how moral judgments are at all possible for you.
Right. I'm struggling to unpick this. But let me try. I query the principle that "ought implies can", if can is intended to stand for something like "has the free will to". Ought often does imply that, but it can imply something much weaker. We say things like, "The train ought to have got here by now." Meaning that the train was expected to have got here by now, and suggesting that it's lateness is undesirable. The speaker might have every reason to think that the train could (might) have got here by now, but if it has broken down just outside Penge, then it wouldn't be true to say that it really could have got here. Even in a moral context, it is possible to use the words "ought" or "should" in this sort of way. If I say that you ought to do something, I mean that that is what is expected of you (by law, by social norms, by the rules of the game or the club or the forum, by the terms of our agreed contract, by your own personal moral principles, by my own personal moral principles), and I believe that your not doing it causes some kind of harm.

On the other hand, if "ought implies can" means that although you behaved badly in the past, you can (might) behave better in the future, because circumstances will be different in the future, and you might have learned from your past mistakes, then I'm happy to go along with the principle.

I'm trying to work out a wording for what you call the corollary of "ought implies can", and it seems that it can't be done in three words. But again, I believe that we have already covered this in the other thread, when Wilson asked how I could criticise someone for something that was beyond his control. Constructive criticism is intended to help someone do better next time. At this stage, when everything's still up in the air, when the experiences that will help determine what someone does next time haven't all been experienced, and we don't know what they will be, we can reasonably say that someone can do better next time. Perhaps I need to distinguish between destructive and constructive blame, the first being backward-looking, and focused on chastising someone for something they've already done, and the second being forward-looking, and focused on avoiding harmful behaviour in the future — the moral equivalent of ducking Dennett's flying brick.

Emma


June 2nd, 2011, 3:29 pm
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Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
The kind of blame that you describe as my "bête noire" is the kind that goes beyond assigning responsibility and pointing out the consequences of actions (or inactions) and involves despising or looking down on or getting angry with or condemning or hating or shunning or punishing the person blamed. Except that even that isn't my bête noire, because I think it's a perfectly understandable way for people to react to other people's harmful actions. I just don't think it should be encouraged, or used as the basis for our legal system.
neither do I about many of these actions, and I don't think in practice the legal system does so too much these days (apart from punishment itself, which as we have discussed already, does not mean any particular form of punishment - but the system of course does still need to be improved in the direction of reform).
Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
animist wrote:
Both prescription and recrimination are equally moral judgments, and in both the "ought" requires, respectively, a "can" or a "could have". I don't see how (if this what you think) that you can prescribe actions (I assume on the basis of "ought implies can" - you have not queried the principle itself) yet deny the same principle in judgments which are the corollary to these prescriptions, ie the cases where the prescription was violated. And since you deny that really and ultimately we can ever do other than what we in fact do, I do not see how moral judgments are at all possible for you.
Right. I'm struggling to unpick this. But let me try. I query the principle that "ought implies can", if can is intended to stand for something like "has the free will to". Ought often does imply that, but it can imply something much weaker. We say things like, "The train ought to have got here by now." Meaning that the train was expected to have got here by now, and suggesting that it's lateness is undesirable. The speaker might have every reason to think that the train could (might) have got here by now, but if it has broken down just outside Penge, then it wouldn't be true to say that it really could have got here. Even in a moral context, it is possible to use the words "ought" or "should" in this sort of way. If I say that you ought to do something, I mean that that is what is expected of you (by law, by social norms, by the rules of the game or the club or the forum, by the terms of our agreed contract, by your own personal moral principles, by my own personal moral principles), and I believe that your not doing it causes some kind of harm.
this is not too clear to me. Yes, there are a huge numbers of ways that "ought" is used (Nowell-Smith lists them, I think) including ones with non-humans as subjects, but I am only interested in the core moral ones, and I don't quite see that your "weak moral" usage is a distinctive use that does not require "can" - but this does not seem that important anyway.
Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
On the other hand, if "ought implies can" means that although you behaved badly in the past, you can (might) behave better in the future, because circumstances will be different in the future, and you might have learned from your past mistakes, then I'm happy to go along with the principle.
the principle is not what you say it is here - it means what it says
Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
I'm trying to work out a wording for what you call the corollary of "ought implies can", and it seems that it can't be done in three words. But again, I believe that we have already covered this in the other thread, when Wilson asked how I could criticise someone for something that was beyond his control. Constructive criticism is intended to help someone do better next time. At this stage, when everything's still up in the air, when the experiences that will help determine what someone does next time haven't all been experienced, and we don't know what they will be, we can reasonably say that someone can do better next time. Perhaps I need to distinguish between destructive and constructive blame, the first being backward-looking, and focused on chastising someone for something they've already done, and the second being forward-looking, and focused on avoiding harmful behaviour in the future — the moral equivalent of ducking Dennett's flying brick.

