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Carrier on Free Will 
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Post Carrier on Free Will
I think topic threads might be useful, I'm getting confused by the numbering of all the sections and subsections in this book.

It seems to me that Carrier’s notion of free will is completely consistent with what some people, such as Sam Harris I think, would call the determinist position, or "hard determinist" position. Carrier calls his position compatibilism. But Sam Harris had a debate with Daniel Dennett — Dennett calls himself a compatibilist, and they appeared to strongly disagree. I think it is more of a case of talking past each other, because I’m not sure what Dennett would actually disagree with in Carrier. I have to go back and see what Dennett was actually trying to argue, I didn’t find him convincing in his attempted smackdown of Harris.

http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/refl ... -free-will
http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/the- ... tes-lament

So I’m wondering what the actual debate is over free will, I wish Carrier would have addressed some of the serious philosophical literature, and not focus primarily on some book called “In Defense of Miracles: A Comprehensive Case for God’s Action in History”



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Post Re: Carrier on Free Will
I think what Dexter highlights here is an in house debate among the more prominent atheistic apologists.
On free will Carrier and Dennett seem to me to be in agreement.

Harris I think, does have a more constrained version of human will and leans less towards moral responsibility and more towards what Dennett calls the medicalizing of evil.
Reading Richard Carrier on free will I think he makes a good case for his version and moral responsibility.
It is coming from the naturalistic understanding of origins,history and the essential nature of man. His eternalist vision sees the future as a predetermined foregone conclusion,but he makes the case that we can't take a Que Sera,Sera approach to our lives.The understanding of the nature of man is crucial.
As ever he contrasts his views with what he takes to be a standard Christian version,in this case J.P.Moreland. I'm surprised he thinks a standard view would be one without causes.The usual Christian view is fallen man constitutionally inclined towards but not compelled to moral evil, and capable of doing good also.
Dennett's critical review of Harris' book is not without some commendation for him. He says;" Harris has the laudable motive:to launder the ancient stain of Sin and Guilt out of our culture." Dennett further comments; ".....our zealous search for "justice" is often little more than our instinctual yearning for retaliation dressed up to look respectable."

This is a familiar refrain we find in Harris' writing and Richard Carrier joins the chorus when he says; "....punishment for vengeance's sake is pointless cruelty from which no noble benefit accrues to anyone." He's not totally against punishment though.All three of them seem like moral pragmatists to me.
I wonder why there is this tendency among all three of them, to suggest there is a problem with the idea of justice.

I did a quick dictionary definition of "justice" and got this;"noun, the quality of being just,righteousness,equitableness or moral rightness" The symbolic figure of the blindfolded lady with the balancing and weighing scales is meant to convey a sense of the concept.
If someone defrauds us or deliberately inflicts pain or severe harm perhaps, causing loss of a limb or even life, is the desire for vengeance completely irrational? Isn't there even in vengeance a sense of injustice, of deliberate harm to a real person with suffering that needs to be addressed in some way?
In the biblical law; A life for a life; where there is the premeditated taking of human life,isn't there a reflection of justice?
The value and loss of the life taken and the equal and just forfeit of the life of the murderer.
I'm not endorsing particular justice systems, and how they function or malfunction but making a general point about justice itself.
We can all agree about social problems and the need to remedy things that make criminality more likely. In the end none of us are in the position to cast the first stone,and forgiveness is commanded by Christ. Still, even with that,
the Christian view is that there is one who will execute justice.
Richard Carrier comes surprisingly close to Christianity when he says;" Basically it is the wicked intention that makes us guilty and blameworthy not anything to do with being free from all causation."
Harris can't 'launder' the ancient stain of sin and guilt, but God can do so, and on a just basis, according to Christianity.



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Post Re: Carrier on Free Will
Flann wrote:
"....punishment for vengeance's sake is pointless cruelty from which no noble benefit accrues to anyone." He's not totally against punishment though.All three of them seem like moral pragmatists to me.


I agree with Carrier that it is senseless to punish for vengeance. Punishment should be for behavioral modification of the perpetrator, as well as a deterrent for others who seek to perpetrate the same crime. This understanding is entirely focused on future outcome.

Justice can be seen as a proper balance of punishment to crime. So, if someone steals a purse, and you cut off the person's hand, that is not justice, because even though the punishment would prevent future thefts, it would not fit the crime.

In a determinist worldview, the definition shifts slightly with the understanding that punishment must modify future behavior, and not merely be sought as retribution for the past offense. Of course, our moral intuitions are extremely complex. Consider the following hypothetical scenario.

