The Instigator
Danielle
Pro (for)
Losing
0 Points
The Contender
Kinesis
Con (against)
Winning
12 Points

Compatabilism is a flawed philosophical doctrine.

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Post Voting Period
The voting period for this debate has ended.
after 4 votes the winner is...
Kinesis
Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 5/22/2012 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 4 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 3,081 times Debate No: 23631
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (20)
Votes (4)

 

Danielle

Pro

Many thanks in advance to whomever accepts this debate.

I originally sent this challenge to Reasoning; however, like most people on this site, he declined my direct challenge. I don't see why considering not only is he a vehement Compatibilist, but so are some of the most brilliant philosophers in the world today. There is plenty of pro-Compatibilist information for my future opponent to steal from the internet, I can assure you. In fact it is the most popular position, so I will be arguing against the status quo.

In this debate I will attempt to prove that Compatibilism is a non-sensical position. It accepts determinism and free will simultaneously, which I posit is illogical if you use the correct definitions of both terms. In accepting this debate, my opponent acknowledges to argue based on the following legitimate definitions:

Determinism - The philosophical doctrine that every state of affairs, including every human event, act and decision is the inevitable consequence of antecedent states of affairs and the nature of the universe (physical forces).

Free Will - The philosophical doctrine that the conduct of human beings expresses independant personal choice and is not simply determined by physical or divine forces.

Compatabilists argue that they can reconcile the terms to suggest that people have free will despite being determined beings. In this debate I will illustrate that this can only be done through defining 'free will' in such a way that it contradicts with determinism, thereby making Compatibilism a flimsy philosophy (I like to call it determinism lite). Essentially I think it's a cop out so that people feel less threatened by the concept of determinism.

My opponent can post an opening argument in Round 1 if he/she so chooses. They may opt to wait until Round 2, but it would probably make more sense for them to open the debate by justifing the compatibility of the agreed upon terms, considering to me the definitions alone seem self-evidently opposite. However I don't mind beginning the debate. It's up to you, challenger :)

I look forward to a very interesting debate. Thank you and good luck.
Kinesis

Con

I accept Danielle's definition of Determinism, however, although I agree with the sentiment behind Danielle's definition of Free Will regarding personal choice and our choices not being merely the result of forces outside our control, and will use it as a steer over the course of the debate, I cannot simply agree to define Free Will as 'not determined by physical forces' because then this debate would immediately end. I would be being asked to defend a violation of the logical law of non-contradiction.

Danielle contends that compatabilism is an illegitimate attempt to redefine free will from what it actually is in order to reconcile two irreconcilable terms. This, however, puts the cart before the horse - it is only after a thorough analysis of what we ought to mean by free will that we should conclude either that determinism is compatible or incompatible with free will. Obviously one can simply define free will one way or the other - but that will remain unsatisfactory for either side because both will maintain that free will is relevant to our belief in ourselves as free persons only on their definition.

Having said that, I actually do think I can provide an adequate definition of free will that is compatible with Danielle's definitions - for choices are not simply determined by physical laws on the account I shall present. Only particular kinds of causal processes are compatible with the exercise of free will and I shall argue for a particular account of which causal process these are, consider various objections that could be raised, and end up with a sufficient account of free will.

Preliminary Definition : A subject acts freely if she could have done otherwise in the right sense. The subject could have done otherwise in this sense provided she would have chosen otherwise if she had chosen differently.

The primary intuition that lies behind the incompatibalist's case is that determinism entails that our actions are all inevitable - that is, given a particular state S1 of the universe at T = 0, everything that occurs is the result of a causal chain resulting from S1. Every human action is caused by the laws of physics and antecedent events prior to that action. Thus, humans can never have chose otherwise than the actions they actually undertake and freedom is removed from the equation.

