There’s a post that I come back to on this site again and again. It’s something that I frequently link to when having discussions with believers and non-believers alike whenever they start getting their back up and feel that they are under attack when I’m pressing on their beliefs: we are not our ideas.
However, I’ve not always been comfortable with it in it’s entirety. I mean… ‘Hate the sin, not the sinner’ is clearly crap, but is there a significant difference between that and Crommunist’s ‘hate the belief, not the believer’? (my paraphrasing)
If I were confronted by a believer on this point, the apparent double-standard, could I respond effectively?
[Added 2pm GMT, Jan 31st, due to apparent necessity:
A “human being” as mentioned in this essay refers to and only to “any individual of the genus Homo, especially a member of the species Homo sapiens.”
It is not a reference to ‘self’ or ‘identity’ or anything like that. If you’re unsure, find a mirror: that’s “a human being”.]
I think that the difference between the two hinges on the notion of ‘belief’ versus ‘sin’, so these are the two terms that need to be nailed down. Which will take us into the realm of Free Will, so I guess I’ll start by opening that particular can of worms.
1. Free Will
Sam Harris has killed a lot of trees in order to promote the idea that we don’t have free will. Jerry Coyne also agrees. Russell Blackburn has an excellent takedown.
Basically, if you’re committed to the idea that “Free Will” means that you can make any decision, anytime, and there are no antecedent events that will tell an outside viewer what your choice is going to be prior to your own conscious knowledge, then two things follow:
- Harris (and other neuroscientists) has rock solid evidence that this kind of Free Will doesn’t exist
- You are subscribing to an long-discarded notion of Free Will.
The version of Free Will that I commit to goes something along these lines:
- We have a set of beliefs.
- The origin of those beliefs is ‘the world’ (i.e. they are determined).
- Those beliefs cause us to have a certain disposition about the world.
- When we act on those beliefs, we can observe the results of those actions.
- The observation of those facts (‘knowledge’) interacts with our existing beliefs causing us to affirm or question those beliefs.
- This questioning causes us to maintain or change our dispositions. This questioning (reflection) is Free Will
Thus it’s undeniable that our acting in the moment is determined long before that moment occurs, but we have (in my opinion) some active role in the deliberation (conscious or not) of our beliefs, either affirming, questioning or discarding them. So Premises 5 and 6 are really the core of my argument, and where I diverge with Harris and the rest. Essentially, I am arguing that Free Will is something that’s entirely separate from our consciousness: Free Will is something that our brain has, while consciousness is something that our brain does.
So from this it should be clear that I hold the opinion that “we choose our beliefs”. We do not choose the starting set, but given the level of exposure to information that the average (European/North American*) human being receives through education and mass media by the time a person is in their (let’s say) mid/late 30s, they should have reflected on their beliefs to the degree where I’m comfortable in saying that “they chose their beliefs”. If you’re on board with this, you’ll probably want to skip the next section. If you’re not, hopefully the next section will address some of your concerns.
That said, however, your beliefs about the world are not simply inert idea-objects lying around in your mental space that you can simply pick up and entertain at your volition. You can’t simply decide that you Believe that humans have 17 arms, or that lemons taste other-than-what-they-do.
You can think that, sure, but you can’t Believe that.
So what am I talking about when I say ‘Believe’? How is this different from simply ‘thinking’? Is there a significant difference between “I believe that the sky is blue” and “I think that the sky is blue”?
In my opinion, the difference is that the first indicates a certain commitment to the thought, that it’s all but impossible for you to look at the sky and sincerely proclaim “I believe that the sky is yellow today”, whereas the second indicates a certain tentative knowledge claim. If, for example, it turns out that we’re wrong, having a wrong beliefs-about-the-world (just ‘beliefs’ from here on) tends to have a profound emotional impact on us, whereas having a wrong thought really doesn’t.
To illustrate this, think of a food that you hate. Absolutely loathe. Imagine you were in a conversation while having dinner, and the topic of this food came up. And as you enjoy your meal, the host casually remarks that, actually, the primary ingredient of tonight’s dish is that very food that you believed that you hate. Put yourself in that position, and experience the emotional consequence of having a belief over-turned. This does not apply to mere thoughts.