I don't think blame can be other than backward-looking, but that does not mean it cannot be part of something which is constructive and forward-looking. It seems to me that blame is the essence of moral responsibility, that they are logically equivalent inasmuch as a failure to do the morally right thing does and should result in blame. BUT that is all it should result in automatically; often there will also be anger, which may be justified (and ultimately helpful in reinforcing the blame) as well as understandable, but OTOH, a lot of anger will not be helpful, and certainly shunning and "chastising" do not sound helpful. To go back to my previous post, I distinguished between prescribing an action ("you ought to do") and blaming/recriminating about failure to have done it ("you should have done"), and I said I thought that the latter type of judgment was impossible for you. Prescribing does seem OK for you, accepting that ought implies can. If you say to me "you should see your mother more often while you can" this entails that you know I have an ageing mother whom I am capable of visiting. But let's say that I don't actively respond to your advice, and soon afterwards my mother dies. Someone else would be able to say to me "well, you should have visited your mum when you had the chance" (I am not saying that they should say this, but that they could), but you could not say this. So you were able to tell me to do something at one point yet later on be unable to say that I should have done the same thing. Maybe this is just an academic point but it seems worth making. Your thought does not accord with normal usage - though you will probably not be bothered about that.


June 4th, 2011, 5:00 pm
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animist wrote:
the principle is not what you say it is here - it means what it says
OK, I've read up on this now, as I should have done (and could have done) before, and I'm much clearer about this now. It does seem that, as a principle, "ought implies can" is not as straightforward as "it means what it says" suggests. (See, for example, Robert Stern's essay, "Does 'ought' imply ‘can’? And did Kant think it does?", Utilitas, Vol. 16, No. 1, pp. 42–61, March 2004 (pdf file), and Julian Baggini's much shorter article, "Ought without can" in Butterflies and Wheels.) But the principle does make sense to me, in a way that seems to fit with how it is fairly widely interpreted.

Given that we all have limited information about the world in general, and about the abilities of other people in particular, we don't ever really know for certain what other people can do. Nevertheless, we make assumptions all the time on the basis of what seems to be logically and physically possible for a particular person to do. So when we say that someone "could have" done something, we're not saying anything about free will; we're not claiming that we have detailed knowledge about that person's life and the state of his or her brain at the time in question; we're simply saying that a particular action seems to have been logically and physically possible. I'll come back to this.
animist wrote:
I don't think blame can be other than backward-looking, but that does not mean it cannot be part of something which is constructive and forward-looking.
Yes, that's pretty much what I meant and what I should have said. Constructive blame can only be partly forward-looking, but its purpose, I think, is wholly forward-looking. Like constructive criticism.
animist wrote:
It seems to me that blame is the essence of moral responsibility, that they are logically equivalent inasmuch as a failure to do the morally right thing does and should result in blame. BUT that is all it should result in automatically; often there will also be anger, which may be justified (and ultimately helpful in reinforcing the blame) as well as understandable, but OTOH, a lot of anger will not be helpful, and certainly shunning and "chastising" do not sound helpful.
Good. Maybe we can find common ground here, then. I am happy to define the unqualified verb "to blame" as something like, "to assign responsibility for a fault or wrong", and to say that, if one is (wholly or partly) "to blame" for some undesirable event, that means simply that one is (wholly or partly) responsible for the action that caused it, or the inaction that allowed it to happen. But only if responsibility for an action or inaction is a simple matter of identification (X was the person who struck the first blow; Y was the person who started the rumour, Z was the person who deliberately looked away at the crucial moment, etc.), and if there is sufficient evidence to prove a causal link between action/inaction and undesirable event. I do think the word "blame" is normally laden with much more than that, but I've been focusing on the wrong things. For you, presumably, what is crucial is that not only was X the person who acted in a way that caused the harm, but that X should have done otherwise, and because of the "ought implies can" principle, that implies that X could have done otherwise. I hope I'm on the right track so far.
animist wrote:
To go back to my previous post, I distinguished between prescribing an action ("you ought to do") and blaming/recriminating about failure to have done it ("you should have done"), and I said I thought that the latter type of judgment was impossible for you. Prescribing does seem OK for you, accepting that ought implies can. If you say to me "you should see your mother more often while you can" this entails that you know I have an ageing mother whom I am capable of visiting. But let's say that I don't actively respond to your advice, and soon afterwards my mother dies. Someone else would be able to say to me "well, you should have visited your mum when you had the chance" (I am not saying that they should say this, but that they could), but you could not say this. So you were able to tell me to do something at one point yet later on be unable to say that I should have done the same thing.
So what you're saying is that I can't (or rather shouldn't) ever say that someone "should have" done something because I can't (or rather shouldn't) ever say that they "could have" done something, so for the moment I'll focus on "could have". Well, clearly I do say that people "could have" done things. It is standard English; I have been saying things like that for nearly fifty years, and even if saying those things were logically inconsistent with my beliefs, I'd find it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to stop saying them.