The solution to this is the introduction of counterfactuals - that is, a subject is free if she could have done otherwise if she had chosen differently. Thus, causal routes in which higher mental processes are removed from the equation are ruled out. The causal route which leads from my being trapped irreversibly underwater to my drowning is one of them.

Let us construct a primitive model of how the brain's decision making software functions. Imagine that the brain is composed of different 'modules'. One is a 'scanner' that takes in information about a situation. Another is a 'tree producer' that generates options in light of the information that the scanner says. Another is the 'evaluator' which ranks options in light of concerns programmed into it. Finally, a 'producer' selects the best option from the preceding processes.

The process at work here is as follows: Scanner -> Tree Producer -> Evaluator -> Producer.

Now, if a choice is the upshot of this process within my brain, the choice can be said to be mine. The end choice that results from this process is not the result of causal process outside of my control - rather, it is the various faculties that reside within my own self that determine the outcome.

Now, the incompatibalist will raise the following objection - it seem to be a choice made under your own volition if you consider the point at which the brain processes start to the point at which they end - but the fact is that whatever 'modules' there might be that determine our actions are themselves fixed by the physical laws that determine the universe.

This will require that I revise my preliminary definition. I offer a distinction similar to the one between decision-taking and drowning. Imagine that I have a little martian inside my head that controls the modules in my brain. I become a puppet in this martian's hands, such that no-one could reasonably say that I have free will. The incompatibalist might well say, well, what is the difference between the martian scenario and our actual situation? Whatever modules control my decision making, after all, are fixed by chemical processes in my brain which are determined by the laws of physics.

The difference is the degree of flexibility that I have in responding to particular situations. In the martian situation I will not respond to new information and considerations in the same way that I will under ordinary circumstances. Ordinarily the way I respond will be considerate of arguments and additions or changes in the decision making process. This leads to the second revised definition of Free Will.

Revised Definition: A subject acts freely if she could have done otherwise in the right sense. This means that she would have done otherwise if she had chosen differently and, under the impact of other thoughts and considerations, she would have chosen differently.

This requires one more revision. What are the kinds of thoughts and considerations we are talking about? Many philosophers have associated freedom of the will to increased knowledge and understanding - this is the final piece of the puzzle. The 'thoughts and considerations' we are talking about, first, are accurate representations of the agent's situations and options, and second, are available to the agent.

Suppose that, out of fear of losing humiliatingly to Danielle, I set out to poison her and cunningly slip arsenic into her morning coffee. Suppose that she drinks it. There would be no use me defending myself with the notion that Danielle, after all, was free not to do so. For although she could have done otherwise had she chosen not to, absence of contextual information makes her a victim rather than a free agent. Our final definition, therefore, is as follows:

Final Definition: A subject acts freely if she could have done otherwise in the right sense. This means that she would have done otherwise if she had chosen differently and, under the impact of other true and available thoughts or considerations, she would have chosen differently. True and available thoughts and considerations are those that represent her situation accurately, and are ones that she could reasonably have expected to take into account.

I hope that I have done enough groundwork in support of my chosen definition that Danielle does not respond with a cursory dismissal of 'You've just defined away the problem of Hard Determinism'. Identifying what free will is a process of identifying in what situations we consider ourselves to be free and how various considerations impact upon them. The definition comes after the hard work, not before.

There we go, this is my chosen account of how to reconcile free will and determinism. It is adapted from the chapter on Free Will from Simon Blackburn's book Think: http://www.amazon.com...
Debate Round No. 1
Danielle

Pro

Thanks, Con.

Compatibilists accept the following argument for Determinism:

1. We have no control over circumstances that existed in the past, nor do we have any control over the laws of nature.
2. If A causes B, we have no control over A, and A is sufficient for B, then we have no control over B.
3. All of our actions and thoughts are consequences of past events and the laws of nature.
4. Assuming responsibility requires control, we are not responsible for what we do or think (2, 3).

Therefore, assuming freedom entails responsibility, then we are not free which is to say that every form of Compatibilism is false.