However, we CAN shape how we form and discard beliefs. For example, we can decide that our views will be formed from the best evidence, or that this particular book is always right, come what may. We can label these kinds of views also as beliefs, but for clarity I’m going to call them Axioms. We can consider them to be sort of dispositional states, of how we filter and manipulate the information that we receive from our senses, and how we interpret knowledge that we already have.
These Axioms are fundamentally different from beliefs, because these Axioms are beliefs-about-beliefs (aka ‘higher order beliefs’). While it’s true that many of these were formed as we grew up, and thus we don’t have a libertarian-style unfettered Free Will to discard or create new Axioms as we go, these Axioms are far more amenable to change and manipulation than our beliefs. Why? Because beliefs are rooted in these Axioms, and thus they ultimately can’t be changed unless the Axioms change. It’s possible that challenging that someone’s beliefs can cause them to challenge their Axioms, but if the Axiom stands, then the belief will probably stand (though it may change slightly in the face of the criticism).
The view that I’m outlining here is from Epistemology, and is known as Foundationalism.
Problems arise when several Axioms are interwoven, and become interdependent. This is known as Coherentism.
While it’s tempting to start painting with a broad brush (“all people like me are Foundational thinkers, all people who think differently are Coherentists”), this would be a mistake. The odds are that the thinking process for all people is a mix of both of these: some of our Axioms are interdependent, some of our Axioms are free-standing. Of course, if you take the interdependent Axioms as a group, they are also free-standing and (as a group) do not have any justification. Holding these Axioms is, in some limited sense, a choice.
If you poll the many folk who have changed religion (or dropped it altogether), you’ll notice that the pattern of change is predicated on how their religion posited something in contradiction to an different Axiom. Ultimately, the contradictions proved to be sufficient that the person had no choice but to drop either the religious Axiom or the non-religious Axiom. Take a look at PZ Myer’s segment ‘why I am an Atheist‘ for some examples of this point.
The take-home point here is that, to a greater or lesser degree, holding a set of beliefs about the world (yes, including Atheism) is a choice that we exercise, even if those beliefs are entailed by our Axioms, because those Axioms are a choice.
The notion of “Sin” is a bit of a mess. I’m going to be using the Christian framework to discuss this.
Whereas Beliefs are epistemological in nature, Sins are metaphysical. A Sin is an actual thing, an act that (allegedly) offends god. I’m not opening that can of worms (the non/existence of gods), so let’s move on.
The main issue with “Sin” is that it’s so poorly defined. At various points in the bible, a Sin is an act, yet sometimes it’s a thought. For example, having sex with the husband or wife of someone else is very clearly a sin, however it’s said elsewhere that if one has merely lusted after someone else’s husband or wife, then one has ‘sinned in one’s heart’ and that this is as bad as actually committing the act.
So what’s a homosexual to do? On the one hand, committing a homosexual act (he says, noting the language of guilt that is always used in this situation) is always a sin, so many churches preach that people who ‘resist’ their homosexual ‘urges’ (animalistic/atavistic language) are on safe ground.
Not so, proclaim other churches: if the homosexual lusts after someone of the same sex as themselves, then they have committed a sin in their heart.
But yet, to the best of our knowledge, a person who is attracted to members of the same gender/sex as themselves is biologically driven. This is something that is hard-wired at birth. I am not educated in the Sciences, but my meagre reading on these topics indicates that while there may be a spectrum of inclinations, those who are ‘full-on’ homosexual are so by biological necessity. While there may certainly be some folk who have sporadic interests who can choose to ignore them, the ‘full-on’ homosexual can turn off their attraction for their own gender/sex just as easily as the ‘full-on’ heterosexual can turn off their attraction for other genders/sexes: they can’t. It isn’t “a choice” in any meaningful sense.
Ergo, when something integral to a person is labeled ‘a sin’ (like having red eyes), hating that is indistiguishable from hating the person.
To put all that together would seem to indicate the following:
- Hating ‘the sin’ that someone commits is to hate something intrinsic to the nature of the person. It’s akin to saying “I don’t hate you, I hate the fact that you have two arms”. Fundamentally, ‘the sin’ is inseparable from ‘the sinner’: to hate the sin is, as a point in fact, to hate the sinner.