However, I do think I can say "could have" in a logically meaningful way. On the face of it, the statement "Jim could have driven to Halifax on Tuesday morning" makes sense in a way that "Jim could have taken off his arms and legs and packed them away in a box" doesn't. The first sounds logically and physically possible, even though there's a lot of information missing; the second doesn't. We could pad the first statement out a bit, to give us more confidence about its reasonableness: "Jim, an adult with a full driving licence and a car in working order, could have, on Tuesday morning, driven that car to Halifax, West Yorkshire, which is just a couple of miles away from his home in Illingworth, along the A629; there were no traffic jams, roadworks, floods, landslides or other physical impediments to his making that particular journey at that time, and Jim was not drunk or ill or otherwise mentally or physically impaired." It's a little unwieldy, though, and there are details in there that we probably can't be certain of. How would we know that Jim wasn't in any way mentally or physically impaired? Do we really have access to traffic information for the A629 on that morning? It is more likely that we'd make the simpler statement, "Jim could have driven to Halifax on Tuesday morning", and be willing to revise it if necessary, if someone points out that an overturned tanker carrying agricultural chemicals had blocked the A629 from early Tuesday morning to mid-afternoon, or that Jim had been violently ill on Monday night after eating German bean sprouts. What we're not interested in is whether Jim actually wanted to drive to Halifax on Tuesday. We're just making a fairly weak claim about the logical and physical possibility of his doing so.

This is the kind of "could have", it seems to me, that we're dealing with in the principle "ought implies can", or rather "ought to have implies could have". In your example, that horrible person who says to you, "You should have visited your mum while you had the chance," knows or is making assumptions about a lot more than your ability to have visited her. The words "while you had the chance" also suggest that they know, or are assuming, that you regret not visiting her. If we're talking about a moral "should", that suggests that they're also assuming that she wanted you to visit her, and that not visiting her caused her to suffer in some way. I think that in this particular case there are too many big unknowns to warrant the comment, but in theory I might well say "You should have done this or that" to someone. And yes, that would imply that that person could have done it. But only in a rather weak sense, because there would always be lots of little unknowns about what the person was able to do, not to mention the finer details about that person's state of mind at the time. Saying that a person "could have" done something does not imply that they had the kind of free will that implies the kind of moral responsibility that I don't believe in. So I can say it quite easily.
animist wrote:
Maybe this is just an academic point but it seems worth making.
Yes, it was.
animist wrote:
Your thought does not accord with normal usage - though you will probably not be bothered about that.
I was bothered about it, and that prompted me to explore the issue further. I understand things much more clearly now, thanks to you!