As such, this comes down to a semantics debate about whether or not Compatibilists have any business in referring to the act of volition (the cognitive process by which an individual decides on and commits to a particular course of action) as "free" will. Con says that in this debate he will prove that our choices are free because they are not simply determined by physical laws. I wish him the best of luck in this endeavor.

First, let's consider the fact that Compatibilists already accept the argument for Determinism. The argument for Determinism that I just outlined specifically explains how/why our choices are determined by physical laws. So how are these choices not determined "simply" by physical laws?

Con's preliminary definition of free will posits that a subject acts freely if she could have done otherwise. He notes, "The solution... is the introduction of counterfactuals - that is, a subject is free if she could have done otherwise if she had chosen differently." Of course, Hard Determinists believe that free will refers to absolute, ultimate alternate possibilities for choices rather than merely counterfactual ones. As such, this is irrelevant.

(I will explain more if need be, though I doubt it will be an area of misunderstanding so I'll move on...)

Con's argument can be outlined almost verbatim here [1]. Throughout the previous round Con argues against each revised definition so that I don't have to do it, until he reaches a final definition he considers correct. Therefore negating his final definition is all I'm really responsible for.

Final Definition: A subject acts freely if she could have done otherwise... if she had chosen differently and, under the impact of other true and available thoughts or considerations, she would have chosen differently. True and available thoughts and considerations are those that represent her situation accurately, and are ones that she could reasonably have expected to take into account.

Con explains the rationale that brings us to this final definition. He provides an example suggesting that suppose he intended to poison me by slipping arsenic into my coffee. He says he cannot justify this action by saying that after all, I was free not to do so. Although I could have chosen not to drink the poisoned coffee, the absence of contextual information makes me a victim rather than a free agent.

This seemingly supports my position rather than Con's. Here Con admits that I am not a free agent. Considering the absence of contextual information (I didn't know that he poisoned my coffee), my decision was not "free." What Con is suggesting is that had I been exposed to other variables - i.e. had I known he poisoned my coffee - my choice probably would have been different and therefore should be considered "free" because a potential different choice would have yielded a different outcome.

Unfortunately for Con, this reality in no way establishes free will. I agree that I would probably have made a different choice had I been exposed to more variables (information). That doesn't make my choice "free" - it just makes my choice ignorant to potential alternatives. Hard Determinists do not deny the fact that a choice exists, nor do they deny the fact that different choices yield different outcomes. Instead, what they argue is that we can never know all variables, and particularly for that reason our choices are not free: they are determined based on what we do know.

Let's consider The Bohm Interpretation of quantum mechanics, which attempts to validate indeterminism at the quantum level. This theory posits that every atomic particle has a definite position and momentum at all times, but we do not usually know what they are, though we do have limited information about them [2]. Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle says that certain pairs of physical properties, like position and momentum, cannot both be known to arbitrary precision. It does not state that the position and momentum do not exist - simply that they can not be measured [3].

Likewise, we can never know every variable pertinent to our choices. That does not mean that variables affecting our choices don't exist; they certainly do. But just because we cannot possibly as human beings have knowledge about every single variable, does not change the fact that our choices are bound (not free) by the variables that we DO know. Based on what we DO know due to antecedent events and the laws of nature, our choices are inevitable. If we somehow could possess the knowledge to know every single factor about every single variable that could affect our choices, our choices would STILL be inevitable - just a lot more informed.

My opponent doesn't deny that our choices are determined (inevitable and therefore not "free") based on what we know. Instead his argument is that because we don't know every variable, our choice is somehow free. Of course this doesn't make sense and I have negated the premises around his proposed final definition of free will. As such, the description I provided at the beginning of the debate stands uncontested, and by Con's own admission would directly contradict determinism therefore making Compatibilism (acceptance of both determinism and free will, simultaneously) a flawed theory. The resolution has been affirmed. We have no reason to accept that a decision is "free" just because exposure to different variables would yield different choices and subsequently different results.

