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12/16/2013

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I've struggled with understanding revisionism, too, over the years. Sometimes, when I feel moody, I suspect that it's just someone getting as close to saying that free will doesn't exist, as they can, without actually saying that it doesn't exist.

One problem, for me, is that a lot of papers on revisionism are not clear (to me) about what, specifically, is incorrect and under revision. A lot of work by Vargas is explicitly open ended about the specific errors being acknowledged, and the revisions being made. In other words, there are a lot of different ways to be a revisionist, and the success of each sub-theory will depend on the details - if there are no details, then the sub-theory is kind of immunized (unfairly) from attack. Shaun Nichols has a helpful chart outlining the possibilities in his article on revisionism.

I think, however, that Vargas gets much more specific in his book, which I regrettably haven't read yet. And it might be the case that many different kinds of revisionism are correct, and so the details don't matter so much.

That said, I think that Joe's characterization above, in terms of the two propositions, is very helpful and makes sense. It basically adds a theory I tend to agree with, to philosophical compatibilism, which I tend to disagree with. (Does this mean I should like revisionism more than mere compatibilism, because that's not my gut reaction?) The characterization also emphasizes the need for compatibilists to provide a satisfying error theory for incompatibilism, which I try to emphasize too. One thing I really like about Vargas and revisionism is the focus on how to define terms, what the definitions are, and when (if ever) it is appropriate for definitions to change over time (or abruptly).

Thanks Kip! I'll have more to say about this later but I think that Manuel does a very good job of expressing the revisionist's view and goals. I think he's done a good job previously and in his book he does a better job, which I'll have more to say about tomorrow.

It's important to keep in mind how original this view is, and how important it is since it covers concerns of both old-school folks like myself and newer, empirically minded folk. In many ways, Manuel has been working without a net, trying to bridge these two different sets of concerns.

Also, we tend to identify Vargas with revisionism but his is but one (possible) kind. For instance, it is unlikely that the ability to do otherwise requirement is essential to revisionism per se.

Send me a copy please, Joe. I've argued in print that at least Vargas' kind of revisionism is compatibilism in fancy dress. I'm backed up with various responsibilities right now, but I'd love to see it.

Yes, I would also like to read it as well Joe. Send it along when you have a moment.

Hi Joe-

As you know, I think you've struck upon a very elegant way of presenting the difference between our views. I imagine that a number of self-identified compatibilists would reject 1 (I'm just guessing, but in addition to you, I'd put Kadri, Dana, Angie Smith, Gary Watson, Eddy, and John Perry in that camp). I think it it is less clear what to think about John Fischer and Michael McKenna's views on this matter.

Just to comment on the discussion between you and Kip, in my particular case, the grounds for revision are focused on the difficulties of making good on incompatibilist versions of alternative possibilities that (at least sometimes) crop up with some frequency among the folk. I'm open to sourcehood worries also being part of the problem, but that has played a less robust role in motivating my revisionism. As you note, though, mine is only one of many possible forms of revisionism.

Perhaps once source of lingering confusion about my revisionist commitments: despite my weakness for concept-talk, I'm mainly interested in whether we can justify our responsibility practices (hint: we can, mostly!). If we can, then I'm inclined to read back from that a warrant for particular views on reference (and maybe concepts, depending) for 'responsibility' on which it turns out we are responsible, just on different grounds than we thought. This is the part lots of folks choke on, though, and I'm prepared to acknowledge that reasonable people can disagree.

Here's what it looks like to me:

The revisionist says we should be compatibilists, so any revisionist who is not a compatibilist is not living up to the standards they set for people in general. So it's possible for a revisionist not to be a compatibilist, but such a person is morally and/or epistemically defective. (Morally if they believe we should be compatibilists in order to retain maximum moral goodness; epistemically if they believe we should be compatibilists because that's what logic tells us must be the case.)

I'd also like to see your paper Joe--thanks for offering.

One aspect of revisionism that Kip raises above involves the deliberate revision of concepts that are value-laden, yet have empirical reach. In previous threads I compared how we might think about FW/MR like we have thought about death. Obviously our concept of death has evolved in a way that threads together value and empirical concerns. The problem with FW/MR is that they are terms that are essentially instrumental with respect to further treatment of people that depends more on the value components than any empirical ones. I'd argue that any incompatibilist is primarily value-driven by some intuition about ultimacy of agency that drives other arguments in support or denial of such agency. Non-incompatibilists have at least a vague shared skepticism about that intuition and drift elsewhere about how to support the instrumentalism of FW/MR. I take it that revisionism focuses on the instrumental functions of any and all concepts of FW/MR and thus seeks values that sweep together the greatest collective concerns in the most effective way to promote human flourishing. I have come to see this as a pragmatic strategy in the service of large-scale human values, and have real sympathy for it.

The method begins by questioning the narrow value-focus of incompatibilism. I think such questioning mirrors the evolution of (say) cardiac death to more complex and abstract issues of whole-vs-higher-brain (dare I say mind?) death.

Joe, to be clear, I didn't intend my comment about Manuel and revisionism to imply that he's the only revisionist (the way he defines revisionism, a lot of people are revisionists!), or to be overly critical. As everyone knows, Manuel is a game changer, and his work has really opened my mind to a lot of great ideas I never would have considered otherwise. I was just saying that, in the past, I've struggled with understanding revisionism (likely through no fault of my own), and also that, from what I understand, Manuel's book does a great job of filling in some of the details I've been looking for.

