If you are a strict determinist, what is your stance on personal responsibility?

There are some lively discussions on determinism (every effect has a cause and every cause an effect - or something like that) that end up with the idea that 'free will' is an illusion.

Not to get to far into it here (because we will - oh, we will) but, basically, since every event (action) that occurs is simply the result of a previous event, at some level, everything is predetermined by what happened before. And, it follows that, on an absolute level, everything is absolutely predetermined. Therefore, even our thoughts and choices are the result of some precursory string of cause and effect. Therefore, we have no real free will.

So, given that line of thinking, does it follow that we have no personal responsibility for our actions since we had no real control over them?


In an effort to reframe this disussion, make continuing discussion more digestible (smaller chunks), and help everyone who wishes to continue to take another stab at organizing the various poistions in their minds (so to speak, I am closing this discussion - in one hour. It is now approximately 10 am est U.S.) At 11 I will close the discussion and link to the new one I have started if that works.
I am now closing this discussion - go to http://www.atheistnexus.org/forum/topics/the-illusion-of-responsibi... for a new take.

Views: 298

Replies are closed for this discussion.

Replies to This Discussion

ok, I think I get what you're saying now.

here's how it works. I don't think you're picking up on this.

You are, in your current form. a cumulation of events and factors up until this point. After this point, more events will occur and you will react to them according to how you're programmed to react and make a constantly updated version of yourself with these new experiences.

Your mind is not the only factor that goes into an outcome. Other minds influence your mind and your eventual decision reflects other minds as well as your own (using "own" loosely here. Evrything is a big complicated web). If you are to engage in self-fulfilling prophecy, you have up until that point been programmed to do so. That does not mean that you are fated to always do so or stuck to that for the rest of your life because there are other factors that will creep into the equation as the future progresses.

You may be persuaded not to, view the flaws yourself, be tired of doing it, infinite possibilities.

the act of engaging in SFP is definite. Until the prophecy comes true, it is not definite. there are other factors still in play.

I'll say it again and try to reword it... Everything up until this point effects now only because we appear to remember/observe it. We observe the things of the past and adjust our behavior into action the way that we are programmed to do. This now is the only definite. Time is made up of a continuum of "nows" broken into infinitely small portions (Hour, minute, second, millisecond, jiffy, etc). The future isn't definite because it doesn't exist until it happens; until the factors get there. Now is the only absolute. The future is an unprovable theory that we attempt to prove by observing the past (the future has always existed in the past, it always followed this pattern, etc), but can't possibly know really exists.
This makes a lot of sense. I went through a similar discussion on another forum and had this same idea about the nature of what we call "free will." I went at it from a hardware/software perspective, but I like your explanation better.

The "free will" is caused by this continuous interaction of many entities (for lack of a better word), themselves the product of determined factors. How "you" make a decision (you in quotes because, like Steve says below, the self is a neurological construct) is based on your interaction with other deterministic machines. The illusion of free will comes from the immense complexity of it.

You could strictly determine the future events in much the same way as you could know the weather with certainty if you could compute for the movement of every molecule of air, water and land on the planet. Possible but impossible without a really big computer--Deep Thought big. Or Earth big.

...or did I miss it entirely?
exactly. I think you got it right.

It rather reminds me of the optical illusion with the pink dots turning green and then disappearing when you focus on the center. When you focus too much on the self, you start to create the illusion of free will.

It's pretty cool. Check out the one I'm talking about:
http://www.hemmy.net/2006/03/26/optical-illusion/
John Grow: The illusion of free will comes from the immense complexity of it.

Sometimes new meanings or phenomena emerge from complexity, and we can't explain them in reductionistic terms. When you say "free will is an illusion", you assume this explanation exists, although out of our (present) understanding. This is a positive claim, and thus it should bear the burden of proof. I'll stick to agnosticism on this issue.
Jaume,

This is a positive claim, and thus it should bear the burden of proof.

Not really. In order to disprove determinism, you have to show that some force other than experience+biology+genetics combine to determine behavior. These are all known quantities. The unknown quantity is whatever that additional force might be (soul, God, external intelligence...). The burden of proof is on showing some evidence of that unknown force.
Rusty: Not really. In order to disprove determinism...