- Hating ‘the belief’ that someone holds is to hate something that can be discarded by the person in question. Beliefs should be held for rational reasons (or so say my Axioms), thus a belief that has no rational basis should be discarded. While someone may hold these kinds of beliefs, this doesn’t entail that they are terrible people. They may simply have not reflected on this particular belief. Thus hating ‘the belief’ is entirely seperate from hating ‘the believer’.
So at this point, I’m perfectly comfortable with the maxim ‘hate the belief, not the believer’. As trite as it may be…
Like this article? Follow me on Twitter!
*I say this not because I believe that the education is so much less in other countries, but my experience in those other countries is insufficient to judge them on this note.
It’s been a long day, and I’m tired. This is going to be terse.
When I want to talk about something, I talk about it. When I don’t want to talk about it, I don’t. Seems simple enough, but it seems that multiple respondants in the thread have grossly misread what I’m talking about. So allow me to clarify:
I am not talking about “the self”, “identity”, “self-identity”, “personhood” or any other variation of that theme.
I take pains to make explicit what I consider the ‘tricky’ terms. I did not realise that “human being” was a tricky term. I have added this definition to the beginning of the article.
When I talk about biological imperatives (such as homo/hetero/a-sexuality), I am not discussing whether or not a particular individual identifies as a homosexual: their proclivities exist regardless of their self-identity. My argument is that these things are built into a human being at a biological level. As is ones inclination to feel rage, or hatred, or love.
Whether someone has chosen to self-identify with a particular belief is not something I give two whits about. Because they have chosen to self-identify with it.
All the comments that are arguing along these lines talking completely past the point of this essay. If inclined, I would suggest re-reading. And not filling in random interpretations of fairly simple words that have no bearing on what I’m talking about.
The “sin” in question is one that is rooted in biology, which illustrates the ways that “sin” can be inseparable from identity, but there are also “sins” that are much more separated from it, such as lying, killing, and stealing. The reason “hate the sin, love the sinner” seems so trite is because it’s often invoked with sexuality, which is so wrapped up in identity that the distinction is unconvincing.
Belief can be the same way. There are beliefs that people wrap their identity around, which contributes to how resistant they are to changing it, as well as how they take criticism of it.
The seven deadly sins are all rooted in simple emotion, which are all rooted in biology.
Ergo, my argument follows for all other ‘sins’. (I did say that I was using the Christian usage)
You need to explain either how belief is not a choice, or how your sexuality is a choice, or else you are not responding to any points that I made.
It’s a bit of a stretch to say that, for example, sloth and rage are as rooted in biology as sexuality is. Saying they are “rooted in simple emotion” doesn’t mean they are as tied to identity as one’s sexuality. Your fixation on the “sins” that are tied closely to identity/biology disregards the ones that aren’t, which is kind of my point. We can realistically “hate the gum smacking but love the gum smacker” because smacking gum isn’t normally tied closely to identity.
I think it’s fair to say that you see choice as the fundamental issue around whether hating the [X] while loving the [X]er is appropriate. I think how identity is oriented around [X]ing greatly influences the resistance to criticism of [X]. These aren’t mutually exclusive positions.
I am not discussing identity. You are not responding to any points that I made.
Just because my comment can’t be pigeonholed into either agreeing or disagreeing with the binary you’ve offered doesn’t mean I’m not responding to you or your points. I think it’s a misrepresentative binary that implies any “sin” is not a choice.
How about I put it this way: “sins” can be choices. Sexuality is an exception to this. In cases where they do reflect choice, the phrase “hate the sin, love the sinner” is not so trite.
I have not discussed identity.
Rabbiting on about identity is not responding to any points that I have made. It’s not even a tangent: it’s an unrelated discussion.
When you say
you are discussing an entirely unrelated topic. Because (he says, beating the horse that apparently won’t die) I’m not talking about identity.
If you feel that you are responding to a point that I’ve made, then I’d greatly appreicate the thus-far missing exposition.
How about you provide an example? Because to the best of my knowledge, “sin” is functionally synonymous with “biological impetus”, and can all be boiled down to a variation on the ‘seven deadly sins’.