A man commits a murder, but his crime goes unpunished for 30 years. During that time, he lives with profound guilt, and the guilt drives him to act in a way that is more moral than if he hadn't committed the murder. In religious terms, he lives in penance for his sin. The question is, would it be justice if the man was charged in exactly the same way as a man who committed murder the week before, yet felt no guilt?

Quote:
The usual Christian view is fallen man constitutionally inclined towards but not compelled to moral evil, and capable of doing good also.


How would sin cause a man to do something? Can you give a detailed hypothetical example?


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Post Re: Carrier on Free Will
Interbane wrote:
Flann wrote:
"....punishment for vengeance's sake is pointless cruelty from which no noble benefit accrues to anyone." He's not totally against punishment though.All three of them seem like moral pragmatists to me.


I agree with Carrier that it is senseless to punish for vengeance. Punishment should be for behavioral modification of the perpetrator, as well as a deterrent for others who seek to perpetrate the same crime. This understanding is entirely focused on future outcome.

Justice can be seen as a proper balance of punishment to crime. So, if someone steals a purse, and you cut off the person's hand, that is not justice, because even though the punishment would prevent future thefts, it would not fit the crime.

In a determinist worldview, the definition shifts slightly with the understanding that punishment must modify future behavior, and not merely be sought as retribution for the past offense. Of course, our moral intuitions are extremely complex. Consider the following hypothetical scenario.

A man commits a murder, but his crime goes unpunished for 30 years. During that time, he lives with profound guilt, and the guilt drives him to act in a way that is more moral than if he hadn't committed the murder. In religious terms, he lives in penance for his sin. The question is, would it be justice if the man was charged in exactly the same way as a man who committed murder the week before, yet felt no guilt?

Quote:
The usual Christian view is fallen man constitutionally inclined towards but not compelled to moral evil, and capable of doing good also.


How would sin cause a man to do something? Can you give a detailed hypothetical example?


Hi Interbane, Thanks for your reply. I agree with you that our moral intuitions are complex. No two criminal cases are identical and degrees of moral competence vary,and there may be mitigating circumstances and life histories.
I'm not sure about the genetic side and how much is really known about this and how such data can or should be interpreted.It seems behaviours can alter the brain so whether it is preprogramming or behaviour related alteration is for the experts to determine and hopefully agree on.
Your view on punishment is to modify future behaviour of the perpetrator and deter others. How would this be done in practice?
You focus on future outcome. For the naturalist there is no future beyond the grave so it plays no part in this thinking.It seems very pragmatic;whatever produces good future outcomes is good.
But isn't this future focus ignoring the past reality, and in a case of cold blooded murder the injustice done to the victim who is dead and the effects on the children of the murdered victim who have lost a parent as well as the trauma of the murder itself?
In the premeditated murder case how is justice served for the victims on your model? Here's a link to an article on infamous medics who were murderers. http://www.oddee.com/item_98674.aspx
Carrier talks about wicked intent leading to wicked behaviour being blameworthy. Is there nothing intrinsically deserving of penalty and retribution in most of the cases of these "medics"? Lock Mengele up and treat his "condition?" In a world that ends at the grave Mengele got away with it scot free, apart from being a fugitive but this was a mere historical consequence, and he may have done just nicely in Brazil or somewhere. What if they won the war?
Is the concept of Justice not real in any true sense? The image of Lady Justice has endured a long time in history and the concept seems rooted in an innate human sense of something real and essential. Here's a brief Wiki article on Lady Justice. http://www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lady_Justice
On the question of sin.It's biblically defined as transgression of God's moral law and it's also taught that the moral law is inscribed in our moral nature and seen in conscience and it's working.Our nature inclines us towards wrong more than right and this is expressed in our desires and choices quite often.
Sin then is going with the wrong desires and acting accordingly.
In investigating a murder case,for instance, detectives look for suspects based on forensics,circumstances and possible motives for the crime.In many of the medic murderers there is a pattern of greed leading to murder,fraud and deceit.Motives may be complex and many, though there is a clear chain from selfish greed to murder in many of these cases,for example.There may be influential causes in the person's history and circumstances but ultimately we are in the vast majority of cases morally responsible.



Last edited by Flann 5 on Wed Sep 03, 2014 12:30 pm, edited 3 times in total.



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Post Re: Carrier on Free Will
Quote:
Your view on punishment is to modify future behaviour of the perpetrator and deter others. How would this be done in practice?


Any good parenting handbook is chock full of behavioral modification strategies. Psychologists and psychiatrists have abundant literature. I don’t think the penal system is the best solution. It’s a one-size fits all that fails in practice.