Emma


June 7th, 2011, 1:04 pm
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Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
Given that we all have limited information about the world in general, and about the abilities of other people in particular, we don't ever really know for certain what other people can do. Nevertheless, we make assumptions all the time on the basis of what seems to be logically and physically possible for a particular person to do. So when we say that someone "could have" done something, we're not saying anything about free will
indeed we are not saying anything about free will but only because this is assumed
Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
we're not claiming that we have detailed knowledge about that person's life and the state of his or her brain at the time in question; we're simply saying that a particular action seems to have been logically and physically possible
animist wrote:
To go back to my previous post, I distinguished between prescribing an action ("you ought to do") and blaming/recriminating about failure to have done it ("you should have done"), and I said I thought that the latter type of judgment was impossible for you. Prescribing does seem OK for you, accepting that ought implies can. If you say to me "you should see your mother more often while you can" this entails that you know I have an ageing mother whom I am capable of visiting. But let's say that I don't actively respond to your advice, and soon afterwards my mother dies. Someone else would be able to say to me "well, you should have visited your mum when you had the chance" (I am not saying that they should say this, but that they could), but you could not say this. So you were able to tell me to do something at one point yet later on be unable to say that I
should have done the same thing.
So what you're saying is that I can't (or rather shouldn't) ever say that someone "should have" done something because I can't (or rather shouldn't) ever say that they "could have" done something, so for the moment I'll focus on "could have". Well, clearly I do say that people "could have" done things. It is standard English; I have been saying things like that for nearly fifty years, and even if saying those things were logically inconsistent with my beliefs, I'd find it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to stop saying them.
maybe you would find this difficult, but I think you should if you take your view about free will and responsibility seriously. Of course, when there is no moral context the position does not matter
Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
However, I do think I can say "could have" in a logically meaningful way.
yes, meaningful but not relevant to MR
Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
On the face of it, the statement "Jim could have driven to Halifax on Tuesday morning" makes sense in a way that "Jim could have taken off his arms and legs and packed them away in a box" doesn't. The first sounds logically and physically possible, even though there's a lot of information missing; the second doesn't
logically possible but physically possible only if he had other limbs to do this with! Anyway, beside the point
Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
We could pad the first statement out a bit, to give us more confidence about its reasonableness: "Jim, an adult with a full driving licence and a car in working order, could have, on Tuesday morning, driven that car to Halifax, West Yorkshire..." It's a little unwieldy, though, and there are details in there that we probably can't be certain of... It is more likely that we'd make the simpler statement, "Jim could have driven to Halifax on Tuesday morning", and be willing to revise it if necessary.... What we're not interested in is whether Jim actually wanted to drive to Halifax on Tuesday. We're just making a fairly weak claim about the logical and physical possibility of his doing so.
no, the whole point of this statement would be to stress that Jim could have driven to Halifax on that day if he had wanted to. If driving to Halifax was what he should have done (in order say to appear as a witness to a crime, rather doing what he did do, staying at home) we might say this. As I said above, the question of free will does not come into it, but that is only because it is assumed (Jim not having any psychological or other compulsion to stay at home). This is why it would be OK to say that Jim should have driven to Halifax on the Tuesday - OK for most of us but not for you, because for you the very fact that he did not do this would mean that he could not have done it - for all the reasons you have gone into so many times (ie that everything Jim did was the result of his genes/environment). The point I am trying to make is that morally prescribing a course of action is (I think) OK for your view, since the action has not either occurred or failed to occur; if you know (or think you know, since all the stuff you mention about how certain we can reasonably be is not relevant) that the person is able to do the "right" thing then I think you can say that he should. But once the person has failed to do the right thing, it is all different: either he had free will and failed to the right thing (the conventional idea) or he was compelled by causation to do the wrong thing (your view), and in the latter case, "ought entails can" precludes a moral judgment from you
Emma Woolgatherer wrote:

This is the kind of "could have", it seems to me, that we're dealing with in the principle "ought implies can", or rather "ought to have implies could have". In your example, that horrible person who says to you, "You should have visited your mum while you had the chance," knows or is making assumptions about a lot more than your ability to have visited her. The words "while you had the chance" also suggest that they know, or are assuming, that you regret not visiting her.

I don't see why this is relevant, all I meant is that the person (not necessarily horrible at all if she had been a friend of my mother) is making a moral judgment about my behaviour
Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
If we're talking about a moral"should", that suggests that they're also assuming that she wanted you to visit her, and that not visiting her caused her to suffer in some way.
exactly
Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
I think that in this particular case there are too many big unknowns to warrant the comment, but in theory I might well say "You should have done this or that" to someone.

And yes, that would imply that that person could have done it. But only in a rather weak sense, because there would always be lots of little unknowns
as I said, irrelevant
Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
about what the person was able to do, not to mention the finer details about that person's state of mind at the time. Saying that a person "could have" done something does not imply that they had the kind of free will that implies the kind of moral responsibility that I don't believe in. So I can say it quite easily.
no
Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
animist wrote:
Maybe this is just an academic point but it seems worth making.
Yes, it was.
animist wrote:
Your thought does not accord with normal usage - though you will probably not be bothered about that.
I was bothered about it, and that prompted me to explore the issue further. I understand things much more clearly now, thanks to you!

the last comment was nice, but I have no doubt spoiled it all!


Have you actually read the article by Stern and if so have you something to say based on it? (I got some way in but it looks pretty much a case of a professional philosopher finding something new to say about the subject); the Baggini article does not say anything very new, and I had posted it already, but I think that he, as well as confirming the principle of ought implies can, is actually pointing to the importance of "trying" - with reference to Menzies Campbell and Guantanamo. I have read the Harris article but will wait for your next post before trying again.

Can't resist telling you why I gave the example of the son and his widowed mother. I had a colleague in this situation; we worked in London and his mum was in Cumbria, but the most he would do was to meet her halfway in York. Then she died and he inherited her house; he spent quite a lot of time there, and on his return would always mention solemnly about visiting his parents' graves. It would have been totally out of order for me to have made any comment about his behaviour, but I did feel angry on her behalf.