I see. I didn’t really clarify that I was bringing up identity as a response to the issue that you have of “hate the sin love the sinner” feeling trite. You say that it seems trite because “sin” is not a choice. I’m simply pointing out that “sins” can also be choices. I gave the examples of murder, stealing, and lying; some others include working on Sundays, not honoring one’s parents, worshipping gods other than Yahweh, gossiping, and eating shellfish.
I think the real issue is that “hate the sin love the sinner” feels trite when it is applied to something tied so closely to identity, whether it is chosen or not.
“I’m simply pointing out that “sins” can also be choices. I gave the examples of murder, stealing, and lying; some others include working on Sundays, not honoring one’s parents, worshipping gods other than Yahweh, gossiping, and eating shellfish.”
You are confusing “sins” with “are in contravention with the Pentateuch”. For a good outline, please see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_seven_deadly_sins (a Venial sin is merely an excusable mortal sin: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venial_sin).
Murder reduces down to the Mortal sin of Wrath, Stealing to Greed/Envy, Lying to Sloth/Pride.
The breaking of the commandments are ‘wrong’ because of the inherent violation, but are Sins only because they all trace down to the seven deadly sins.
As explained, under Christian doctrine, one sins when one merely experiences these feelings (aka “sinning in ones heart”), regardless of whether or not one expresses them.
Please explain how the the experience of wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, or gluttony is a choice.
You don’t seem to understand that the Christian doctrine of ‘sin’ is primarily concerned with the motivation of the sin, and that the act is merely taken as a sign of the underlying “sinful nature”. Your position also neglects the notion of “orginal sin”, which is also inherent. (I am not responsible for the hypocritical state of various Christian churches with regards to the alleged death of Jesus washing away said “original sin”: “original sin” is still a doctrine that is pushed by many churches)
So “sins” aren’t actions but are instead mental/emotional states? That’s news to me.
I don’t think that’s the meaning behind “hate the sin love the sinner.” In common usage, “sin” refers to behaviors.
Yes, just as in common usage ‘quantum’ means “something I don’t understand, but it makes homeopathy work”. Just because it’s in common usage (and I explained the context in which I was using it above) doesn’t mean that it’s correct.
I don’t know how much more clear I could make it. I mean, you read the context I provided, right? So your argument is that “some other ignorant folk are using it in a different context”? Does the irrelevance of this need explaining?
Sorry for assuming common usage. I thought we were talking about how people actually use words phrases.
I’m not sure if you’re trying to disagree with me or if you’re trying to argue that you don’t care about something I’ve brought up because you think it’s too tangential to your overall point.
I provided both a context and a definition, yet you assumed this anyway. Could you give some pointer as to how I could make this more clear in the future?
You mean in-post? All you did was agonize how it was unclear from the Bible whether “sin” referred to actions or internal states. You’ve only clarified what you mean by “sin” in the comments.
Maybe I’m reading into your words too much, but it seems like you’ve been wanting to argue with me and I’m not sure why. It seems to me that we pretty much agree and have been talking over each other.
Thanks – I have been uncomfortable with the concept of free will being a myth. You have done amuch better job of articulating this than I could have done.
The question becomes, how far before we commit to action is the decsion made to act. We all like to think of ourselves as brave and competent when we imagine situations that require specific actions, However, experiecne tells me that in some situations, fear rises to the forefront and my first and strongest inclination is to get the hell out of there. In some cases, I have been able to act in spite of my fear, and in some cases the fear has won.
The way I see it, I must first make the decision to overcome the ‘flight’ response and force the ‘fight’ reaction. Is not that effort of forcing, free will?
I am neither a neurologist or a philosopher, so my concept of free will may be totally out of line.
” but we have (in my opinion) some active role in the deliberation (conscious or not).”
Unconcious deliberation? What would that even look like..?
Unless you’re saying that free will is not condtional on us being concious of it. But that is the same as saying that we can’t know exactly how we will act under certain conditions or what those conditions will be. The inabilty to know the future is what the illusion of free will is. Having free will and “not” having free will must look the same to us.
Yes. Having free will and having consciousness are two attributes of the brain. Neither is dependent on the other.
Please elaborate, because I don’t see how these two different things are ‘the same’. It is a matter of fact that we often don’t know how we’ll react in certain circumstances prior to their occurrence, this does not entail that we don’t have free will however.
