Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Freewill determinism resource (for A Level etc.)


5. Does Murderous Mick Deserve To be Punished?


Here’s Murderous Mick. He’s just been captured trying to rob a bank.

1.ILLUSTRATE: MURDEROUS MICK WITH HANDS UP AND ARMED DETECTIVES (MICK IS A COWBOY AND APPEARS IN TPF1) DEAD GUARD IN BACKGROUND.

Mick shot a bank guard in the back, just for fun.
Obviously we think very badly of people like Murderous Mick. We hold them responsible for their dishonest, selfish and cruel behaviour. We believe that they deserve punishment. Mick will end up locked up in jail for years.
I guess you think, “And quite right too. That’s what Mick deserves.”


A “common sense” view

That people who rob and murder deserve to be punished for what they do is, of course, the “common sense” view. But is “common sense” correct about this?
As we will soon discover, there’s a famous philosophical argument that seems to show that we are mistaken: Murderous Mick doesn’t deserve punishment. In fact he’s entirely blameless!

2.ILLUSTRATE: MICK IN JAIL SAYING TO READER “THAT’S RIGHT. I’M BLAMELESS!”

But before we get to that famous argument, let’s quickly look at an obvious exception to the rule that people deserve to be punished for the harm they cause.

Mr Black gets shoved out the window

We don’t always hold people responsible for what they do. Suppose Mr Black gets pushed backwards out of a window. He lands on top of Mr Brown.

3.ILLUSTRATE: LANDS ON MR BROWN (NB BLACK AND BROWN ARE MIDDLEAGED MEN THAT APPEARED IN TPF1).

Mr Black’s okay. But unfortunately, by landing on Mr Brown, Mr Black breaks Mr Brown’s arm.

4.ILLUSTRATE: SAD MR BROWN ARM IN PLASTER.

Is what happened Mr Black’s fault? Does he deserve to be punished?
Surely not. Murderous Mick might deserve punishment, but not Mr Black. Why is this? After all, like Murderous Mick, Mr Black caused a serious injury.
The answer, it seems, is that Mr Black had no control over what happened. He was quite unable to stop himself being pushed out of the window or falling on Mr Brown.
But then how can it be Mr Black’s fault that Mr Brown ended up with a broken arm? Surely we can only hold someone responsible for doing something they actually had some control over.
But, as I say, we do suppose that Murderous Mick deserves punishment. We suppose that, unlike Mr Black, Mick didn’t have to do what he did. Instead of going in for bank robbing, murder and mayhem, Mick could have chosen to do good things with his life.

5.[ILLUSTRATE SERENELY SMILING MICK WITH HALO RUNNING “MICK’S SOUP KITCHEN FOR THE HOMELESS” ]

Mick deserves punishment because, unlike Mr Black, he was free to do otherwise.
That, at least, is the “common sense” view.

An extraordinary argument

Let’s now turn to the famous philosophical argument I mentioned earlier. The argument is extraordinary because it seems to show that no one can ever be held responsible for what they’ve done.
Not even Murderous Mick!

            Your first reaction to this is probably to say “Are you nuts! Of course Mick deserves punishment!” But don’t make up your mind just yet. Let’s take a closer look at the argument first. I call it, for obvious reasons, the we-never-deserve-punishment argument.
I’ll break the argument down into three parts. Here’s part one.

The we-never-deserve-punishment argument. part one: laws of nature

The argument begins with a scientific discovery. The universe, it seems, is everywhere ruled by laws. These laws of nature, as they are known, govern everything that happens physically.
You might think of the laws of nature as a list of instructions that everything in the universe is compelled to obey, down to the very last atom. For example, there’s a law that governs how bodies attract each other gravitationally.
Take the two planets Earth and Venus. These two objects exert a gravitational pull on each other. And there is a law of nature that says exactly how much pull these objects will exert on each other. The amount of pull depends on how massive the objects are and how close they are together. Big objects close together exert a strong pull.

6.ILLUSTRATE: TWO BIG SPHERES WITH BIG THICK ARROWS WITH GRAVITY ON THEM POINTING TO EACH OTHER.

Little objects far apart exert a weak pull.

7.ILLUSTRATE: SMALL SPHERES WITH SMALL THIN ARROWS MARKED “GRAVITY” POINTING AT EACH OTHER.

Every pair of physical objects in the entire universe, from the tiniest pebble on the beach to a whole Galaxy, must obey this law. There are no exceptions.
There are many other laws of nature, of course. In fact everything that physically happens in the universe is governed by such laws.
This means that, if you know exactly how the universe is a set up at any particular moment in time, down to the movement of the very last atom, and if you know all the laws of nature, then it is possible in principle for you to work out what will happen next, down to the movement of the very last atom.
            It’s as if the universe is a train and the laws of nature are its rails. If you know how fast the train is moving, and you know how the rails are laid, then you can predict exactly where the train will be at any point in the future. The train has no choice about where it will end up. It’s compelled to travel in a particular direction by the rails.

            8.ILLUSTRATE: TRAIN ON RAILS APPROACHING STATION.