June 8th, 2011, 5:07 pm
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Sorry. A very long one here.
animist wrote:
maybe you would find this [not saying that people “could have” done things] difficult, but I think you should if you take your view about free will and responsibility seriously. Of course, when there is no moral context the position does not matter
The position does not matter in any context, including a moral one, because my saying that somebody "could have" done something is not, fortunately, inconsistent with my beliefs about free will and responsibility.

When a person states that someone “could have” done something, there’s generally an tacit conditional clause there (or sometimes an explicit one), along the lines of "He could have done it if he'd wanted to" or "if it had occurred to him" or "if he'd loved me" or "if he really cared" or "if he'd put his mind to it" or "if he hadn't been so angry" or "if he'd had a sense of moral duty" or "if he'd thought about the consequences", or some combination of those. And what those sorts of conditional clauses amount to is "He could have done it if conditions had been different." And that’s pretty much my own position. If people who don’t share my views are allowed to have unspoken conditional clauses, then so am I.
animist wrote:
Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
However, I do think I can say "could have" in a logically meaningful way.
yes, meaningful but not relevant to MR
As I understand it, what matters for the purposes of this discussion is that I can say “could have” in a way that also allows me to say “should have” or “ought to have”, assuming the principle "ought implies can” is valid, and I think it is, and that it can be extended to "ought to have implies could have", and I think it can, though perhaps not for all possible senses of the words "could have".

If someone says to me that I ought to have bought some dog food, and I respond, “Yes, I know. I’m sorry; I forgot,” then I am acknowledging not only that I should have bought dog food but that I could have done it. There was no physical impediment to my doing it. My computer and broadband were working, and I was physically capable of ordering it online. So I could have done it, with the tacit conditional clause: “if I’d remembered to”. I would not have replied: ”But I couldn’t have ordered the dog food, because I forgot.” Even though there’s a sense (to my way of thinking) in which that’s true.

Similarly, if you had said to your colleague, “You should have visited your widowed mother”, he might have come up with a more or less valid excuse, but it is unlikely that he would have replied, “But I couldn’t have visited her because I’m a bit of a selfish bastard and I care about my own comfort and convenience more than I cared about her.”