Now admittedly, most discussions of free will revolve around an agent's capacity for moral responsibility. The philosophical question is whether or not we as human beings have the sort of free will required for moral responsibility. In other words, if we are determined creatures (which Compatibilists accept), then there's a good chance we cannot be held morally responsible considering we technically have no control over our thoughts and actions. I was fully prepared to argue a case that while we indeed do lack the sort of free will that would make us morally responsible for our actions, indeterministic theories do not significantly improve the prospects for this sort of free will. I would essentially be arguing for what Derk Pereboom calls Hard Incompatibilism, which posits that even without this sort of free will, it does not exclude morality or our sense of meaning in life. In some respects, it could even be seen as beneficial. I believe this view is far superior to Compatibilism which tries hopelessly to reconcile two opposing ideals. Con nor any brilliant philosopher I've read thus far has remotely convinced me that a determined being can make "free" choices.

However Con's approach in this debate was not to question moral responsibility. Instead, he attempted to argue that "free will" refers to one's ability to make different choices, which is simply naive. Hard Determinists do not deny that one has the ability to make different choices with different results based on particular variables. Therefore Con's dissention does not stand; his position does not contradict Hard Determinism making free will obsolete and Compatibilism a flawed philosophical doctrine.

[1] http://aix1.uottawa.ca...
[2] http://plato.stanford.edu...
[3] http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu...
Kinesis

Con

My first round was concerned with laying out an account of how a compatibalist free will would work than arguing against the notion that determinism and free will are contradictory, since Danielle had yet to present an argument beyond some suggestive definitions. The basic intuition that lies behind an incompatibalist position is obvious, however. Determinism entails that our choices are invitable. Another way of putting it is that prior to willing an action, we imagine that lying temporally ahead of us are different 'routes' that we could go along. When Alex comes across a fork in the road, he believes that both of the routes are open to him - if determinism is true, though, only one route has ever been open to him - the one he will eventually walk down.

Here is an argument to the effect that the whole notion of an 'alternate possibilities' account of free will gets the wrong end of the stick.

Imagine that I resolve to kill popculturepooka. Danielle knows about my plan and wants me to kill pooka (without getting her hands dirty herself). However, concerned that I will waver in my resolve, she secretly plans a mind control chip into my head such that if I show any signs of hesistation about killing pooka, the chip will take over my mind and force me to kill her anyway. I carry out my plan to murder pooka without hesistation, however, and the chip remains inert. [1]

It certainly seems in this case that, despite having no options other than attempting to kill popculturepooka, my choice was freely willed. Therefore, alternate possibilities are not a necessary condition of acting freely.

Danielle presents the following argument:

"1. We have no control over circumstances that existed in the past, nor do we have any control over the laws of nature.
2. If A causes B, we have no control over A, and A is sufficient for B, then we have no control over B.
3. All of our actions and thoughts are consequences of past events and the laws of nature.
4. Assuming responsibility requires control, we are not responsible for what we do or think (2, 3)"

The problem with this argument is that it doesn't take into account the causal role that we play in changing the past into the future. To see this, suppose that we apply this same argument to a thermostat. Substitute a thermostat into the same argument and we will come out with the conclusion that a thermostat cannot control the past or the laws of nature, therefore it has no control over the present. But the whole point of a thermostat is that it controls the temperature. Thermostats, and people, have control by virtue of a causal role 'from the inside' of nature. Premise 1, therefore, is false.


Danielle notes in response to my introduction of counterfactuals that "Hard Determinists believe that free will refers to absolute, ultimate alternate possibilities for choices rather than merely counterfactual ones. As such, this is irrelevant.". It is only irrelevant, of course, as far as one maintains that these 'ultimate' alternate possibilities are necessary for the exercise of free will. As argued above, alternate possibilities are not required for this. These 'ultimate' alternate possibilities boil down to randomness in any case as far as I can see, so the special status Danielle attaches to them is unwarranted.