            The same is true of the physical universe. Every piece of physical matter is in the vice-like grip of the same rigid laws. It’s impossible for anything to happen other than what actually happens. Earthquakes, volcanoes, rockfalls, the tides, ice ages: everything that goes on physically is made to happen, and could in principle have been predicTed long beforehand.

9.ILLUSTRATION: EINSTEIN WITH BLACKBOARD (CALCUATIONS) “YOU SEE, IN EXACTLY FIVE HUNDRED YEARS TIME, A METEOR MUST CRASH INTO THE EARTH’S SURFACE AT EXACTLY THIS SPOT. I’VE WORKED IT ALL OUT.”

Philosophers have a name for the view that everything that physically happens in the universe is determined by laws. It’s called determinism.

The we-never-deserve-punishment argument. Part two: we’re nature’s puppets

Which brings me to part two of the we-never-desereve-punishment argument. We are physical beings ourselves. We have physical bodies. But then it follows that our bodies are in the grip of the same physical laws as everything else.
What does this mean? Well, if we are also in the grip of these laws, then it seems we are not free to do anything other than what we actually do. For example, I just scratched the top of my head. But if determinism is true, I was no more able not to scratch my head than a pebble is free to float in mid-air or water is able to flow up hill unaided. Everything I do is physically determined, and could in principle have been predicTed long before I decided to do it.
So I am not free. As physical beings, we are nature’s puppets, dancing on her strings.

10.ILLUSTRATE: PUPPET MASTER (LABELLED “NATURE”) WITH MARIONETTES ON STRINGS.


“But there are no laws of human nature…”

Before we get to part three of the we-never-deserve-punishment argument, let’s quickly deal with a worry you might have about part two.
“Surely,” you may say “There are no laws governing human behaviour, are there? For example, there’s no law that says that when someone is hungry and they know that there’s food in the fridge, they will go to the fridge.”
Suppose Mary is hungry and she knows the only food is in the refrigerator.

11.ILLUSTRATE: MARY THINKING ABOUT FOOD IN FRIDGE (LOOKING UP AT THOUGHT BUBBLE WITH PICTURE OF FRIDGE WITH CAKES ETC. IN), TUMMY RUMBLING.

Now, knowing human behaviour as I do, I can say that it’s pretty likely that Mary will go to the fridge fairly soon. But there’s no guarantee that she will. Perhaps Mary’s on a diet. Or perhaps she’s saving the food in the fridge for a party she’s planning to have that evening.
The most I can say is that Mary will probably go to the fridge. There’s no law compelling her to go to the fridge. She’s free to do either.

Is this a good objection to the claim that we aren’t free?
I don’t think so.
True, there are no laws of human behaviour. But even if there are no laws of human behaviour, does it follow that Mary is free?
No, it doesn’t follow. I admit there’s no law that says that a hungry person who know there is food in the fridge will go to the fridge. But a human being is a storm of tiny particles.

12.ILLUSTRATE: HUMAN AS A STORM OF WIZZY PARTICLES,  WITH CAPTION “A HUMAN BEING IS A STORM OF TINY PARTICLES”.

Mary is made out of molecules that are made out of atoms that are made out of electrons, protons and neutrons which are made out of still tinier particles all whizzing around. Each and every one of these particles is in the vice-like grip of the laws of nature. They cannot do anything other than what they do in fact do. Now it’s the laws governing these particles that determine how Mary will behave. It is these laws that compel her to do whatever she does in fact do.
So Mary is not free. There may not be laws of human behaviour. It doesn’t follow that everything we do isn’t determined by laws.
We human beings think we’re free. But were not really free. Our freedom is an illusion. We’re nature’s puppets.

The we-never-deserve-punishment argument. part three: we’re not to blame

Now we reach the final part of the we-never-deserve-punishment argument. If none of us is ever free – if we are unable to do anything other than what we do in fact do – then how can we ever be held responsible for what we do? How can we ever deserve punishment?
After all, we said about Mr Black that he didn’t deserve to be punished for landing on Mr Brown. That was because he had no control over what happened. He was compelled to land on top of poor Mr Brown.
But if determinism is true, the same is true of what Murderous Mick did. Murderous Mick was no more able not to shoot that poor bank clerk than Mr Black was able not to land on top of Mr Brown. Neither was free to do anything other than what they did do. But then neither deserves blame or punishment, surely?

13.MURDEROUS MICK IN JAIL. TO READER: “SEE? I TOLD YOU I’M BLAMELESS!”

True, the “common sense” view is that someone like Murderous Mick deserves both blame and punishment. But it seems that “common sense” is just wrong about this.
But if no one ever deserves punishment, isn’t it always unfair to punish people? Wouldn’t it be unjust to punish Murderous Mick?
It seems it would! 