So, if I say that someone ought to have done something (in a moral context), I am implying that it would have been possible for a reasonable person (reasonable by the moral standards of the society we're in, or by the person's own moral standards, or by mine) to have done such a thing in such a set of circumstances. If I know the person in question, I might even be implying that it would have been possible for that particular person, based on my knowledge of him or her, to have done such a thing in such a set of circumstances. But I am not implying that that particular person, at that particular time, in those exact circumstances, was in a frame of mind that could have led to such an action. He evidently wasn’t, which is why he didn’t do it.
animist wrote:
Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
What we're not interested in is whether Jim actually wanted to drive to Halifax on Tuesday. We're just making a fairly weak claim about the logical and physical possibility of his doing so.
no, the whole point of this statement would be to stress that Jim could have driven to Halifax on that day if he had wanted to.
I apologise; I wasn't at all clear. When I said that we're not interested in whether Jim actually wanted to drive to Halifax, I meant "we" as in those of us considering whether I should be allowed to say "could have", not "we" as in those of us saying that particular sentence. What I should have said was that the sentence "Jim could have driven to Halifax on Tuesday" does not imply that he wanted to, nor does it imply that he didn't. There might be an unspoken "if he wanted to", which might imply that he didn't want to. But if we don't know the details, the unspoken conditional clause would be something more like "if he had wanted to and if he had remembered and if he had thought it was important and if ...". All that matters at this point (for the purposes of examining whether I'm allowed to say "could have") is the question of whether driving to Halifax on Tuesday would have been possible for a reasonable person in Jim’s situation.
animist wrote:
The point I am trying to make is that morally prescribing a course of action is (I think) OK for your view, since the action has not either occurred or failed to occur; if you know (or think you know, since all the stuff you mention about how certain we can reasonably be is not relevant) that the person is able to do the "right" thing then I think you can say that he should. But once the person has failed to do the right thing, it is all different: either he had free will and failed to the right thing (the conventional idea) or he was compelled by causation to do the wrong thing (your view), and in the latter case, "ought entails can" precludes a moral judgment from you
I do hope I’ve demonstrated now that it doesn't. But I suppose something else might. (Incidentally, I would never say that someone was "compelled by causation".)
animist wrote:
Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
Saying that a person "could have" done something does not imply that they had the kind of free will that implies the kind of moral responsibility that I don't believe in. So I can say it quite easily.
no
Yes. You agreed that "could have" doesn't imply free will; you say that free will is assumed. If we're talking about the kind of free will that means that one hasn't been constrained, coerced or manipulated in a way that prevented one from doing that something, then yes, that is being assumed. But that's fine, because that's a kind of free will I believe in, as I've said.
animist wrote:
Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
I was bothered about it, and that prompted me to explore the issue further. I understand things much more clearly now, thanks to you!
the last comment was nice, but I have no doubt spoiled it all!
Not at all. If I’m forced to try to explain myself more clearly, I inevitably understand things more clearly.
animist wrote:
Have you actually read the article by Stern and if so have you something to say based on it? (I got some way in but it looks pretty much a case of a professional philosopher finding something new to say about the subject);
I also didn’t read it all, but my only reason for linking to it was that it seemed to demonstrate that the meaning(s) of "ought implies can" isn't/aren't entirely straightforward. I was also interested in Stern’s conclusion that there are limits to the amount of work the principle “ought implies can” can be expected to do.
animist wrote:
the Baggini article does not say anything very new, and I had posted it already
Did you? Sorry, I didn't notice that. I did find the Baggini article helpful. Though I know it wasn't the point he was making (in the bit about Paula Radcliffe), his comments made me feel confident that I can meaningfully say that someone "could have" done something if I think it would have been "reasonable and realistic to have expected them to do it". But again, I posted the link mainly because I thought it demonstrated that there were different ways of interpreting "ought implies can" while still considering it a valid principle.
animist wrote:
... but I think that he, as well as confirming the principle of ought implies can, is actually pointing to the importance of "trying" - with reference to Menzies Campbell and Guantanamo.
Well, I'm not going to get into "trying" in this thread. We've enough on our plate in the other one. :D
animist wrote:
Can't resist telling you why I gave the example of the son and his widowed mother. I had a colleague in this situation; we worked in London and his mum was in Cumbria, but the most he would do was to meet her halfway in York. Then she died and he inherited her house; he spent quite a lot of time there, and on his return would always mention solemnly about visiting his parents' graves. It would have been totally out of order for me to have made any comment about his behaviour, but I did feel angry on her behalf.
Ah, well, she probably couldn’t stand the tosser! :wink:

Emma


June 10th, 2011, 1:42 pm
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Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
When a person states that someone “could have” done something, there’s generally an tacit conditional clause there (or sometimes an explicit one), along the lines of "He could have done it if he'd wanted to..." And what those sorts of conditional clauses amount to is "He could have done it if conditions had been different."
to be pedantic, and I have said this before, the position is that "he could have done" it means "he would have done it he had wanted to" (or whatever) - I think this is clearer as a conditional statement
Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
If someone says to me that I ought to have bought some dog food, and I respond, “Yes, I know. I’m sorry; I forgot,” then I am acknowledging not only that I should have bought dog food but that I could have done it. There was no physical impediment to my doing it. So I could have done it, with the tacit conditional clause: “if I’d remembered to”. I would not have replied: ”But I couldn’t have ordered the dog food, because I forgot.”
yes of course you could have ordered it and would have if you had been more diligent in remembering, and you are accepting responsibility and even blame for not being more conscientious; it the conditions were of wartime privation and there was little dogfood you would be especially blameable. But I thought that blameworthiness was precisely what you did not believe in.

Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
You agreed that "could have" doesn't imply free will; you say that free will is assumed.
no, what I said was that "could have" is not explicitly SAYING anything about free will, and that is because it is assumed to exist; and that means that it is indeed implied
Emma Woolgatherer wrote:
If we're talking about the kind of free will that means that one hasn't been constrained, coerced or manipulated in a way that prevented one from doing that something, then yes, that is being assumed. But that's fine, because that's a kind of free will I believe in, as I've said.
no, it does mean the normal "strong" free will which is associated with MR. If this exchange has taught me one thing it is that the vast majority of people, if they did but know it, are compatibilists who believe in human free will and yet a causalistic universe. Virtually no-one thinks as you do, of that I'm sure. That's why I don't think you can make these judgments; you do not think in the same way as other people over this. Language in some way reflects common beliefs, and you yourself have often mentioned how notions of free will appears in language in a way which hard to avoid. You may of course be right to say if should be avoided, but you cannot act as though others feel the same way.


June 16th, 2011, 4:20 pm
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Quote:
to be pedantic, and I have said this before, the position is that "he could have done" it means "he would have done it he had wanted to" (or whatever) - I think this is clearer as a conditional statement
kind of off topic, but I thought I would elaborate on this.