I do not agree with this definition. Would you care to justify it?
I get it – if you contrive a complety different meaning of “free will” to the one commonly understood, then you can pretend that when Sam Harris says there is no free will, you can claim he’s wrong and thus not have to face up to the difficult implications therein.
Do you not see how similar to a religious person that thought process makes you?
Failure to define “the one commonly understood” makes your (perhaps reasonable) objection look like a troll. Quick! You have a chance to redeem yourself before Brian tears you a new asshole.
If you actually go through people’s beliefs about free will, it turns out that the term refers to an awful lot of distinct concepts. There’s counter-causal free will, which I assume is what you mean by “the one commonly understood”. But there’s also the idea that our thought processes are necessary causal precursors to (some of) our actions – we do things because we decide to. (And they mean a lot of other things, too, but I’ll stick to those two examples).
Counter-causal free will is totally incompatible with neuroscience. The other kind is not so easy to dismiss. Some would point to Libet’s experiments, but even ignoring the massive methodological and interpretive problems with those studies, the fact is they only deal with extraordinarily simple actions (like wiggling a finger). When one thinks about more sophisticated actions – say, booking a holiday – it becomes very hard to explain the causal history of these actions without invoking mental states somewhere along the line (a.k.a. behaviorism is bullshit). So it seems likely that as neuroscience matures, we are going to find support for a more nuanced version of free will. At present, we can’t do anything but speculate from our armchairs, as we simply don’t have the tools to run the right studies.
Yes, yes, and those crazy physicists use “quantum” in a way that’s totally different to the one that’s “commonly understood”. How like religious people they are!
And psychologists use “personality” in a different way. Why, they’re religious too!
And so on, and so forth.
The ‘common usage’ of a word is often vague and without explicit meaning. The ‘common usage’ of free will was discarded by philosophy a significant amount of time ago. The idea of having a will completely unfettered by ‘reality’ has not been a serious proposition for a long time.
Yes, there are people in general society who still use this meaning. I feel sad for them they same way that I feel sad for Charlene Werner: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R_y4-z-kDqQ
I’m uncomfortable with a lot in this post – this is hardly surprising, as I have graduate degrees in both philosophy and psychology (well, almost finished that degree) and like to argue :).
Let me just say two things. First, Æµ§œš¹ (first poster, I just copy-pasted) is right: if you apply “hate the sin, love the sinner” to almost anything other than sexuality, it’s a perfectly fine point, and indeed is much the same as your “hate the belief, not the believer”. And to be fair, many religious people do use it this way – in outreach programs to convicted felons, for example.
Second, and this might stir up a bit of a shit-storm, but the notion that sexuality (of any kind) is straight-up genetically determined is simply ridiculous. I don’t know why and how it became a critical component of the gay rights movement that being gay is in your genes, but it isn’t. If there is one belief I could eradicate from the mainstream of left-wing thought, it would be this one.
There will certainly be genetic factors that contribute to one’s sexual orientation, but this is a “contribution”, not a “determination”. Being gay (or straight, or whatever) is not like Huntington’s disease, where a single gene (or complex of genes) is 100% (or even 50%) predictive of expressing the trait. No aspect of human behavior that is that complex is.
The argument (from Dan Savage, among others) that “if you [heterosexual male] can choose to be gay, then go suck a dick and see how you feel” is just appallingly bad. I can’t “choose” to be ten centimeters shorter than I am today. Does that mean that my height is genetically determined? Nope, it isn’t. There are something like 50 known genetic factors that influence height, and all together they account for less than 10% of the variance in height (this is from memory, but I could find the citation). And sexuality is WAY more complex than height.
Sorry, it’s a huge pet peeve of mine.
I think there’s a simpler method of dismissing the “hate the sin, love the sinner” arguments. “Sin” is bullshit. The end.
That’s why I chose “rooted in biology.” It’s not determined by genetics, but it’s not free of it like other behaviors or like beliefs are.
Two quick things – just to clarify, my second objection was to OP, not you. But yeah “rooted” is a better word than “determined”, although in the case of sexuality I’d say “influenced by” is better still.
Second, I’m not one to deny genetic influences on all our behavior and actions. Nothing’s free of biology: we are (in a very fundamental sense) talking apes.