Philosophy vs. “Common Sense”

This is a fantastic conclusion, of course. In fact, like me, you probably can’t make yourself believe the conclusion is true.
Still, is it rational to carrying on believing that we are free and that we do sometimes deserve punishment? Am I justified in believing these things?
It seems I’m not. The we-never-deserve-punishment argument does appear to show that no one is free, and that no one ever deserves to be punished. It does seem to show that “common sense” is wrong about that.
In philosophy you often come across arguments that contradict “common sense”. One of the most fascinating, and sometimes infuriating, things about philosophy is the way it can challenge what we all just take for granted.
Common sense has been wrong before, of course. It was once the “common sense” view that the Earth is stationary. Almost everyone thought it “just obvious” that the sun went round the Earth, not the other way round. But of course, all these people were mistaken. Science showed “common sense” to be wrong.
Perhaps, by showing that everything that happens physically is determined, science has also shown that “common sense” is wrong to think that we are free.

14.SCIENTIST  TO AUDIENCE IN LECTURE HALL, POINTING TO EQUATIONS ON BOARD: “SO YOU SEE, I’M AFRAID COMMON SENSE IS WRONG”.

 Often, when “common sense” views are challenged, people get very cross. That happened when scientists first showed that the Earth moves. They would shout “That’s just ridiculous! Of course the Earth doesn’t move. You’re just being stupid!” And they would stomp off in a huff.

15.ILLUSTRATE: BLIMPISH FIGURE MARCHING OFF GOING “PAH! OF COURSE THE EARTH IS STATIONARY, YOU IDIOT!”

I suppose that reaction is understandable. No one much likes having their most basic and fundamental beliefs challenged. It can be very uncomfortable to have someone come along and pick holes in what you have always taken for granted.
Still, the fact is that the really “stupid” people were those who blindly stuck with “common sense” even after they had been presented with overwhelming  evidence that the Earth does move.
The same is true of someone who dismisses as “stupid” the conclusion that we’re not free solely on the grounds that this conclusion contrary to “common sense”.

Where do we go from here?

So we have a puzzle – a very famous puzzle ­– that many philosophers have struggled with over the years.
On the one hand, we all believe that we are free, and that we do sometimes deserve punishment for the bad things we do.
But, on the other hand, we have seen an argument that appears to show that we are mistaken about that. We aren’t free, and so we never deserve punishment.
So what should we believe? What do you think?

Faced with such a devastating philosophical argument, a defender of the “common sense” view has only one option. They must show that there is something wrong with the argument.
But if there is something wrong with the argument, then what is wrong with it?

Meet The Fates

Before we try to figure out what, if anything, is wrong with the we-never-deserve-punishment argument, let’s have a quick look at another, slightly different version of the view that we aren’t free.
            The Ancient Greeks believed in the Fates.

16.ILLUSTRATE: INNOCENT, WAVING MIDDLE AGED COUPLE SPORTING T-SHIRTS SAYING “DICK FATE”, “JANE FATE” . CAPTION “THE FATES”.

The Fates were beings who laid out the course of your life, giving you no option about how things turn out. For example, if the Fates say you will be injured by a car next Wednesday, then you will. Try to avoid being injured if you want. But it will do no good. You can even stay in bed all day.

17.ILLUSTRATE: NERVOUS LOOKING PERSON IN BED.

Somehow or other, The Fates will get you.

18.ILLUSTRATE: AS ABOVE WITH DEMENTED-LOOKING JANE FATE  DRIVING CAR THROUGH BEDROOM WINDOW. IT’S ABOUT TO HIT THE GUY IN BED.

            Those who believe in this sort of fate are called fatalists. Fatalists believe that there is no point in trying to prevent things from happening.  For example, a fatalist might say, “There’s no point wearing a seatbelt: if I’m going to die in a car crash then I am going to die in car crash – there’s nothing I can do about it. What will be will be.”
            Now the reason I mention fatalism is that it’s very important not to muddle it up with determinism.
Fatalism says that our actions can have no effect. Do what you like: things will still turn out the same way.
Determinism, on the other hand, doesn’t deny that our actions can make a difference to how things turn out. It just denies that we can act other than how we do.
            There’s no reason to suppose that fatalism is true. The Ancient Greeks might have believed in fate. But there’s no evidence that our actions will have no effect on how things turn out. Quite the contrary, in fact. Wearing a seatbelt really can save your life.
But it does seem as if determinism is true. Science has revealed that the physical universe is governed by laws. And, being part of the physical universe, these laws apply to us as well. So we cannot do other than what we do in fact do.

Having got clear about the difference between determinism and fatalism, let’s take a closer look at the we-never-deserve-punishment argument.

Tom’s “proof” that he is free

Tom and Carol are sitting in The Magic Café here in Oxford. They often discuss philosophical puzzles over lunch and today they are talking about free will.

ILLUSTRATE: TOM AND CAROL EATING LUNCH AT THE MAGIC CAFÉ (WILL SUPPY ROUGH): CAROL HAS LASAGNE, TOM SALAD. BOTH HAVE A GLASS OF WATER. CAROL ALSO HAS SMALL PLATE WITH A BROWNIE ON IT.

Carol has just explained the we-never-deserve-punishment argument to Tom. But Tom is totally unconvinced. He points to Carol’s plate of vegetarian lasagne.

TOM: So you think that, even if I were to take your lunch, place it on the floor, and jump up and down on it, I would be entirely innocent and blameless? You think I would deserve not even one ounce of condemnation?