"I could" and "I would" are virtually interchangeable, but "I would" is somehow more basic and therefore preferable, since it tries to express a pure conditional statement. Let's stick for now with "I would". It implies simply that I did not, and it identifies normally just one decisive factor in the fact that I did not. The factor could be something to do with me, my motivation or capacities, or it could be to do with the world outside, but I think in fact it is normally about my motivation and priorities. "I would have visited my aged mum in Cumbria if I had not had to cover for your mistakes", as well being close to what my colleague (David) might well have said if challenged (and the reference to "my mistakes" does add a touch of verisimilitude to my recollections: David was a clever chemist and technical journal indexer who never got on with people and hence became a prisoner of his own ego), says that David had priorities, and that his mum came below correcting my mistakes in terms of priorities; obviously he could have visited in the sense that there was no physical impediment to doing so. "I would have gone if my wife had not needed me" similarly indicates a lack of physical impediment to my going: it was just more important to help my wife. Both examples imply that the person could easily have done the action discussed, but that doing so would have precluded some more important action.

Let's now look at "I could have" ."I could have been a contender": this famous line from the film "On the Waterfront" in fact shows the phrase to be different in emphasis from "I would have". It implies a desire to be a contender which was thwarted by external factors. Obviously the character could have said "I would have been a contender if you had not got in my way", but it is the very specificity of the latter mode which makes it less effective rhetorically. "I could have" seems normally to imply some desire to do the action, and the choice of the word could over "would" seems rhetorically important: ie that the speaker did really and probably strongly want to do the thing. Nevertheless, objectively, there is no difference between the two phrases. In the example of Jimmy driving to Walsall, where we say he should have done this but did not do so, we could say either that Jimmy could have done it if he had wanted to or that Jimmy would have driven there if he had really wanted to - it only is the addition of the word "really" which indicates the difference between the two ways of expressing the same judgment: the point is that there was no objective problem for him to do.


June 20th, 2011, 8:25 pm
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I chose 'no' because as far as I can tell all choices occur inevitably according to causality. We are all prisoners of causality. I don't go around committing crimes because I was brought up to be a law-abiding decent citizen. If I was a feral child I certainly would not have been typing these words! As far as I can tell, if you had my genes, environments, nutrients and experiences, you would have been typing these words where and when I am typing these words. Conversely, if I had your genes, environments, nutrients and experiences then I would have been reading these words where and when you are reading them. Causality rules!


March 4th, 2012, 11:23 pm
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Compassionist wrote:
I chose 'no' because as far as I can tell all choices occur inevitably according to causality. We are all prisoners of causality. I don't go around committing crimes because I was brought up to be a law-abiding decent citizen. If I was a feral child I certainly would not have been typing these words! As far as I can tell, if you had my genes, environments, nutrients and experiences, you would have been typing these words where and when I am typing these words. Conversely, if I had your genes, environments, nutrients and experiences then I would have been reading these words where and when you are reading them. Causality rules!
you say that we are prisoners of causality, but that (IMO) begs the question of whether causality precludes freedom. Emma and I, in particular, debated this to death pretty well, so I won't elaborate, but I hope you find some of our rambles (in the sense of enjoyable explorations of our own thoughts, stimulated by the other's) interesting. What would freedom, for you, be? Randomness?


March 5th, 2012, 12:05 pm
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animist wrote:
Compassionist wrote:
I chose 'no' because as far as I can tell all choices occur inevitably according to causality. We are all prisoners of causality. I don't go around committing crimes because I was brought up to be a law-abiding decent citizen. If I was a feral child I certainly would not have been typing these words! As far as I can tell, if you had my genes, environments, nutrients and experiences, you would have been typing these words where and when I am typing these words. Conversely, if I had your genes, environments, nutrients and experiences then I would have been reading these words where and when you are reading them. Causality rules!
you say that we are prisoners of causality, but that (IMO) begs the question of whether causality precludes freedom. Emma and I, in particular, debated this to death pretty well, so I won't elaborate, but I hope you find some of our rambles (in the sense of enjoyable explorations of our own thoughts, stimulated by the other's) interesting. What would freedom, for you, be? Randomness?

I read the fascinating posts in this thread - I dare say that none of you have free will. Yes, you make choices but the choices occur inevitably according to causality. If you are so free, why didn't you prevent all suffering and unfairness?