Sorry, I didn’t think you were disagreeing with me. I’m in total agreement with you. I was subtly playing on the word “free” in a totally obscure way that only I get without explanation.
My concept of free will is very different from yours, as I see it as a paradox of perspective. From an outside observer, there is no such thing as free will, as thoughts, beliefs, and the choice of beliefs, axiomatic or not, are brain states following a series of other brain states influenced by the environment. As an example, a person’s willingness to question their beliefs is influenced by their exposure to the concepts of skepticism and other philosophies. However, free will appears to arise as a powerful illusion to the participant in consciousness. By this term, I mean where the entity doing the thinking/planning/belief selection sees itself, as a conscious mind, as the agency of choice. It is also a useful construct, in evolutionary, utilitarian, and communicational terms. Free will is also a necessity if you include in your definition of a conscious mind the acts of choice, and not merely recognition of self-existance and ability to have thoughts on thoughts (meta-level concepts). I would hold that this definition would also be an illusion, but still useful in terms of communicating our thoughts to others (statements involving “I think” and “I believe” and “I chose to.. because…” where “I” stands for the conscious mind).
Your conclusion “Hate the belief, not the believer” would still hold though, since to do otherwise is to unfairly generalize by one sample of beliefs the entirety of that mind, and to fail to recognize that beliefs themselves are transient in time and subject to change on exposure to ideas and reality itself. To hate the believer is a form of bigotry towards ideas based on source of origin, and is also a temporal bigotry towards the person themself.
While it should be obvious, I should point out that my framework above is in stark contrast to your exception to ‘hate the sin’, since to hate a belief is to hate an intrinsic portion of that person as a conscious entity moving through space-time. To undermine your example, even for physical attributes this hold. Hating that someone is homosexual (note I’m not assuming religious intent, instead it could be that a would-be-lover is of the opposite sex) does not have to mean one hates the entire individual, and to do so is certainly ethically wrong. Furthermore, one could argue that hating physical attributes is also wrong in most cases, especially if that emotion is rather strong.
The idea of free will as a necessary illusion is one you share with, e.g., Daniel Wegner (cf. his book The Illusion of Conscious Will ). It bugs me a lot. First of all, why is it necessary? What does it get us? I read his entire book (and plenty of other arguments along the same lines) and have never seen anyone give a good explanation of what it is an illusion for.
Second, why is it illusory? I tried to say this above, but calling it an illusion seems to stem from conflating notions of free will that are quite distinct from each other. I would agree that the idea of a counter-causal free will is an illusion, but the idea that (some of) my conscious thoughts influence and even determine (some of) my actions seems far more reasonable. Yes, these thoughts themselves have causal histories, but “free will” need not mean “conscious choices with no causal antecedents”.
I don’t understand the term “Illusion for”. Why does an illusion need to have an underlying reality?
I was tempted to use another word, ‘Artifact’, for what I was saying, but the key concept is one of perspective.
I fully agree that your thoughts influence decisions, but I wouldn’t call this free will, since I see the entire process as completely deterministic.
1. What does it get us, this notion of free will?
A shorthand for language and communicating thoughts, and ease in thinking about thoughts. “I’m making a choice”, “I’m thinking about what to do”, “I have to make a decision” are better than “my brain is processing data, and is not yet decided on what is best for the body and genes”, as it easily allows meta-level thinking and communicating thoughts on the thought-process.
2. Why is it an illusion?
Perhaps an allegory would help. Say I’ve written a complex sorting algorithm, and programmed a robot to sort items into bins. However, the robot makes its choice based on a complicated formula depending on what it has sorted out before, and even uses past data to change the way it sorts things from time to time (algorithm swap). It does this based on a collection of variables, or state (thoughts) that change due to circumstance, and sometimes the calculations (decisions) take a long time, which also factors into its future decisions. Its decisions very much depend on its state (thoughts), but the whole process is deterministic. From the frame of reference of the code, the code itself is making the decision (and it is a useful verbal shortcut to say it makes decisions). To the code, it has the sense of free will described by you and Briand above since its notion of the best algorithm to use is based on feedback from the world. However to outside observers the decision it makes is ultimately deterministic and based on the algorithm I programmed into it and the environment in which it is placed, and the free will is illusory (or an artifact of perspective, if you prefer the term), with free will here meaning agency of choice. If you are satisfied with using a definition that states the robot has free will, then it is instead not an illusion but follows from the definition, which is perhaps where you are coming from. In my perspective, with free will meaning agency (in whole or in part) of choice, the code to itself appears to have free will (and from its perspective may very well have it), yet to us it may not if we assign agency to the programmer.