Carol looked up from her plate a little nervously.

CAROL: Er, yes. You’re not going to are you?
TOM: No. But what if I did? I can’t really believe you would think me blameless.
CAROL: Well, I would probably feel very cross. I admit that. But then I feel cross when my computer crashes or when my car won’t start. That doesn’t mean that I think my computer and car deserve blame and punishment for not working, does it? That doesn’t show that I believe they have free will.
TOM: No, I guess not. But still, it’s obvious to me that I am free. I can prove it.
CAROL: Okay, go ahead and prove it.
TOM: Very well. Right now, I am free either to raise my arm or not raise my arm.

Tom sat motionless for a moment, and then suddenly raised his arm.

19.[ILLUSTRATE: TOM RAISING HIS ARM.]

TOM: There, I raised my arm. But I was free not to raise it. I could have done either. So you see I am free. I am not nature’s puppet.

Has Tom really proved that he is free? No, as Carol now explains.

Carol’s water argument

CAROL: You may feel free. But that doesn’t guarantee that you are free. True, you may not know about the laws that compel you behave as you do. But just because you don’t know about them doesn’t mean that they aren’t there. They are there. That’s precisely what science has shown.
TOM: But look, sometimes I raise my arm and other times I don’t. So you see: I’m free to do either.
CAROL: But the fact that you sometimes raise your arm and sometimes don’t doesn’t show that you are free.

Carol pointed to the water in her glass.

20.ILLUSTRATE: GLASS OF WATER

CAROL: Look, sometimes water lies still like this.  But sometimes it runs quickly in streams.

            21.ILLUSTRATE: MOUNTAIN STREAM.

Sometimes it falls as rain or hangs in the air as a cloud.

            22.ILLUSTRATE: RAINING CLOUD.

Does the fact that water behaves in these different ways on different occasions show that water is not governed by natural laws?
TOM: No. I guess not.
CAROL: Right. So there you are, then. The fact that you behave in lots of different ways doesn’t show that you aren’t in the grip of the same laws.

Tom scratched the back of his neck. It still seemed to him that, unlike the water in the glass, he was free to do his own thing.

TOM: But water behaves differently only because the circumstances in which you find it are different. Liquid water sometimes flows and sometimes doesn’t, but that’s because sometimes it’s on a slope and sometimes not. Water will always behave exactly the same way if the circumstances are exactly the same.
CAROL: That’s true.
TOM: But I don’t always behave in the same way, even when the circumstances are exactly the same. Yesterday we came into the Magic Café I ordered soup. Today I ordered salad. Yet the circumstances today are just the same as they were yesterday. So you see – I am free in a way that the water in that glass is not.
CAROL: No, you aren’t. There are subtle differences between how you are today and how you were yesterday. Your internal make-up is different today. Your brain chemistry is subtly different, for example. Different patterns of neurones are firing. There are all sorts of differences. It’s these differences that explain why you behave differently today, that explain why you made a different choice. If the situation today really were absolutely identical to the situation yesterday, right down to the very last atom, then you would have chosen soup today as well.

It seems Carol is right. It might seem obvious to you that you’re free. But on closer examination it’s not so obvious after all. In fact we still haven’t spotted anything wrong with the argument that we’re all Nature’s puppets.

The freedom of the soul

But Tom doesn’t give up easily.

TOM: I still believe I’m free. It seems to me that you have a much too narrow, scientific view of the universe. Yes, science is powerful. But there is more to we humans than science can ever explain.
CAROL: What do you mean?
TOM: I mean that each of us has a soul.
CAROL: A soul?
TOM: Yes. Your soul is your conscious mind, that part of you that makes choices and decisions.
CAROL: I see.
TOM: It is something outside the natural order. It’s not part of the physical universe at all.
CAROL: It’s a non-physical thing?
TOM: That’s right. It’s even capable of existing on its own, without any physical body.

Many religious people in the existence of souls, of course. They believe that the death of the physical body does not mean that end of the person. What’s essential to the person – their soul – can carry on. It is the soul that many Christians believe goes up to heaven after we die.

28.ILLUSTRATE: WINGED CLOUD DRIFTING UP FROM CORPSE ON TABLE.

            On Carol’s view, a person is a physical thing. They are not separate from their body.

23.ILLUSTRATE:: PERSON, WITH TWO LABELS “PERSON” “BODY” AND ARROWS POINTING TO THE PERSON.

But on according to Tom, a person is a soul. The soul is something separate, something non-physical.

24.ILLUSTRATE: TOM’S VIEW: PERSON WITH LITTLE WINGED CLOUD WITH FACE ON ABOVE HEAD. “PERSON” WITH ARROW POINTING AT CLOUD. “BODY” WITH ARROW POINTING AT BODY.

            But what have souls to do with free will? Tom explains.

TOM: Being non-physical, the soul is not controlled by physical laws. Being apart from the physical world means it can do its own thing. So it is free.

This is an ingenious suggestion. Has Tom explained how we can be free after all?

