On Mon, Apr 18, 2011 at 1:26 PM, meekerdb <meeke...@verizon.net> wrote:
> On 4/18/2011 9:55 AM, Rex Allen wrote:
>> 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.
> So if almost everyone is deterred from committing crimes by community
> approbation and fear of punishment, the person who does commit a crime
> should be treated as "free"?

If we consider the case of this person, and are unable to see any
plausible explanation that could account for their behavior - no
commonalities with other cases, nothing that matches against any other
statistics, no plausible mechanisms from sociology, neurology,
psychiatry, medicine, biology, genetics, chemistry, or physics...then
sure, treat him as “free”.

That was exactly the situation we were in a thousand years ago.  And
it was justifiable - in that the approach does “work” to some extent,
and they didn’t know of any better way to go about it.

I just think that there are better ways to go about it now.

It would be odd if we have access to all of the above information, and
all of the productivity and wealth of the modern world  - and yet we
can’t really come up with any significantly better approaches to
ordering society than “Getting Tough on Crime” or “Three Strikes”

Maybe we should try getting smart about crime and societal
dysfunction.  We can always go back to “tough” later if it doesn’t

>> 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.
> The actual context in which "free will" comes up is in prosecution for a
> crime.  Did the defendant act of his own free will or was he under some
> compulsion or coercion.  This already takes what is common to individuals
> into account.  If most individuals in that circumstance would not commit
> that crime, then the defendant is judged to have acted out of his own free
> will.  If most individuals would have committed the crime, e.g. in defense
> of ones family, then the defendant may be excused.

Obviously that’s *not* the only context in which “free will” and
“moral responsibility” come up.

It comes up when the laws are written and punishments specified, it
comes up in terms of what policies the government implements for the
disadvantaged and unfortunate, it comes up when voters evaluate
politicians promising to get tough on criminals, it comes up in the
ways we treat prisoners - both in jail and upon release, it comes up
in the conduct of prosecutors and their choices about which case to
even bring to trial, it comes up in terms of what jurors (and thus the
public at large) find plausible from expert witnesses.

Society's views on free will and moral responsibility affect all of
those things.

Of course, things are changing, generally for the better.  And will
likely continue to change - so the system is adapting to the new
information available.  Just more slowly than seems reasonable to me.
In some part due to the obfuscation of compatibilism.


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