This will be my last post: I want to leave
plenty of room for Eddy. I’ve had a good time doing this: it has stimulated me
to think of things in different ways. I wrote a whole paper as a result of thinking through responses to a post. I even ended up defending x-phi (on other occasions I’ve expressed reservations about it). It didn’t turn out at all like I expected. I was going to talk about neuroscience, but that didn’t happen.
In comments, I have had a go at explaining
how luck works to eliminate responsibility. I claim that the conjunction of
constitutive luck – luck in how one is, roughly as a product of genes and
environment – and present luck (for example, luck in how one makes decisions)
eliminate moral responsibility by preventing one from taking responsibility for one’s
constitutive luck. Every action, mental or overt, by which one might take
responsibility is either the product of one’s constitutive luck (think of when
someone who has been brought up to believe in God wonders about God’s
existence; typically there will be a variety of factors that dispose toward an
affirmative answer) or will therefore
be subject to present luck (things will be more finely balanced, and chance
influences can be decisive). In this post, I thought it might be useful to step back and illustrate luck at
work in a different domain: sport.
Todd claims that the John and Mary case is
impotent against the zygote argument as Todd interprets it. Todd says (fairly)
that our audience ought to be agnostic, not the committed compatibilist. So
pointing out to the agnostic (who doesn’t know what to say about the
compatibility question but has the intuition that Ernie is not morally
responsible) that the design case is just like an ordinary determinism case shouldn’t
shake their intuition that Ernie is not responsible, or prevent it motivating
premise 1. When our agnostic first contemplates determinism, he doesn’t know
whether to think it is responsibilit- undermining or not. Now someone convinces
him that determinism is analogous to something that is responsibility-undermining. Recalling that he was initially agnostic shouldn’t lead him to
think that this new consideration isn’t forceful.
Two thirds of ‘my’ month is over, and
you’re still waiting patiently for some philosophy.
Here it is. I will shortly proceed to monger some intuitions about zygote cases.
What I plan to do now is a two-part post. The first will reflect on the
dialectic of these cases, just to try to show why I think that x-phi remains
one appropriate way to respond to them, and why I think that these cases turn importantly
on intuitions (these thoughts prompted by Randy Clarke, who helpfully directed
me to Patrick Todd’s recent paper in Phil
Studies on these cases. The second post will attempt to buttress the
compatibilist response to the zygote cases, in the usual way (‘usual’ for this
kind of philosophy).
As promised, a new post on a different
topic. Again, this is going to be driven by thoughts about cognitive science. I
may be giving those of you who don’t know my work a rather distorted picture.
Don’t be put off reading Hard Luck
because you’re skeptical or uninterested in this kind of work. Hard Luck is philosophy, and science
plays no significant role in its arguments. Hopefully, this post connects more
closely to philosophical issues that the last couple.
As promised, a response to some of the
comments made to my last post. I am going to make some general comments.
Because this is so damn long, I am posting it as a new post. I will not make
the responses explicit: instead I will use the comments section of the new post
to respond. Very soom - in the next day or two - I will put up a new post on a different topic.
I said I wasn’t going to talk skepticism
anymore, and here I am, talking about skepticism again. Further evidence that
lack of belief in free will predicts anti-social behavior! I want to follow up
on a debate that has been occurring in comments on my previous post. I
apologize in advance for two things. First, these remarks are not properly
thought through. I’m trying out a line of response I think is interesting: isn’t
that what a blog is for? Second, I’m going to assume a thoroughly naturalistic
picture in what follows. I know some of you will reject the picture. I don’t
pretend I can give you an argument that should convince you that you ought to
accept the picture. I beg your indulgence in what follows.
One reason the free will/moral
responsibility debate is interesting is that it is multifaceted: different
people approach these topics from quite different perspectives, with different
sets of questions in mind and different kinds of tools. Some are primarily
concerned with the metaphysics of agency, others with questions in moral
philosophy (which themselves subdivide in various ways), still others are
motivated by concerns in the philosophy of religion and yet others are
motivated by questions to do with mind and cognition (which may be more or less
The factors that make this set of issues
exciting and vibrant might also sometimes cause confusion, though. I suspect
that there is a great deal of talking past one another in the debate, and if we
could clear up some differences of terminology, we might find that some
opponents agree more than they thought. I will return to this suggestion in a
Greetings from the future! I write from
Melbourne, Australia, where my principal employer, the Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, is located. We here are 14
hours ahead of New York and 17 hours ahead of California. I am often asked
“what it’s like in the future?” Well, with the benefit of hindsight, which as
you know is always 20/20, we can see that the long obsession with the
compatibility of free will and causal determinism was a mistake, obscuring lots
of other interesting issues to do with agency and responsibility. I’m going to try to talk about some of those
issues this month, with an emphasis on cognitive science (at least that’s the
current plan: we shall see). My next book, which has just been accepted by OUP, is
on these kinds of issues (it is tentatively entitled Consciousness and Moral Responsibility*). I don’t plan to talk –
much – about skepticism (the new book is agnostic on the topic and the science
I focus on in it doesn’t support skepticism in any kind of direct way).
I want to start by thanking Thomas for the
opportunity. It is a real honor to be included in the same company as Michael
McKenna, Bruce Waller, Derk Perebook and Dana Nelkin (just to mention the most
recent authors). Now on we go!
* I am currently thinking of a still from Nosferatu as a cover image. Suggestions for other options welcome! In case it helps to focus your mind, the book defends a particular account of consciousness, the global workspace account, and on that basis develops a theory of the functional role that consciousness of facts plays in responding to their content: it argues that this account entails that agents in pathologies of consciousness, like those suffering absence seizures, and ordinary agents whojust happen not to be conscious of the facts that give their action their moral significance, can't be directly morally responsible for those actions.