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Libertarians and others Chisholm, Holbach and Frankfurt
Roderick Chisholm A foundationalist (remember?). Also an enthusiastic defender of the primacy of ‘raw’ experience in epistemology. Also a libertarian.
Human freedom and the self The Dilemma: Both determinism and indeterminism rule out responsibility. The main idea: Humans can, as free agents, initiate new ‘causal chains’. The question: What is it about the self that makes this new causal chain attributable to the self, in a way that justifies blame or praise for the action that initiates the new chain of causes?
Following along with Chisholm Conditions for responsibility: 1. ‘Wholly up to’ the agent. 2. Could have done otherwise. 3. What you’re responsible for is the result of (brought about by) some act of yours. 4. That act must be in your power to perform or not to perform. 4 implies that the act isn’t determined by any event that isn’t also within your control– including your desires and beliefs.
Overcome Consider a dam, caused to fail by a flood: It simply had to fail, in the circumstances. Similarly, “If the flood of desire caused the weak-willed man to give in, then he, too, had to do just what it was that he did do and he was no more responsible than was the dam for the results that followed”
The flip side Good character, if it causes you to do good things (i.e. leaves you no option but to do them), prevents you from being responsible for doing those good things! (Reid): Cato’s ‘constitution’ is “no more the work of Cato than his existence.” The implication for theism (via Aquinas): If every movement… “proceeds from God as the prime mover,” then God is the only agent!
The compatibilist move The key premise: ‘Could have done otherwise’ = ‘would have done otherwise, had s/he chosen to’ This is consistent with determinism. But Chisholm claims that the second phrase could be true even when in fact the first phrases is false, that is, it can be true that I would have done otherwise than I did, in some case, even though, in the circumstances, I could not do otherwise. So Chisholm rejects the compatibilist’s premise.
Making a case against compatibilism If you’d chosen otherwise, you would have done something different. But in fact you couldn’t choose otherwise (for example, your character or beliefs, which aren’t under your control at the time of the choice, caused you to choose as you did). Then you are caught up in causal chains that include these features of yourself, and given these causes, you really couldn’t do otherwise.
Choosing to choose? There’s a regress in the air here. A real choice (a free choice) seems to require (see the earlier definition) control over all the factors that ‘cause’ that choice. And this includes beliefs, desires and character. So you must control these things, and whatever causes them, and so on, if they cause you to choose as you do. That’s a lot of control!
Between determinism and indeterminism If there’s no cause of an action, it seems ‘fortuitous or capricious’, and responsibility is out. If there is a cause, it seems that (even if, had the agent chosen otherwise, s/he would have done otherwise) in fact s/he couldn’t have chosen otherwise (the choice is causally determined, after all), and, again, responsibility is out.
Is there an alternative? We need an event that contributes to the agent’s act, but that isn’t caused by another event. Instead, it’s caused by the agent herself. Usually, we speak of events as caused by other events: the occurrence of a cold night caused the water in the bird bath to freeze The sudden creation of a super-critical mass caused the nuclear device to explode. But what is an agent, and how does it cause events?
Transuent and Immanent Transuent causation links events or states of affairs together. Immanent causation links an event or state of affairs to an agent who ‘brings it about’. Chisholm says we can trace back, following the physiological transuent causes. But at some point (in the brain?) we come to an event or state of affairs that is caused by the agent, and not by some other event or state of affairs.
Making happen vs. doing To do something requires some awareness (intentionality) concerning what you’re doing. But to make something happen doesn’t– we make all kinds of things happen without being aware of them (or concerned about them).
But what is immanent causation What do we mean when we say an agent caused an event (rather than an event causing it)? How do we distinguish A’s causing an event in this way, from the event merely happening (spontaneously)? Suarez: “the action is in reality nothing but the effect as it flows from the agent” HUH?
The mystery of causation (again) For Chisholm, it’s not any harder (or stranger) to explain agent causation than it is to explain ordinary ‘transuent’ causation. But even on a strictly Humean account of causation, what we say when we say that event A caused event B is that events of the A-type are always followed by B-type events. Nothing this informative emerges from the claim that an agent A ‘caused’ some event.
Hume vs. Reid Chisholm cites Reid against Hume, suggesting that our awareness of our ability, as agents, to bring things about is the basis for our grasp of transuent causation. But Hume actually argues against this view: we aren’t, he said, conscious of our ‘power’ to do things. If we were, we wouldn’t be surprised by a sudden paralysis—a stroke victim would immediately realize that she couldn’t move her (say) left leg. Only experience teaches us what we can (or can’t) do…
Small Gods If Chisholm is right, then, “each of us, when we act, is a prime mover unmoved.” “No set of statements about a man’s desires, beliefs, and stimulus situation at any time implies any statement telling us what the man will try, set out, or undertake to do at that time.” Note how empty this is of any predictive power…
Can desires ‘incline without necessitating’? Chisholm’s public official: Can resist soliciting a bribe. Cannot resist accepting a bribe (if it’s presented in the right way). For Chisholm, this is the kind of case where we would say his motive (the desire for the bribe) inclines but doesn’t necessitate, since he doesn’t try to make the bribe come his way, but if it does come his way, he can’t resist.
Baron d’Holbach (1723-1789) One of the Encyclopedists- a French enlightenment group led by Diderot and D’Alembert. A hard determinist: He believed in a deterministic physics, and believed that this was incompatible with responsibility.