I remember thinking about all of this before, and there was something else in the mix. The emotional well-being of the aggrieved. For example, if a kid hits another kid, and punishment fits the crime and behavioral modification is successful, there is still something missing. Imagine if the aggrieved child did not know the kid who struck him was punished. We all have a sense of what justice would entail, a moral intuition. Lacking that, frustration and indignity builds within us. Letting the aggrieved know that punishment was done is also a consideration when speaking of justice.


Quote:
It seems very pragmatic;whatever produces good future outcomes is good.
But isn't this future focus ignoring the past reality, and in a case of cold blooded murder the injustice done to the victim who is dead and the effects on the children of the murdered victim who have lost a parent as well as the trauma of the murder itself?


This relates to what I said above. Yes, the future emotional state of the aggrieved should be taken into account. But neither this nor focusing on future behavioral modification can be said to ignore past reality. It is precisely the past reality that informs us what punishment should fit the crime, and how best to modify behavior.

Consider the grieving family in the case of the man who was only arrested after 30 years. The family wants justice, although the man has lived a moral life past the point of his original crime. In your judgement, what would justice look like? From my perspective, the punishment should be less severe than if he were caught right away. There are 3 considerations. One is modifying the man’s behavior, but that is no longer a consideration since it was accomplished by guilt. Another is demonstrating the immutability of law(so that others looking to perform murder will be dissuaded), and the last is for the aggrieved to feel like justice has been done. With two out of three considerations in place, I’d expect the judge to give a lesser sentence, by perhaps 2/3 the original amount. I’d be interested to see how cases have actually been judged that are similar to this hypothetical scenario.



Quote:
Is there nothing intrinsically deserving of penalty and retribution in most of the cases of these "medics"? Lock Mengele up and treat his "condition?"

Thousands of cases? Torture him for eternity is what I’d do. Imagine the demand for justice of thousands of aggrieved families. Do you think torture should be out of the question?

Quote:
Is the concept of Justice not real in any true sense?

Is the sense that I explained justice not true to you? I don’t understand what you mean. My original explanation was lacking. It is true that the emotional well being of the aggrieved should be taken into account. But that is a slippery slope. Does the family want justice, or do they want vengeance? Do they demand a punishment that is unfitting for the crime? What if the murderer goes through the penal system only to walk 10 years later, leaving the aggrieved feeling as if justice wasn't done? Yet unknown to them, the perpetrator had a spiritual reformation, and would live the rest of his life doing good.



Quote:
Sin then is going with the wrong desires and acting accordingly.

So sin is able to control our behavior? In the sense of the rapist who cannot fight his sin? These lusts are known to be causal in nature. In fact, every desire we have that you call sin fits within the web of causation. We must use our willpower and reason to resist these urges, not because they're supernatural, but because they're natural. We can in fact fight them, since they are part of the natural world.


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Post Re: Carrier on Free Will
Hi Interbane, I wouldn't argue that society shouldn't be structured to help and motivate people to live constructive and meaningful future lives. It would be a merciless society that focused exclusively on justice
.At the same time I think there is an objective moral standard and being a Christian I believe it comes from God. This is a worldview as is yours.For me moral law is objectively based and justice should be equitably dispensed in relation to it.Judges routinely take account of many different factors in particular cases. The principle of equity in justice needs to remain intact. So for theft,someone is at a loss through another's stealing and should be compensated.It may not be possible but it remains an in principle goal.
The bible stipulated 5 times restoration for deliberate theft. To discourage the act, and compensate above the actual amount to give a sense of it not just as a transaction in kind, but an act adversely affecting the victim,and something of the moral nature of the act itself.That's how I would understand it.So equity may not always be simple or obvious.
The life for life law, in relation to premeditated murder, is as I've said, the just reflection of the value of the life taken penalised by the equal forfeit of the life of the murderer.And if the perpetrator knows the law and penalty,what is unjust about it?
You look at possible future outcomes in the example you give of reform and coming to trial 30 years later.I don't think the equitable requirement of justice for the murdered victim would be changed by this. Of course we can't know future outcomes. For the relatives of a murder victim,they can see that equitable justice has been dispensed and it seems there is something in the nature of justice, that requires some kind of equitable action.
If two people apply for a job and one has worked hard to gain better qualifications than the other,but the other gets the job because of some unrelated bias on the employer's part,what would you think? When Carrier talks of actions being praise or blameworthy, what does this mean? I think we understand that good deserves reward and evil punishment.
Beyond this, we enter the world of grace,compassion, love and forgiveness,but not at the expense of justice.
I wouldn't agree with torture for any society. Mengele would be executed, and after that it would be up to God to judge what he deserves. If Christianity is true, as I believe it is then he already knows what that is, and didn't just get away with it.



