Monday, March 25, 2013

Hard Compatibilism?


Cross-posted at Scholardarity: Click Here

Incompatibilism is the view that free will is incompatible with determinism; compatibilism is the view that it is compatible with it. Libertarianism is the combination of of incompatibilism with the view that determinism is false, hard determinism is the combination of incompatibilism with the view that determinism is true. Hard incompatiblism is the view the free will is compatible neither with determinism nor with indeterminism. By considerations of symmetry, there ought to be a sixth view, hard compatibilism, which holds that free will is compatible both with determinism and with indeterminism, though as far as I know it has not found any defenders. But it seems to me to be a view no less plausible than any of the others, and a good deal more plausible than hard determinism and hard incompatibilism.

My own view is that the debate over the compatibility of free will with determinism would be better construed as a debate over the compatibility of moral responsibility with determinism, because I think that free will and moral responsibility might come apart; incompatibilists might be right about free will, but moral responsibility can still be taken to be compatible with determinism. However, if someone disagrees with me about that, they could say that my view on what's necessary for morally responsible choice applies to free will as well, and so that both free will and moral responsibility are compatible with both determinism and indeterminism.

What is it that's required for morally responsible choice? There may be many things, and what's specifically required might vary between circumstances, but I think it primarily includes an agent's being able to deliberate, and to do so without coercion, to clear-headed and rational, to understand the difference between what's morally right and what's morally wrong, and to have the ability to do as they wish. The important point is that none of these things seems to require the truth either of determinism or of indeterminism. Granted, they require that if a possible world is indeterministic it can't also be massively irregular in its behavior, but I don't know of any good reason to think that an indeterministic world would have to be. Thus for all I can see a priori, some possible worlds may be deterministic and others indeterministic, and there may be morally responsible agents in both kinds of worlds.

I will close, then, with two questions: First, has anyone defended hard compatibilism in the free will literature? Second, even if they have, why does it seem to have found so few defenders? For it seems to me to be a position eminently worthy of defense, and if it's not, I'd like to know why.

3 comments:

Aaron Boyden said...

Compatibilists normally think that only actions which are determined by a person's thoughts and character can meaningfully be classified as chosen by that person. Undetermined actions come from nothing, they don't come from the person, so they are meaningless and random. It does seem to me to be quite a challenge to explain how actions stemming from nothing could be really free, just as it seems quite a challenge to many others (I don't find it especially hard, but perhaps that's just long practice) to accept that determined actions could be free. I don't know that it's especially surprising that few if any philosophers have wanted to bite both notoriously unpalatable bullets at once.

Jason Zarri said...

I don't think that determinism and complete randomness are the only options. If the indeterminism of certain quantum events in the brain doesn't get completely washed out, for example, we could have neural events that are determined, but probabilistically so. Our actions would then be "partially determined"--influenced by our thoughts and character without being fixed necessitated by them. This may or may not be true, but it (or probabilistic determinism of some sort) at least seems possible.

Aaron Boyden said...

Are the probabilities determined? If so, then how does it make the randomness any better that it has specific odds? If not, then how are the probabilities themselves other than merely random? I didn't discuss mixing because there's just no apparent way it helps. Perhaps compatibilism is true (so determined actions can be free), or libertarianism is true (so undetermined actions can be free), but if neither is true, that appears to rule out freedom for mixtures of the determined and undetermined as well.