Hi Joe, Thanks for this post. I'd love to see the paper too, so I'd be grateful if you could send it along.

For what it's worth, I think one of the most interesting tasks facing compatibilists today is to explain *why* a good deal of ordinary thinking is implicitly incompatibilist, once compatibilists fess up to the fact that it *is* incompatibilist.

Here's how I think about this stuff. There's a descriptive question about what people actually tend to believe, or what the implicit commitments of people's beliefs actually are. Answer: people's thinking is partly incompatibilist, at least implicitly. Then there are two further questions: a normative question about how best to theorize about free will and human agency, and a substantive question about what our abilities and capacities actually happen to be. And there isn't any reason why the answer to the normative question can't be compatibilist, notwithstanding a partly incompatibilist answer to the descriptive question. (Therein lies the revisionism, or at least one form of revisionism.)

In fact, I would think the answer to the normative question should plausibly be guided more by how we answer the substantive question than by how we answer the descriptive question (although it can also be addressed prior to answering the substantive question). After all, surely there can't be any advance guarantee that all our beliefs about free acts will match what's actually going on in acts that we call free.

But of course, the "normative" (read: revisionist) compatibilist here inherits the task of explaining *why* people have incompatibilist thoughts. I'm not convinced that shouldering this task is *required* for the normative theorizing, but it strikes me as an interesting project in terms of understanding people's psychology.

Although they set it up slightly differently, there are at least three people in the current free-will debate who frame things in roughly the way I've outlined: Manuel (obviously), but also Shaun Nichols and Mark Balaguer. This is interesting because even though these three people accept that ordinary thinking (and agentive experience) is partly incompatibilist, they each represent new forms of the three age-old positions about free will: respectively compatibilism, skepticism, and libertarianism. The differences between them lie mainly in how they think the normative theorizing should go, which may in part depend on how we answer the substantive question.

Thanks Manuel! That really helps. I think I'm still stuck on Joe's taxonomy but it is nice to know that the ability to do otherwise plays a big role in your thoughts about these matters. I like the point about reading back on the justification of our practices.

Maybe I'm going too far with this analogy but this approach reminds me of Benacerraf's rejection of Platonism. Benacerraf reasons: We know a lot about numbers. What know various relations that they do or do not with other numbers. If numbers were abstract objects, it would be difficult if not impossible to see how we could come to know anything about numbers. Thus, numbers are not abstract objects.

Do you want to say something similar: If free will were what the libertarian says it is, it would be difficult if not impossible to justify our moral practices?

Thanks, too, for the clarification Kip!

Mark: All revisionists are compatibilists of a sort, for they are philosophical compatibilists. The question is whether they merely occupy the space of previously held views or whether they occupy some new logical space. Thus, is Manuel's revisionism JUST classical compatibilism wearing a new dress (or new suit if you prefer)? This is discussed further below.

Thanks, Al. I like the death analogy.

One slight disagreement: You write: “I'd argue that any incompatibilist is primarily value-driven by some intuition about ultimacy of agency that drives other arguments in support or denial of such agency.” I’m not convinced that ultimacy is the main driving force behind incompatibilism. I admit it is one force. But there appear to be compatibilist accounts of ultimacy (Descartes, Leibniz, Kant, Markosian, to name a few). I think it does have more to do with the ability to do otherwise than with ultimacy.

I know this seems counter to Joe’s taxonomy but I can defend this.

Great post, Oisin! And I love that last point about Manuel, Shaun, and Mark. I admit that this might swing things toward the side of revisionism over classical compatibilism.

I understand that meaning is use. But can't part of the debate come down to which usage is salient? There are pressures that suggest that experts influence meaning (as in Al's 'death' example) and clearly folk usage is important. Do we first need to settle whether or not 'free will' is a technical expression before moving on?

Thanks so much Joe--your passion about these issues is palpable just from your responses!

I can't so easily separate values from metaphysical commitments.

A society of deterministic androids arises that acknowledges that all responsible beings are caused to do what they do. Thus causation ala PVI's Ethics argument is seen to be a necessary condition for responsibility. Then some androids (maybe by mistaken assembly) come on the scene that demonstrably function indeterministically. They are then declared to be incompetent for responsibility, since they cannot control by cause what they do. (This inverts my "Zombies" paper, as you know.)

I think that metaphysical sourcehood is inseparable from declarations of the value of that sourcehood, whether deterministic or indeterministic. So that indicates that values determine the nature of sourcehood, and not metaphysical vagaries themselves.

Joe,

I think this needs more elaboration:
Folk conceptual incompatibilism: Our folk intuitions, judgments, and concepts are significantly if not entirely incompatibilist.

There is a lot of room between "significantly" and "entirely". It also matters a lot whether we claim to have identified folk concepts or merely folk conceptions.

Every sane compatibilist will admit that folk conceptions include significant incompatibilist elements. The dispute would not exist otherwise. That doesn't make us revisionists, however. As long as we claim that a sufficient bulk of commitments lays on the compatibilist side and outweighs the incompatibilist ones, we're just vanilla compatibilists. Somewhere in the middle of the spectrum - where a philosopher thinks that compatibilist and incompatibilist folk commitments are roughly equally balanced - lies a gray area. I suspect that at least some "revisionists" occupy that area.

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