A problem with the soul theory

CAROL: But you haven’t given me any reason to suppose that souls exist, have you?
TOM: Well I suppose not. Not yet.
CAROL: And in any case, even if souls do exist, they still wouldn’t allow us to act freely.
TOM: Why not?
CAROL: Because our bodies are physical. So they are in the grip of the laws of nature. What they do is determined in advance by how things were physically. But that means our bodies still can’t do anything other than what they do in fact do.

Tom raises an eyebrow.

TOM: I’m not sure I follow.
CAROL: Well, let’s suppose you are right and I am a non-physical soul. According to you, I’m free to decide either to take a bite of that cake or take a sip of that water.

25.ILLUSTRATE: CAROL LOOKING AT WATER AND CAKE ON TABLE IN FRONT OF HER.

I decide to take a sip of water. But if determinism is true, what happens to my body is already fixed by the laws of nature. If the laws of nature say that my arm will reach out and grab the cake, then it will, whatever I might happen to decide.

26.ILLUSTRATE: CAROL PICKING UP CAKE. WINGED CLOUD ABOVE HER HEAD HAS THINK BUBBLE: “BUT I WANTED THE WATER”!

So you, see, even if we do have souls and they are free, that still wouldn’t give us any control over what our bodies did.
TOM: Oh. I see.
ALICE: In fact, if we had souls, they would be disconnected from our bodies, unable to have any effect on what they did. So, as we clearly can affect what our bodies do, it follows that we don’t have souls.

 

This is an interesting line of argument. If determinism is true, it really would seem to follow that we don’t have souls.

Is the brain an exception to the laws of nature?

But Tom is unpersuaded by Carol’s argument.

TOM: But you’re simply assuming that what your body does is fixed by the laws of nature plus how things are physically. But that’s not true. Your soul can come in and affect what’s going on physically.
CAROL: How does it do that?
TOM: It’s as if the soul and the brain are equipped with little transmitters and receivers.

27.ILLUSTRATE: SOUL AND BRAIN WITH RADIO DISHES SENDING SIGNALS TO EACH OTHER (DOTTED LINES?)

When I decide I want to raise my arm, my soul transmits to my brain a signal. That causes something to happen in my brain, which in turn causes electrical signals to be sent to my arm. That raises my arm.
CAROL: But that’s ridiculous! That would mean that something happens in your brain has no physical cause. Being caused by the signal sent from something non-physical – your soul – it would not be physically determined.
TOM: Exactly.
CAROL: But every physical event has a physical cause. That’s a law of nature.
TOM: Yes, generally speaking, physical events have physical causes. But there’s an exception to the rule: the human brain. Some things happen in the brain that don’t have a physical cause. Some of what goes on in the brain is caused by the soul – something non-physical.
CAROL: So the laws of nature apply throughout the entire universe, with one exception: the human brain?
TOM: Yes.
CAROL: What a load of unscientific tosh!

Tom’s explanation of how the soul and the body interact is certainly a lot to swallow. The suggestion that the laws of nature apply throughout the entire universe except for one place, the human brain, is pretty implausible. Why suppose that the laws of nature make an exception of the human brain?

“Acting freely means that if you had chosen to act differently, then you would have acted differently”

Still, even if determinism is true, Tom may yet be right that we are able to act freely. Let’s now turn to one of the most famous and interesting suggestions about how to defeat the we-never-deserve-punishment argument: compatibilism.
Compatibilism is simply the view that determinism and free will are compatible. It’s true that everything that happens physically is physically determined. But it’s also true that we are able to act freely.

 But why think that free will and determinism are compatible?
Well, asks the compatibilist, what do we ordinarily mean when we say someone “acted freely”? We mean this: that they would have done otherwise if they had chosen to.
Take Murderous Mick, for example. He acted freely. Why? Because he could and would have done otherwise had he chosen to. Suppose, for example, that instead of choosing to live a life of despicable cruelty, Mick had chosen to live a noble and generous sort of existence.

28.ILLUSTRATE: MICK IN SAINTLY POSE AND GARB (“ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE” BADGE?), SMILING SWEETLY AND HANDING OUT FLOWERS TO PASSERS-BY.

Had he chosen to live such a life, then he would have. Nothing would have prevented him.  But he chose not to. He chose to lead a wicked life instead. It was his choice. So Mick’s wicked acts are his responsibility.
            Mr Black, on the other hand, cannot be blamed for landing on Mr Brown. For Mr Black was forced out the window against his will. He couldn’t have avoided landing on Mr Brown, even if he had chosen to. He would land on Mr Brown anyway, whatever he might choose. So he didn’t act freely.

So that’s what we man by “acting freely”, according to the compatibilist. And now we come to the clever bit ­– notice that “acting freely” in this sense is compatible with determinism.
True, all our choices are determined. In principle, everything we do could have been predicted way in advance by scientists who knew all there was to know about what’s going on physically. But that doesn’t matter. We still act freely if we would have done otherwise had we chosen to.
Yes, I know we can’t choose otherwise. Given the laws of nature it’s impossible that Murderous Mick would choose anything other than what he did. But still, it’s still true that he would have done otherwise if he had chosen to. If had chosen to be good, then he would have been.
            So, says the compatibilist, if that’s what we mean by acting freely”, then we can still “act freely” even if we are determined. And if we can “act freely”, then we do deserve blame and punishment for what we do! Problem solved!
            That, at least, is how compatibilists argue. But are they right?
            What do you think?