Danielle argues that no matter how informed our choices are, this does not stop them being inevitable. This is true - that wasn't the argument the notion of increased knowledge equating to increased freedom was directed towards. Imagine a teenager brainwashed by advertising to spend large amounts of money on cosmetics. These adverts have convinced her that her social life, image, reputation and so on are contingent on her buying all kinds of dubious expensive chemical creams and procedures. In this case, her freedom to buy or not buy cosmetics seems infected by false information and brainwashing. She still has a degree of flexibility in response to new information and arguments (say, from friends and family), but it is curtailed.

The point is, while it is still true in a sense that her buying cosmetics is 'set' by the decision making modules in her brain even if she is not brainwashed by advertising, there is a compelling distinction to be drawn here. We would not hold the girl responsible for wasting money on the cosmetics if she were brainwashed into it. And if she were not brainwashed into it, she would be able to better evaluate the particulars of the situation and respond in a way sensitive to considerations surrounding it. What I am saying is that lumping in all causal processes together as though they are equally threatening to free will seems foolish. Only some circumstances badly 'fix' people's decisions in a way that curtails free will (martians controlling your mind, advertisers brainwashing gullible teens). Others do not. This is a degree of flexibility independent of determinism, and this is what we tap into when we hold people responsible for their actions.



[1] This is Frankfurt's argument against the princinple of alternate possibilities: http://plato.stanford.edu...
Debate Round No. 2
Danielle

Pro

Danielle forfeited this round.
Kinesis

Con

Hopefully, Danielle can post in the final round.
Debate Round No. 3
Danielle

Pro

Danielle forfeited this round.
Kinesis

Con

Well, it's a shame Danielle couldn't finish the debate. Hopefully we can pick this up again sometime.
Debate Round No. 4
20 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by Danielle 4 years ago
Danielle
I agree - We should re-do this... maybe just continue it. We can c/p our exact arguments up until the point where I left off.
Posted by Kinesis 4 years ago
Kinesis
BTW, I'd like to debate this again sometime in the future. I've learned a lot about the Free Will debate since this debate begin, and another crack at it with an incompatibalist would be fun.
Posted by Kinesis 4 years ago
Kinesis
Aww Danielle. :(
Posted by Kinesis 4 years ago
Kinesis
Well, I am interested in your debate turns out. Very well, I'll postpone my plan.
Posted by popculturepooka 4 years ago
popculturepooka
I'd prefer he didn't kill me at all, tbh.
Posted by socialpinko 4 years ago
socialpinko
Don't kill PCP, at least not until our debate is over.
Posted by Kinesis 4 years ago
Kinesis
Huh?
Posted by sadolite 4 years ago
sadolite
These "FLAWED" debates..................
Posted by Kinesis 4 years ago
Kinesis
LOL, I could have done it with Smith, Jones and Black. But that would have been boring. ;)
Posted by popculturepooka 4 years ago
popculturepooka
"Imagine that I resolve to kill popculturepooka. "

LOLWUT. Hahaha.
4 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 4 records.
Vote Placed by FourTrouble 4 years ago
FourTrouble
DanielleKinesisTied
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Reasons for voting decision: I don't understand why Pro forfeited, this debate was looking really good.
Vote Placed by socialpinko 4 years ago
socialpinko
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Reasons for voting decision: Con gets arguments and conduct for Pro's forfeit and thus concession. I'm still personally undecided on the issue and wish Pro had stuck around to defend incompatibilism.
Vote Placed by popculturepooka 4 years ago
popculturepooka
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Reasons for voting decision: Arguments and conduct to con for ff. It was shaping up to be a spectacular debate but pro's ff essentially left some of con's major points unrefuted.
Vote Placed by 16kadams 4 years ago
16kadams
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Reasons for voting decision: FF