I’ll issue this as a challenge: show me a definition of free will that means that humans must have it, and I’ll show you or write computer code that has free will (as long as your definition doesn’t specifically rule out that possibility: ie: Amendment: Free will is only possible for living creatures).
I’ve already written enough, but I need to point out I slipped up in the above post. “agency of the programmer” has problems. It would have perhaps been better to write “agency of circumstance”, “agency of nature and natural phenomenon”.
Ah – I phrased myself poorly there. It’s that when you (or Wegner, or whoever) talk about a necessary illusion, that implies the illusion is necessary for something. My question is, what is it necessary for?
I may be over-thinking this, but I don’t see a big difference between “I’m making a choice” and “my brain is processing data, and is not yet decided on what is best for the body and genes”. To me, they essentially imply the same thing.
The one thing I think I would add is that certain conscious representations may be necessary parts of certain decision processes. Could I, for instance, book a holiday to Thailand without certain conscious representations coming into play there?
I like your robot analogy, and indeed that’s much the same as the kinds of intuition pumps Daniel Dennett employs to get us to think about consciousness and free will. I guess to me, though, the resulting conclusion is that yes, the robot has free will (assuming it’s a complex enough robot with the right kinds of representations). Its thoughts are causally efficacious in its own behavior, and these thoughts can flexibly change its behavior, in ways that insects cannot. However I’ll admit that I have a rather unusual notion of what constitutes free will.
McLean, I’m pretty on board with your application of ‘free will’ as applied to computers. I intuitively want to throw a caveat up about ‘minimum complexity’, but that’s really just an argument about the degree of free will that a machine has, rather than whether or not it categorically has free will or not.
I don’t see ‘determinism’ as a problem for free will, as ‘determinism’ doesn’t entail ‘inevitability’. If you haven’t read it, I think you’ll enjoy Daniel Dennett’s “Freedom Evolves”.
I don’t know why, however, you call it an ‘illusion’, as that implies that it doesn’t exist in any meaningful sense. I think the word references something meaningful and real in the same way that isn’t captured by anything else in the language.
I consider “free will” (as I outlined in the above essay) to predominantly refer to the review and reassessment of our beliefs and axioms in the face of empirical feedback. I don’t consider “free will” to mean “cannot be predicted by a sufficiently complex computer”, although I’m sure that many folk do hold that view.
Getting off topic (but still relevant), it is times like this I wish Philosophers got together and created a standard reference to definitions of terms (like an authoritative semantic uber-dictionary). That way we could say things like “Free will (Definitions 2a1-3,3b,7a-f) is an Illusion (5ab) or Artifact (2a) of Perspective (1b)” and know what we were talking about. We’d have a clearer discussion (and thought processes) instead of having to talk definitions all the time, and allow easier discussions with non-philosophers such as myself.
Sort of like this but larger and better:
“So at this point, I’m perfectly comfortable with the maxim ‘hate the belief, not the believer’. As trite as it may be…”
The concept is fine, it’s the intent behind the speaker that matters.
Those who say holocaust denial is offensive have no intention of murdering or killing white supremacists. Those who oppose bigotry always uses legal means to quash it.
But when the politiclown Peter Palumbo called Jessica Ahlquist an “evil little thing”, you can be certain those who agree with him took it as a green light to being insulting and threatening her. Threats to Ahlquist came within days of such speech.
Negative public comments from extremist “leaders” trickle down to the rank and vile (that’s a pun, not a typo) for whom the words are intended. There’s no difference between “hate the sinner not the sin” and racists in the southern US who used to say “He’s gonna get what’s coming to him”. They are code words used to incite violence.
This time it definitely *was* a typo:
There’s no difference between “hate the sin not the sinner”
Except when they don’t.
And days before it, and on the same day. There’s no causality here. All we can really say is that Palumbo reinforced or helped legitimize the bullying.