For me, free will requires omnipotence and entails omniculpability. Randomness is not free will, that's just chaos. If I had free will I would have prevented all suffering and unfairness long ago. It is because my will is constrained by causality that I can merely wish I had free will. Causality does not preclude freedom, it governs the degree of freedom experienced by sentient beings. A truly free sentient being is by definition omnipotence and consequently omniculpable. Such omnipotence would not breach causality but would work through the links of causality.


March 5th, 2012, 9:49 pm
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In answer to the question heading this thread, I have always understood free will as operating within a continuum. At the micro level each one of us has free will. Whether we can exercise that free will is another matter. At the macro level society takes over and we have less of the stuff. Therefore, when it comes to moral responsibility then I am not certain that we can easily link the two. We would need to redefine what we mean by both 'moral' and 'responsibility', for a start, then by my continuum notion we should compare the possession, even ownership, of the two items M and R, within the context of reduced free will. Larger forces have more impact on the individual notion of free will as a type of power or force within the control, and will, of the individual.

For me the difficulty of this classic subject, that is of the existence of free will, not of moral responsibility, so often becomes sterile and at times deeply linguistic, with a lock-in on single words and their 'meaning'.


March 6th, 2012, 9:09 am
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Compassionist wrote:
animist wrote:
Compassionist wrote:
I chose 'no' because as far as I can tell all choices occur inevitably according to causality. We are all prisoners of causality. I don't go around committing crimes because I was brought up to be a law-abiding decent citizen. If I was a feral child I certainly would not have been typing these words! As far as I can tell, if you had my genes, environments, nutrients and experiences, you would have been typing these words where and when I am typing these words. Conversely, if I had your genes, environments, nutrients and experiences then I would have been reading these words where and when you are reading them. Causality rules!
you say that we are prisoners of causality, but that (IMO) begs the question of whether causality precludes freedom. Emma and I, in particular, debated this to death pretty well, so I won't elaborate, but I hope you find some of our rambles (in the sense of enjoyable explorations of our own thoughts, stimulated by the other's) interesting. What would freedom, for you, be? Randomness?

I read the fascinating posts in this thread - I dare say that none of you have free will. Yes, you make choices but the choices occur inevitably according to causality. If you are so free, why didn't you prevent all suffering and unfairness?

For me, free will requires omnipotence and entails omniculpability. Randomness is not free will, that's just chaos. If I had free will I would have prevented all suffering and unfairness long ago. It is because my will is constrained by causality that I can merely wish I had free will. Causality does not preclude freedom, it governs the degree of freedom experienced by sentient beings. A truly free sentient being is by definition omnipotence and consequently omniculpable. Such omnipotence would not breach causality but would work through the links of causality.

I think you are confusing freedom with power, and I do not think what you call Free Will - a sort of godlike power - has been used by anyone else in this way. Even if I had unconstrained power to do as I pleased, what I actually did with with this power (which might be construed as freedom) would be determined by causality, so presumably I would not be any freer (in the Free Will sense) than anyone else. Someone on the Theologica site pointed out that one's will may be free even if one cannot do much to bring about what one wills; a prisoner in chains can still think for himself.


March 6th, 2012, 9:35 am
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animist wrote:
I think you are confusing freedom with power, and I do not think what you call Free Will - a sort of godlike power - has been used by anyone else in this way. Even if I had unconstrained power to do as I pleased, what I actually did with with this power (which might be construed as freedom) would be determined by causality, so presumably I would not be any freer (in the Free Will sense) than anyone else. Someone on the Theologica site pointed out that one's will may be free even if one cannot do much to bring about what one wills; a prisoner in chains can still think for himself.

It's true that the prisoner in chains can still think for himself or herself but he or she can't think of anything and everything. There are constraints on what one can think, feel, perceive, comprehend and express. For example, monolingual speakers of English can't think in Chinese. Another example would be the failure of Einstein (and everyone else so far) to think up a Theory of Everything that would unify all of physics.

We are not free to think of anything. Why can't I think up a poem right now to express these issues? Surely, if I had free will, I should be free to will anything. Freedom to choose is dependent on the power to choose. I can't choose to fly like Superman because I don't have the power to fly. I can choose to run at 10 miles per hour but I can't choose to run at 100 miles per hour. Isn't freedom all about power?

I agree that omnipotence would not do away with causality. Causality not only rules, it rules forever.

Could any of us have made a different choice from the one we made at the time and the place of the choosing? I think not. I am convinced that all choices occur inevitably according to causality. I could not have posted this message even a second sooner. All of reality synchronised according to causality to ensure that this reply wass posted at the exact time it was posted from the exact location these words were typed at.

How can anyone be held morally culpable given that they could not have made a different choice?


March 6th, 2012, 11:13 pm
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