Blog Coordinator

« Arvan Wins 3QD "Charm" Prize | Main | Why Regress Arguments Fail »



Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

I've been following these posts Peter with (i) tremendous envy of your grasp of the biophysics at all empirical levels and (ii) patience to get to the point that I think I'm getting your view well enough without having read your book (so I could still be misunderstanding things for reasons relating to both (i) and (ii)!). But here goes.

The key to any libertarian view I take it is navigating between the rigid 1-to-1 control of cause over effect as parsed by classical determinism (by event language or whatever) and the total lack of control of mere indeterministic randomness. If I'm getting this right, the control of executive functions of some parts of the brain is manifested in restricting or constraining various microlevel quantum possibilities to only those that cohere informationally as part of the overall patterns that the executive level intends to produce as a decoder/controller. Is that a fair summary?

Even if not, I think I can still frame what bothers me. What is the history of where the patterns of an executive nature come from? Can an agent be intelligibly self-forming in producing such an executive control? What worries me is that if the executive control is either produced by some historical combination of nature and nurture and/or luck, then the worrisome factors of causation and/or randomness just reappear in a different way, even if the physical/mental mechanisms work in the criterial fashion you propose in any given case.

A second concern is that even if you evade worries there, and agential control works as you say, what differentiates agents that might be judged severely mentally ill as opposed to "usual-suspect" agents? Would you recommend that we judge agents on the nature of their overall patterns of executive agency as being more or less (or not) responsible? But if we go there, then we seem to be headed back into compatibilist territory if all agents work by essentially the same indeterministic means.

Again, thanks for your tireless work here--much appreciated. Now to enjoy the products of afternoon toil on my late mom's recipe for chocolate peanut clusters.

Happy Holiday everyone!

Alan, to have a type 1 LFW it is not necessary to have the capacity to self-form. To have a type 1 LFW there must be (a) multiple courses of physical or mental behavior open to the neural circuitry that makes choices, (b) which must really be able to choose among options, (c) and must be or must have been able to have chosen otherwise once it has chosen, and (d) the choice must not be dictated by randomness alone, but by the executive or agentic deciding or choosing circuitry itself. I want to argue that criterial causation meets all of these conditions. I think other animals meet these conditions, not just humans. Kane and Balaguer would probably dismiss this as a weak form of LFW because nowhere is it specified among these conditions that the agent chose to have the character it did, or must have in part self-formed its character or decision-making circuitry. I believe Kane and Balaguer, like Aristotle, would not want to blame the agent for choosing as it does if it had no say in the matter of the character that is the basis for its choices. I think that is largely right, we do not blame a tiger for choosing to kill, even if it does have a type 1 LFW allowing it to choose to kill in this way versus that way, because it has a killing character by its very nature. That is, it evolved to have such a character which it inherited, and did not choose. The question then is how different people are from a tiger? We no doubt inherit many tendencies, but perhaps the most striking one is the flexibility we inherit to become many different kinds of people! If you look at how tigers, or racoons or hippos acted 10k or 100k or a million years ago, they would have acted more or less as they do now. But that is not true for people. We have the capacity to live not by preprogrammed instincts, but by reason, and can change the reasons we do things, and how we do them. This is why people have culture and tigers don't. The general assumption among ordinary people is that humans are not as locked into a fixed character as a tiger is, and that it is possible to transform oneself, even if this is not easy. I believe that is right, and also believe that Aristotle was right concerning how best to accomplish this, which was essentially the cultivation of good decision-making through practice. But there are probably other ways as well. For example, people can join a community that will aid them in transforming who they are. Alcoholics Anonymous would be an example of that, and I think there is no question that such programs have transformed many people into essentially people with a different character. Religions may also offer a path to character transformation, whether via cultivation of the individual mind through practices like meditation, or the support and peer pressure of a community. In short, I do believe that people can transform themselves, and that we do have a degree of type 2 LFW. I think there are deep reasons why we have a degree of type 2 LFW whereas a tiger may only have type 1 LFW. This has to do with the fact that our minds are symbolic and abstract, whereas tigers’ minds are neither. And it likely also has something to do with our capacity to imagine alternative and mind-travel, which a tiger also likely cannot do too well. I will write a post on this to explain a bit more deeply where I think our type 2 LFW and morality/responsibility come from.

Regarding your question about judging the mentally handicapped, I would say that the degree of type 2 LFW that a person potentially has would depend on their capacity to imagine alternative ways of being than the way they now are. If a person is unable to imagine a different way of being, by virtue of being very handicapped, it is hard to imagine that they could train themselves to become that kind of person in the future. So I do think legal systems are correct to assign less blame to those who could not have known any better, or could not have helped themselves but do what they did, and more blame to those who should have known better because they were able to know better.


Is your first worry any different from a standard Sorites worry? If so, how so? As my hairs fell out one by one, I gradually and eventually became bald. As my self-forming acts accumulated, I gradually became self-directed. Why is the latter any harder to believe than the former?

Hi Paul--

There are sorites elements here but whereas hair-loss or sand-moving are processes that are not essentially self-referentially part or balding or heaping (a loss of a hair in an infant does not contribute to balding as they grow lots more hair; the movement of a grain of sand from here to there is just that and requires a particular context of there to be a part of a heap), it seems to me that each part of what becomes a larger self-forming agent has to be itself essentially self formed. There might be some room for emergence here ala pressure and temperature as molecules accumulate, but since agency requires self-reflective properties that are essentially tied to indeterminism at the microscopic level, I am not convinced that parallels to higher-order properties like temperature and pressure are available in assembling agency in sorities fashion as a function of the growth of human agents from infancy to adulthood.

Paul, Alan, please see how I address Sorites worries in today's post.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Books about Agency

3QD Prize 2014: Marcus Arvan