Sorry, I can't see how this is supposed to be a reply to what I just wrote. How is pointing out the limits of reductionism a refutation of determinism?
do explain what you mean by that punishment thing. your point doesnt seem to contradict mine at all.

strict anything isn't logical. strict atheism isn't either. No matter how you try, you can't prove a negative like no choice or no god. no argument there. I put in my argument because I don't think you'll be getting any strict determinists here. However, I will say this: Due to the workings of psychology, there isn't any way that a human could possibly process random events without assistance from an outside source, say, plugged directly into the brain (though still, not very random is it?)

Psychology isn't random, choices aren't random. There's no observable randomness in people's choices. To say that free will exists is unfounded speculation.
I agree that parsing the universe into singularities is a construct that seems to spring out of what I call 'modular sensory nodes'. Its kinda as if the knots in a tapestry woven of one continous thread somehow decided they were singular and separate from the tapestry.

Self, thing, moment, etc. are all constructs on an absolute level.

I love the way you just went right to the core of the ridiculousness of trying to argue ethics on an absolute level. Frikkin' bravo Steve! Sincerely.
True that. We are an entity in the same way that a bee hive is an entity.

Mark Twain made a funny religious argument about heaven. He said something like "I am a collection of cells in the same way the NYC is a collection of people, so if I go to heaven... so does NYC!"
Yes, I'm a determinist. (And, yes to Steve, I think that consciousness is a cobbled together emergent property and our narrative of "self" an illusion as much as free will.)

Given the profound complexity of the system of "self" interacting with the environment, our ability to predict is lame because there is no possible way to sufficiently understand the variables (particularly as I think there is a fluid, non-linear element involved in "self"), so "projecting forever" is a theoretical behavior that does not, and likely will not ever, exist.

So I crib from the Declaration: "we hold these truths to be self-evident," even when they obviously aren't. There is nothing to lose, and much to gain, from acting as if we had free will, since our predictive capabilities leave us in the same position as if we actually had free will. I incorporate the idea of personal responsibility into my deterministic machine, and expect others to do likewise as part of an evolutionarily stable strategy.
Aha - there it is! ACTING AS IF we have free will may be a result of an emergent property and also be predetermined. So, even if it IS an illusion, it is one we believe or don't believe in depending on the sum and synergy of causes that have resulted in our belief.

Nevertheless, besides Steve's point that arguing ethics at an absolute level is, to paraphrase, ludicrous (is that fair to say Steve), we can't even really choose to ACT AS IF - even that pretense is an effect of a set of precursory causes. Right?
To suggest that strict determinism is some sort of excuse for doing harm to others with impunity(not saying that you are, Howard, but that gets thrown around a lot in discussions about free will) is not that different from suggesting that the godless are not to be trusted because they answer to no higher authority. In my personal view of determinism, explanations for behavior are sought, not excuses.

In other words, we are what we're born with and what's happened to us since. Are we destined or fated to follow a certain course of action? No. We can attempt to understand who we are(what we're born with and what's happened to us since) and make modifications and adjustments we deem to be beneficial. Different from a fatalistic view that promotes the "why bother?" attitude, a deterministic view highlights the importance of actions and influences.

Determinism is not a very effective predictor of behavior. There are so many causal factors that can be missed. But it is useful for understanding the reasons for what I've done and and how I've done it. If I accomplish something, I may feel satisfaction, but excessive pride is not in order, for I've only done so thanks to my genetics and experience and the environment in which I found myself. If I fail in some endeavor, I may feel dismay, but excessive shame is not in order, for I've done what my genetics and experience have allowed me to due in the face of that set of circumstances. Determinism recognizes that we're not all coming from the same starting point, we don't all share the same advantages.

I feel the responsibilty to do the best I can with what I have. I'm not free to feel otherwise. What about the guy that seems to not give a damn about anyone else? Can he do otherwise? I imagine he would if he could. Instead of judging him, I try to understand why he is the way he is. That doesn't mean that we're going to be friends or that I wouldn't desire suffering for him if he hurts someone I love. But as a determinist, I understand that he didn't choose the cage he's living in, any more than I chose mine(to borrow the metaphor I read from another A|N member earlier today).

RSS

Support Atheist Nexus

Donate Today

Donate

 

Help Nexus When You Buy From Amazon

Amazon

 

© 2014   Atheist Nexus. All rights reserved. Admin: Richard Haynes.

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service