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Post Re: Carrier on Free Will
Quote:
I wouldn't agree with torture for any society.


Except in the afterlife? I was making a joke. Or do you disagree that god should have allowed hell to be a part of the universe?

I agree with everything you say, but it all traces back to a different understanding. The one exception is that morality is objective. There's no way to show that this is the case, and we have every reason to believe that morality is a human construct.


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Post Re: Carrier on Free Will
I don't interpret hell in a literal sense and there is enough in the bible to indicate that it isn't literal.Judgement according to individuals deeds and not just the same thing for everyone is an example of this. And a lot of the language suggests the imagery is figurative,if not fun!



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Post Re: Carrier on Free Will
Carrier’s analysis of free will and determinism does not engage with the real psychology of the moment of free decision, but instead constructs false descriptions of the nature of action.

The point of freedom is that a conscious and deliberate intentional decision is utterly unpredictable except as a statistical probability. Prior factors influence and condition all decisions, but to assert, as Carrier does, that prior factors compel our action is completely contrary to experience.

Freedom involves the capacity to defy our conditioning. The decision is made by the person, acting as a responsible entity in a way that is not reducible to material causation alone. This does not make a free decision into what Carrier calls an ‘acausal’ event, but rather recognises that we cannot fully explain our decision by its causes, as implied by determinism. An existential psychology requires a radical sense of freedom in the moment of decision, a freedom that would be undermined by reduction of moral agency to antecedents.

The compatibilist argument that free will is compatible with a unique fixed future rests on a basic error about the nature of time. Carrier wrongly compares the existence of a road ahead of us as we walk to the existence of the future. The difference is that the road already exists but the future does not. There is much we can say about the future with strong confidence, such as the tendency of stars to follow the main sequence. But on principle, we cannot possibly know if quantum randomness may mean the future is radically undetermined. Carrier blithely ignores the implication of this uncertainty for moral freedom.

With Laplace, Carrier seems to argue that the God of physical law knows the future with as much certainty as the past. But this hypothesis just ignores the arrow of time, that the past has already happened and is fixed, while the future has not yet happened and is not fixed. With the example he uses of weather as supposedly determined, we cannot know if quantum randomness means that even total information would still leave some radical unpredictability. A weather situation may reach a storm threshold, and the crossing of that threshold into a completely different phase space could in fact be chaotic in reality as well as in appearance.

Returning to the saying I mentioned earlier from Heraclitus, ‘ethos anthropoi daimon’, meaning character is fate or context guides conduct, it is important to recognise that character is revealed in a person’s decisions, and is not simply given beforehand. We routinely say that an act of bravery revealed an unsuspected strength of character. The point here is that strength or weakness can be continually changing, and previous cowardice does not condemn a person to a fixed pattern of psychology.

Even though statistics show a level of predictability, freedom means we can defy our material conditioning to make conscious decisions. Carrier’s contrary argument, for all his sophistic reasoning about moral responsibility, in fact ignores that the conscious mind is more than the sum of its parts, and the esteem we give to the moral worth of an action relates to how it shows that a person can change for better or worse in the freedom of the present moment.


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Post Re: Carrier on Free Will
Quote:
The point of freedom is that a conscious and deliberate intentional decision is utterly unpredictable except as a statistical probability. Prior factors influence and condition all decisions, but to assert, as Carrier does, that prior factors compel our action is completely contrary to experience.


Intentional decision is utterly unpredictable? I've found that the decisions and choices of others is highly predictable, if you know them well enough. I can tell you what my wife will choose for any given thing nearly half the time. That is not "utterly" unpredictable. It's amazingly predictable, considering the complexity of the human brain. If we ever do a thing or make a choice that defies our conditioning, we do it for a reason. A reason is a cause.

Only a random behavioral act could be arguably uncaused, but even then, if you act randomly, you are acting randomly for a reason. The actual direction the randomness takes is also shown to be within the web of causation, as the unconscious prompting of psychologists and street magicians shows. A thousand times a million small influences act as inputs to our percieved random guesses, like an army of differently moving air molecules against a thrown die.

Quote:
This does not make a free decision into what Carrier calls an ‘acausal’ event, but rather recognises that we cannot fully explain our decision by its causes, as implied by determinism.


Determinism does not imply that we can fully explain decisions through causes. All determinism says is that nothing is acausal. A full explanation of someone's behavior would be a god's eye view.

Quote:
But on principle, we cannot possibly know if quantum randomness may mean the future is radically undetermined. Carrier blithely ignores the implication of this uncertainty for moral freedom.