The case of the hypnotist and the pineapple juice

            I don’t think the compatibilist is right. To see why, let’s take a look at the strange case of the hypnotist and the pineapple juice.
This is Guy.

29.ILLUSTRATE: GOOGLY-EYED HYPNOTIZED GUY SITTING IN A CHAIR. HE IS HOLDING GLASS OF JUICE.

He’s been hypnotized.

30.ILLUSTRATE: CLOSE UP OF HIS EYES: WHICH ARE DOING THE HYPNOTIZED THING. HE’S SAYING “ANOTHER GLASS OF PINEAPPLE JUICE PLEASE!”

Guy is at hypnotist’s stage show. The hypnotist just got Guy and his girlfriend up on stage. Guy’s girlfriend revealed that one of the things Guy detests most is pineapple juice. He can’t stand the stuff. So, as a joke, the hypnotist hypnotized Guy into wanting to drink glass after glass of pineapple juice.
Guy is now back at his table, but the stage lights are still on him. He keeps on ordering more and more pineapple juice. The audience, who are watching Guy, think it’s hysterically funny.

31.BIG ILLUSTRATION: NIGHTCLUB, HYPNOTIST ON STAGE. PEOPLE SAT AROUND TABLES. TABLE AT FRONT IN SPOTLIGHT WITH GUY AND HIS (NASTY-LOOKING) GIRFRIEND. GUY IS CALLING OUT TO WAITRESS “AND ANOTHER PINEAPPLE JUICE PLEASE!”. LOTS OF EMPTY JUICE GLASSSES ALREADY ON HIS TABLE. AUDIENCE LAUGHING AT HIM.

Now ask yourself, when Guy continues to drink glass after glass of pineapple juice, does he act freely?
            It’s pretty obvious, isn’t it, that Guy doesn’t act freely? Guy is helplessly in the grip of the hypnotist’s mesmeric powers. Guy might think he is making free choices. But he isn’t. It’s as if Guy is the hypnotist’s puppet.

32.ILLUSTRATE: PUPPET GUY (PINEAPPLE JUICE IN HAND) HANGING FROM BIG EVIL-LOOKING HYPNOTIST’S STRINGS.

We would say the same of a person that had been thoroughly brainwashed into wanting to do some bad thing. They might think they’re act freely. But someone else is pulling their strings.

33.ILLUSTRATE: BOND-LIKE SCENARIO IN WHICH BLOWFELD CHARACTER IS BRAINWASHING SOMEONE WITH SWIRLING WHEEL THINGY, SAYING “AND WHEN YOU NEXT HEAR THIS SONG, YOU WILL FEEL AN OVERWHELMING DESIRE TO SHOOT THE PRESIDENT!”  “AGADO, DO, DO, PUSH PINEAPPLE….…..” COMING FROM LOUD SPEAKERS.

But here’s the problem for compatibilism. According to the compatibilist, someone acts freely if they would do otherwise if they chose to. Now it’s true that Guy would do otherwise if he chose to. If he were to choose to stop drinking pineapple juice, he would stop.
So, according to the compatibilist, Guy acts freely! But then he can be fairly blamed for making himself sick!

34.GUY OVER TOILET BOWL, PUKING: GIRLFRIEND IS SAYING “IT’S YOUR OWN FAULT – YOU SHOULDN’T HAVE DRUNK ALL THAT PINEAPPLE JUICE!”

Yet it’s clear, isn’t it, that poor old Guy is not acting freely. It would be quite wrong to blame Guy for making himself ill.
But then the compatibilist’s definition of “acting freely” must be mistaken.

So why isn’t Guy acting freely?
The problem is that while it’s true that Guy would do otherwise if he chose to, he can’t choose otherwise. True, he chose to keep on drinking pineapple juice. But he was forced to make that choice by the hypnotist.
But of course, if determinism is correct, the same is true of all of us, all the time. None of us ever makes a free choice. Our choices are determined, just as Guy’s was.
But then it does seem to follow that we can’t act freely. So we never deserve punishment.

Why it may still be right to punish Mick

Up to now, we haven’t spotted anything wrong with the we-never-deserve-to-be-punished argument.
So let’s suppose, for the sake of argument, that it’s true that we can’t act freely and so never deserve punishment. Does it then follow that it is a mistake to punish murderous Mick for what he did?
Should we release him?

35.ILLUSTRATE: MICK IN PRISON, SAYING “I’M BLAMELESS! SO YES, YOU SHOULD RELEASE ME!”

Actually, it doesn’t follow. Even if Murderous Mick doesn’t deserve punishment, there are still be good reasons why we should send him to prison.
Here are three.
First, punishment may have a deterrent effect. If we punish people for committing crimes, then people may be less likely to commit those crimes. If so, then here is a good reason for punishing criminals anyway, whether or not they deserve it.
Second, by sending a criminal to prison we may be able to help them. Some prisons aim to rehabilitate prisoners, so that they are less likely to offend again.
Third, by locking murders like Mick up, we can prevent them from murdering again.
So there are still good reasons why we should lock Murderous Mick up: deterrence, rehabilitation and prevention.

