From: Rex Allen
Sent: Monday, April 18, 2011 12:55 PM
Subject: Re: [OT] Love and free will
On Sun, Apr 17, 2011 at 6:32 PM, John Mikes <jami...@gmail.com> wrote:
> We exercise a decisionmaking 'will' that is a product of the 'mini'
> everything we are under the influences of. But "free" it is not.
So, here is a summary of Dennett's position:
"Dennett makes use of his treatment of the intentional stance to argue
for compatibilism. Just as the decision to adopt the intentional
stance towards a system is a pragmatic one, so too is it a pragmatic
decision to adopt towards a system the stance that it is a morally
responsible person. Dennett calls this latter stance the personal
stance (1973, pp. 157–8). As with the intentional stance, there is
nothing metaphysically deep required to interpret legitimately a
system as a person (no special faculty of the will, for instance).
Such systems are morally responsible agents if interpreting them
according to the personal stance pays off (1984a, pp. 158–63). And of
course, just as the physical (or the deterministic) stance is
compatible with the intentional stance, so too, according to Dennett,
is it compatible with the personal stance. Furthermore, just as he
treats the intentional stance, Dennett argues that, due to the
complexity of such systems, it is practically impossible to interpret
and predict the system purely from the physical (deterministic)
stance. Hence, the physical stance will never supplant the personal
stance. We persons involved in the everyday commerce of interacting
with each other need the personal stance; it is not threatened by the
specter of determinism. "
So he also appeals to pragmatism. If it is useful to treat someone
(or something) as morally responsible, then they are.
The reasoning there seems suspect to me, and again gets into
definitional issues - but even if I accept his point, I still say that
this stance is *not* useful when dealing with society as a whole. The
system of interest is society, not the individual.
If there are commonalities in individuals who manifest certain
behaviors, then it makes sense to look at those commonalities as
causal (especially once a plausible mechanism can be identified), and
to no longer treat those behaviors as "free".
In most situations it doesn't make sense to look at each individual as
unique and "free"...instead it makes sense to look at what is common
accross individuals and assume the existence of a mechanism that
accounts for those commonalities.
And, if you want to improve things, to focus your ameleorative efforts
to the mechanism, not to the individuals who are subject to it. Treat
the disease, not the symptoms.
The concept of individual moral responsibility isn't needed and serves
no good purpose.
The argument that we need the concept of moral responsibility lest
society fall apart is the same as the argument that we need God and an
afterlife to motivate good behavior.
Individuals respond to incentives and deterrents. Get those right,
and the system will work. Get those wrong and people will rationalize
around morality anyway.
All we need to justify some particular incentive or deterrent is:
1) It works.
2) We can't think of anything that would work better.
Talk of moral responsibility and free will just serve to distract and
confuse. If a policy can't be justified on the above two points, then
adding moral responsibility and free will to the equation *still*
won't justify it.
If a policy *can* be justified on the above two points, then it should
be implemented regardless of issues involving moral responsibility and
Interesting post! It seems to me that in order to create a system of
incentives and deterrents it is necessary to have a means to accurately model
the society or to figure out the correct system by trial and error. But there
is a problem for both of these since a society is not a static or linear
system, it is similar to a chaotic system in that there is a high sensitivity
to initial conditions and there is a non-linear relation between changes in the
expectations of outcomes of actions given changes in the incentive and
deterrence schemata and actual behaviors by the individuals that make up the
society. The Laffer curve is a good example of this.
I see in this discussion the idea that we can treat a society as if it
where an entity that does not supervene upon the individual humans that make it
up. We also have not established a definition of determinism that matches
experience so we are arguing and speculating about relations between two
ambiguous ideas. If we are going to make some progress about free will and
determinism, we must have definitions of both that match up with reality.
You received this message because you are subscribed to the Google Groups
"Everything List" group.
To post to this group, send email to email@example.com.
To unsubscribe from this group, send email to
For more options, visit this group at