The part in bold shows that your conclusion that this model of time rests on a basic error is non sequitur. If we cannot know something, then we must assume in either direction. There is nothing against assuming that quantum uncertainty is merely uncertainty of measurement, rather than objective randomness. In fact, we have strong reason to assume that quantum uncertainty does not influence the macro world, with countless examples, so is therefore only uncertainty of measurement.

Quote:
But this hypothesis just ignores the arrow of time, that the past has already happened and is fixed, while the future has not yet happened and is not fixed.


But that is your conclusion, not some unyielding principle. How do you know the future is not fixed?

Quote:
The point here is that strength or weakness can be continually changing, and previous cowardice does not condemn a person to a fixed pattern of psychology.


We are constantly changing. The person I am now is not the person I was last year. I've had many experiences, learned many new things, have slightly altered brain chemistry, and have a different level of physical fitness. Of course we constantly change. But that says nothing against determinism.


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Post Re: Carrier on Free Will
Robert Tulip wrote:
With Laplace, Carrier seems to argue that the God of physical law knows the future with as much certainty as the past. But this hypothesis just ignores the arrow of time, that the past has already happened and is fixed, while the future has not yet happened and is not fixed.

First I have to admit that I find the eternalist view of time difficult to fully grasp. On the basis of the eternalist version of time,Richard Carrier concludes about the mutiverse: "The whole thing just exists eternal and unchanging." I'm quoting from memory there so correct me if I've got it wrong.
The argument seems to be, that time is not really linear but in some sense eternally present. My understanding may be faulty so I'm open to correction.
However,as I've said before,whatever the true nature of time,any deduction from a theory that would assert that Richard Carrier is an eternally existent being, must be inherently flawed. It may just be a misunderstanding in interpretation of such a theory and it's ramifications.
If,for the sake of illustration,we take Laplace's God's eye view,mentioned by Robert, what could we deduce from it?
Let me take a biblical example. God is described as saying to Jeremiah; "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you;Before you were born I sanctified you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations."
If for illustration sake, we assume such an omniscient being who knows all of history from beginning to end,what would this tell us in the example of Jeremiah. Would such foreknowledge and total omniscience make Jeremiah an eternally existent being? Only in the sense of that God would eternally know,of the coming into existence of Jeremiah and his entire history but such a view or knowledge is not equivalent to Jeremiah actually being eternally existent.
And this I think is the problem with Richard Carrier's statement, that the multiverse actually exists eternal and unchanging.
Although time is relative, I know of no proven instances of it's being reversed and all we do know overwhelmingly indicates linear movement in one direction. By what law of physics could a shattered glass reassemble itself backwards in time? And why should we ignore our universally and directly experienced,sense of time's passing?



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Post Re: Carrier on Free Will
Quote:
The argument seems to be, that time is not really linear but in some sense eternally present. My understanding may be faulty so I'm open to correction.
However,as I've said before,whatever the true nature of time,any deduction from a theory that would assert that Richard Carrier is an eternally existent being, must be inherently flawed.


The words convey concepts that matter to understanding this model of time. It's hard to triangulate the concepts with words, because the concept is outside the box. In your first sentence, time wouldn't be eternally present, unless you mean that everything that is past and future is real. I wouldn't even use the word "exists", because that term denotes a present tense. Things in our future don't yet exist, but they are real. They exist on an eternal timeline.

Carrier also doesn't eternally exist. His existence is limited to a 40-100? year window. What the model implies is that his future is as real as his past, in the sense that both are fixed.

I'm not quibbling over language I don't think. The words we use to understand this are utterly important. If you use the wrong word, you're then referring to the wrong thing.

Quote:
Although time is relative, I know of no proven instances of it's being reversed and all we do know overwhelmingly indicates linear movement in one direction. By what law of physics could a shattered glass reassemble itself backwards in time? And why should we ignore our universally and directly experienced,sense of time's passing?


If time moves backwards, shattered glass would in fact reassemble itself. But that's not the way time flows. It is asymmetrical. From the Wikipedia article on the Arrow of Time: "The arrow of time, or time's arrow, is a concept developed in 1927 by the British astronomer Arthur Eddington involving the "one-way direction" or "asymmetry" of time."

I don't see why you think this model suggests we ignore the sense of time passing. Think of the analogy. It would be the same to think we should ignore the motion of our vehicle because the landscape to the front and rear are both real and fixed. It doesn't make sense. The model doesn't require you to abandon what you experience. It is compatible with experience.


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Wed Sep 10, 2014 7:54 pm
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