36.ILLUSTRATE: MICK IN PRISON, VOICE FROM SIDE “SEE – THERE ARE STILL GOOD REASONS WHY WE SHOULD LOCK YOU UP”. MICK: “OH DEAR”

Of course, none of this is to say that Mick does deserve to be locked up. It’s just that it seems to be a good idea to lock him up anyway, whether or not he deserves it.

The puzzle

In this chapter, we have looked at a famous philosophical puzzle: the puzzle is raised by the we-never-deserve-to-be-punished argument. Philosophers call it the puzzle of free will.
Philosophers have been struggling with the puzzle for hundreds of years. Even today, at universities across the world, philosophers and scientists are still trying to solve it.

37.THREE ACADEMICS WALKING IN OXBRIDGE QUADRANGLE: ONE SAYS: “CAN WE ACT FREELY?” OTHER SAYS “OF COURSE WE CAN!” THIRD REPLIES “BUT HOW, IF DETERMINISM IS TRUE?”

The puzzle is this: it seems that, if determinism is true, then we can’t act freely. But then it appears that none of us ever deserves punishment for what we do.
Yet this is absurd, isn’t it? Of course we can act freely. Of course we sometimes deserve to be punished for what we have done. Don’t we?
            What do you think?

14 comments:

Steven Carr said...

I get it.

Because of determinism, an auto-pilot which is flying the plane no more controls where the plane goes and what speed it flies at than a passenger sitting in Row G does.

The auto-pilot can't do anything other than fly the plane at 33,000 feet at a speed of 520 miles per hour.

So nobody can say that it is controlling the plane.

The plane is literally out of control as soon as the auto-pilot is switched on.

People who think the plane is controlled by the auto-pilot are using 'common sense' , not philosophy.

Philosophers don't get in planes.

They know the plane is out of control.

Steven Carr said...

If I give somebody a drug which induces the paranoid fantasy in somebody that his mother and his wife are about to kill him, and he shoots his wife and strangles his mother under the delusion produced by this psychedelic drug , then a philosopher would say that he is morally responsible for those murders.

He shot his wife and strangled his mother after being given this mind-altering drug.

Could he have done something else?

Of course he could!

He could have strangled his wife and shot his mother.

As that is certainly not the same action as strangling his mother and shooting his wife, he fell into the category of people who could choose alternative courses of action.

This is all that is need to make a philosopher say he had free will.

He could choose between two courses of action.

So he is morally responsible for his actions.

Steven Carr said...

I also never understood the definition of free will.

Apparently, if at time ,t, you can choose between alternatives, then you have free will.

Really?

I have it on good authority (ie my imagination) that Professor Law will lecture on free will between 10:30 am and 11:30 am tomorrow.

I also know that Professor Law has already made a free-will decision not to urinate or defecate in that time period.

This is partly to avoid wasting teaching time and partly to save the cleaners some work.

Now that we have established that Professor Law has free will to decide at time 't', if he will visit the bathroom or not, we can ask what happens if using the toilet is made a criminal offense.

Incontinent people will escape moral responsibility for their crimes but the rest of us will not be able to avoid prosecution before the day is out.

Because we have free will about urinating and defecating, unlike those unfortunates who have a medical condition.

So I really don't get the definition of free will expressed in such statements as

'The most I can say is that Mary will probably go to the fridge. There’s no law compelling her to go to the fridge. She’s free to do either.'

If Professor Law is free to go to the bathroom or not in the next 10 minutes, then he has free will about urinating and defecating.

But he doesn't.

Mike Wong said...

The philosophical "free will" argument has always had an unstated religious component, which is that in order to be "free", one must be free of natural forces and natural laws.

This argument, whether its author acknowledges it or not, seems to have a religious basis. If we are part of Nature, then it would be absurd to say that we are only free to act if we are free of Nature. It would be like saying that you can only be free if you are free from yourself.

If we are truly comfortable with being mere components of nature, then "free will" only means that we are free to do such things as we are compelled to do by our nature: a much less profound and scientifically incomprehensible notion than the popular philosophical notion of being freed from nature's laws.

The conflict between determinism and "free will" may have confounded philosophers for hundreds of years, but I think the author misspeaks when he says that scientists have been similarly befuddled. There is no scientific theory of free will.

Randy said...

"Yet this is absurd, isn’t it? Of course we can act freely."

If something is absurd, then you need to prove the absurdity. All you mean is that it conflicts with our sense that we are free. That's not absurd.

"Even if Murderous Mick doesn’t deserve punishment ... First, punishment may have a deterrent effect...
Second, by sending a criminal to prison we may be able to help them. ... Third, by locking murders like Mick up, we can prevent them from murdering again."