The view We are complicated mechanism. Our will is determined by our desires, beliefs and circumstances. It is altered only by stronger, intervening desires etc. This is hidden from us by our own complexity, which makes prediction very difficult.
Harry Frankfurt (1929- ) Emeritus Professor at Princeton. A compatibilist, with a complex view of the conditions of freedom (including abilities to evaluate and motivate change in our lower-order preferences). Wrote On Bullshit (2005)
Alternative Possibilities The Principle: We are morally responsible for doing X only if we could have done something else. Frankfurt identifies a problem with this principle. Circumstances can cut off alternatives for us without interfering with our ordinary choice-making processes. In such cases, we are morally responsible even though we could not do anything else.
Constraint without coercion I’m in a room, the door is open, and it seems I’m entirely free to stay. But in fact, the door will close and lock if I attempt to leave. But I don’t attempt to leave. Am I responsible for staying in the room? Or, having decided to stay already, I’m told I’ll be killed if I leave.
The hidden intervenor Black and Jones. Black will ensure Jones does X if Jones doesn’t choose to do X himself. But Jones does do X by his own choice. Still Jones had no alternative to doing X. What explains Jones’ doing X here? The constraints (Black’s arrangements) don’t; his choice does. So (says F) he’s responsible.
The alternative principle “A person is not morally responsible for what he has done if he did it only because he could not have done otherwise.”
The problem of attribution When we say that someone is responsible for something they’ve done, we are committed to there being some connection between them as agents, and the action they’ve performed. Chisholm is concerned about this when he says that neither determinism nor indeterminism will do: Determinism puts what I do out of my control (we can trace it all back to things that I’m clearly not responsible for) And indeterminism also puts it out of my control– one or another of the possibilities results, but I don’t choose.
But… Chisholm’s appeal to transcendent, ‘agent’ causation seems like a cheat. Chisholm says that the agent begins a new causal chain, rather than that something merely happened spontaneously and without being causally determined. But it does not explain how we’re supposed to tell the difference. In fact, it doesn’t explain what the difference is at all.
The problem of the link What we need to know here is both something metaphysical and something empirical. First, we need to know about how an agent comes to make a choice and how that process is different from mere ‘coin flip’ indeterminism. Second, we need to know how we can tell the difference between these things. (And the difference had better be obvious, since we seem to make this distinction very naturally and very easily in practice.)
Why these requirements? 1. Without a story that somehow links the agent to the choice in an explanatory way, the attribution of the choice to the agent (and the consequent assignment of responsibility to her) is utterly opaque. By ‘links in an explanatory way’ I mean that something about the agent should explain why she chose as she did.
Why, cont’d As for the epistemic requirement, if we can’t effectively distinguish ‘chance’ from ‘agent’ cases, we surely ought to be much more skeptical, reserved or modest than we usually are when we blame or praise someone for what they’ve done. Some would suggest the first person case is the key: we know, in a special, privileged way, when we’ve made a choice rather than merely flipped a coin– and we can then go on to attribute similar choice- processes to others on the grounds of the similarity of the cases and circumstances.
But This move only makes sense if we can say what the difference is and show that it really is the sort of thing we could reliably detect, at least in our own case. And just saying what the difference is, is already very difficult. Some character of the agent must make the difference between the available choices. But we can’t say that a causal process leads the agent to become the kind of agent who makes one choice rather than another—this leads back to determinism!
Whence ‘character’? Let ‘character’ stand for the features of agents that explain why they make the choices they do. So character grounds attributions of responsibility to agents by linking them to their choices. If character results from natural, causal processes, we’re back to determinism. But if character is just spontaneously there from the start, we’re back to indeterminism– Either way, how is it an agent’s fault that, by causes or just by chance, she has a character that leads her to do cruel things?
Oh, dear. Appeal to agent causation is just a place-holder for a solution, not a solution in its own right. When we try to fill that place-holder out, it leads right back to the original puzzle. If we’re to be responsible for what it leads us to do, it looks like we need to form or choose our own character ourselves, in a way that we’re responsible for. But there’s a nasty regress here: we need to invoke a prior character to make us responsible for how we’ve formed our character over time.
Who am I, anyway? Leibniz was a non-causal determinist. For him, what happens for each monad (a separate, independent ‘atom’) is fully determined by its internal law and its ‘appetition’, a force that drives it to express itself over time (its internal law, though, respects a harmony that all monads are set up to express).
Judas For Leibniz, Judas is determined, according to his internal law, to betray Jesus. He must do it, else (says Leibniz) he would not be this Judas. But this doesn’t mean Judas isn’t responsible for what he does. After all, what he does is part and parcel of (and emerges from) who he is.
Character, again It looks as though the libertarian has a hard time explaining how we can be ultimately responsible for our character– we can’t freely choose our characters, on pain of a regress. On the other hand, who is each of us, if not a person with a certain character? Can an ‘initial’ self, the ultimate source of the choices that we take ourselves to be responsible for, be responsible for the character that s/he begins with?
A fallback position Perhaps the best thing to say is that we are responsible for our choices insofar as who we are is what leads us to choose as we do. Though we didn’t choose to become who we are, the process of becoming our (present) selves (our history as persons) is shaped by who we had (already) become before. This view of persons traces their present character back to previous experiences and choices grounded in a previous character. But it is a view we can only take looking backwards.