Monday, December 26, 2016

Real Responsibility and Pragmatic Free Will: Filling Gaps in Compatibilism

(a paper in eight section posts, also as single file at  Additional posts can be made for discussion.
1. Historical Background
2. Gaps in Compatibilism
3. Real Practicality
4. Practical Alternative Choices
5. Randomness vs Indeterminism
6. Practical Origins
7. Practical Choices
8. Practical Responsibility

1.  Historical Background

When the humanistic ideas of personal responsibility for choices made with freedom of will are considered from a modern scientific perspective, they have been rejected on account of nature being deterministic according to exacting natural laws of cause and effect.  Some philosophers take that to mean the ordinary ideas of responsibility are sheer fantasy lacking any logical justification, treating choices as just a matter of luck, "Moral Luck" as it is called.  Others go to an unusual extreme of arguing life and society empirically depend on accepting responsibility in practice even though it is not true; we should go around believing in fantasies, a strange way of mastering facts of reality.  Other philosophers, free from the constraints of the more materialistic attitude in science, take mind as an immaterial, spiritual phenomenon, in a separate world of its own, capable of the magical indeterminate "power" to choose among alternatives with no determined effect.  Responsibility there pertains to an ability to choose otherwise than actually done, supposedly to truly have alternatives (an intuitive term but ambiguous in many ways).   This "dualism" as it is called, between mind and matter,  was the original approach of science at its origin, in such figures as Descartes, important in mathematics, as well as ancient sage Aristotle (long the focus of study by Roman Catholic scholars in church institutions and a bone of contention to the new enterprise of science).  Nowadays it would be called a ghost in the machine.

Opposed to all this is a view also from the birth of science in the 17th century attempting to logically resolve the paradox of will by examining concepts in more detail and refining definitions.  Thomas Hobbes, notorious advocate of authoritarian rule (besides work in mathematics),  proposed freedom and determinism were logically consistent or compatible, in what is now called Compatibilism in modern philosophy (it had once been called "soft determinism", with a more cozy feeling).  There are different kinds of freedom and the term is often used to describe inanimate things in various ways, as a shaft free to turn in a bearing,  free electrons comprising electric current in wires, or merely opening a door to free passage.   What matters, though, is what kind of action is free to occur, and the particular mental activity of making conscious choices presents puzzles for intuitive understanding  of the issues.   Responsibility is a separate issue when things are just free to be determined.   Compatibilism has been described as the most popular position among contemporary philosophers in the present era of high technology.

Besides the simple inconsistency of indeterminate choices with scientific evidence, the logic of indeterminism has been criticized as incoherent and illogical on its own terms.  Too many such critiques exist to analyze here and are merely negative conclusions about what is false,  compared to a positive account of responsibility sought here.  A recent survey covering a large number of different positions in philosophy on the subject is "Free Will: The Scandal in Philosophy" by Bob Doyle, also online at   Doyle's  account of responsibility has more reliance on the uncertainties revealed in Quantum Theory than here, where the essentially practical nature of the problem is emphasized.

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