0. I don't believe in "deserve". That's not a real thing.

1,2,3. If we have given rights to people, and we require evidence to infringe on or remove rights from people, then "maybe" is not really a convincing argument for doing so. I would need to know that this particular imprisonment would deter or prevent at least one murder. (I don't need to know which murder, but that would help)

Still, why don't we just admit that we are evolved to feel joy from harming people, but we don't like being harmed ourselves, so we create classes of people we're allowed to harm, and permissible ways of harming them?

Another thing... is the world deterministic? At the quantum level it is not. Larger and larger quantities of particles (together) exhibit quantum behavior. I have not seen an explanation of how that seeming randomness becomes deterministic just because enough particles get together to make a human. I think it merely resembles determinism, but remains random. Regardless, that's not free will either.

Cynical Naturalist said...

Well said Mike.
Stephen's argument is sound (though a bit simple) maybe his explanation of choice would have benefited from a mention of genetics, upbringing, peer groups, illness, etc as some of the influences on our every day choices.
And some people still dont get it!

Steven Carr said...

' It’s impossible for anything to happen other than what actually happens'

So if determinism is true, it is impossible for anything to happen other than what actually happens?

Where did that come from?

How on earth does that follow?

Suppose I take a gun , point it at Stephen Law, press the trigger and the bullet misses him by one inch.

I then end up in court, and I tell the judge I should be found innocent, because Stephen Law himself has declared that it would have been impossible for the bullet to have hit him.

So why should I be convicted of attempted murder, when it was literally impossible for me to have killed Professor Law?

I would be laughed out of court before I could say 'But a philosopher told me....'

Steven Carr said...

'The problem is that while it’s true that Guy would do otherwise if he chose to, he can’t choose otherwise. True, he chose to keep on drinking pineapple juice. But he was forced to make that choice by the hypnotist.'

I see.

So if you are only obeying orders, you are free of moral responsibility.

Didn't they try to use that defense at Nuremburg?

If an SS officer would be shot for disobeying orders, was he acting freely when he machine-gunned a group of Jews in WW2?

(Bear in mind that he was a raving anti-Semite who thought all Jews should be liquadated.)

But because he had no choice but to obey orders, or else he and his family would have been shot, somehow he is not responsible for his crimes.

Philosophy's a funny old game, isn't it?

Anonymous said...


The moral of the text is clear: We should all be thankful the Evolution that philosophers typically lack the ability or desire to become pilots and control an aircraft. :)

Hooligan Hobo said...

"So if you are only obeying orders, you are free of moral responsibility.

Didn't they try to use that defense at Nuremburg?"

This is not a fair analogy. The Soldier can accept the consequences and choose to disobey anyway.

Our applejuice swilling friend cannot. There is no choice even presented. There is only one possible course of action that has been decided by someone else.


If I programmed a robot and to kill a load of people and then objected when I was accused of murder that the robot should be blamed instead. I might even indignantly ask if my accusers are willing to allow the robot to get away with the Nuremburg defence!

The robot scenario is what the hypnotist scenario is trying to evoke. If you have been meddled with beyond the ability to choose, are you really culpable?

Hooligan Hobo said...

As to Attempted murder.

The crime you are accused of is murder. You were attempting to murder. You did not know ahead of time that the bullet would miss. You are being accused of the attempt, not the murder. Your intent is what is being decided.

It is for the same reason that if person A is killed by person B, person B might not be charged with murder if the circumstances were considered accidental.

Hooligan Hobo said...

In my last, the first sentence should say "The crime you are accused of is attempted murder"

Steven Carr said...

Why should I be charged with attempted murder if it was literally impossible for me to have killed Professor Law?

I can now be charged with attempting the impossible?

But you are, of course, right.

The fact that something is impossible does not remove our moral responsibility for it.

So the claim that determinism makes certain things 'impossible' does not remove the fact that you should be charged with attempted murder, even if philosophers say it was impossible for you to have murdered somebody.


And our pineapple juice drinker friend did have a choice.

He could have drunk the pineapple juice quickly or slowly.

These are certainly alternative actions - drinking quickly is a different action to drinking slowly.

Which is all this is needed for a philosopher to declare that somebody has freewill - that he can choose between 2 or more actions.

Perhaps we should be told exactly what an 'action' is. By 'action', do philosophers mean a set of similar actions? Is 'action' a collective noun, like 'sugar' or 'bread'?

Jon said...

On "the freedom of the soul"...

If two bodies have the same physical influences but their souls make different decisions, then there must be a difference between the souls, so you're back to determinism again. If God (or some natural but random soul making process) creates one good soul and one bad soul then we can't blame the bad soul for making bad decisions.

If both souls start out neutral, but one resists temptation and makes good decisions and the other fails and makes bad decisions then one soul must have started out stronger so we can't blame the weak soul for making bad decisions.

Even if we get to choose if we are good or bad, or strong or weak, and even if we can change if we work hard at it, we have to start out somewhere. If people end up making different choices it can only be for 3 reasons: 1 it's random, 2 they had different experiences, or 3 they started out differently.

I understand "determined" and I understand "random" but libertarians want a third thing which I don't understand. Just saying determinism is false because we are free doesn't answer anything.