12/8/08

Addendum to “Dan Barker and Neo-Pagan Atheism”

FYI: this post has been moved here.

15 comments:

  1. Mariano,

    Just a nitpick here, the display that was stolen was in the State Building in Olympia the Capitol of Washington State not in Wisconsin. Wisconsin is the home of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

    I totally fail to understand the point you are trying to make. The thief has gotten away with his crime, so far. He may indeed never be caught and punished for violating the rules of our society. The thief violated the rights of the FFRF and the FFRF is totally justified in feeling anger at that. Why should the FFRF want justice done and the thief punished? I can think of three reasons: 1.) Revenge. State sponsored and sanctioned revenge can forestall private revenge. 2.) Rehabilitation. We don't know what the mindset is of the thief but it would be useful if he were to learn that it is a bad thing to violate the rights of others.
    3.) Deterrence. If this thief is caught and punished, then that might prevent others for committing similar or more serious crimes.

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  3. @jdhuey
    Point is: you can't call theft bad thing if you say morality doesn't exist. If rape was once advantage in terms of TE, theft is still one - richer guys have more chance to survive and get laid. If you apply evolution to social life, only fitness counts. And robbed one's decreases. As long as theif is not caught, law is irrelevant.
    And no one says FFRF has no motives for justice, that's not a subject of Mariano's post.

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  4. Tremor,


    No one, in reference to this discussion, has ever claimed that morality does not exist. The only issue with morality that we have is what is the nature of morality. People that have a naturalistic worldview maintain that morality is ,well, natural. And, as something natural, it should be studied and understood - not just mindlessly accepted.

    Ultimately, all discussions of morality should end up focused on what are the things we value and are they in the correct balance and do the rules that we formulate optimally promote those values.

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  5. tremor,

    You are making the classic error of confusing an 'is' statement with an 'ought' statement.

    We did evolve and evolution is a nasty and wasteful process. The natural world is full of pain and death. That is the way things are but that does not in anyway mean that that is the way things ought to be.

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  6. Well, they done it again, this time the sigh was stolen from the State Capitol rotunda in Illinois.

    http://www.sj-r.com/news/x1720697940/Atheist-sign-stolen-from-Capitol-rotunda

    I would like to point out that if the quote from Gaylor is correct, I do think that she grossly over states. The quote asserts that atheists have never stolen or vandalized a Nativity scene. If that turned out to be true, I would be absolutely flabbergasted. While her statement might be true as a generalized rule - most of the anti-religious vandalism that I've read about in the newspapers have been perpetrated by opposing religionists and not by atheists - but I'm sure there are plenty of isolated exceptions.

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  7. Alright guys, so you say no one says the is no morality. But isn't morality for determists an illusion?
    If FFRF may claim that theft is immoral and abortion is blessing, someone else may state the opposite. Period. They may complain, but so what? Law does not state what's moral or not.

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  8. @jdhuey
    Isn't plenty of exceptions an oxymoron?

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  9. @Tremor

    Alright guys, so you say no one says the is no morality. But isn't morality for determists an illusion?

    A very deep and interesting question. The simple (and perhaps uninteresting) answer is no, it is not an illusion. At the risk of invoking the name of Daniel Dennet too often, I'm would suggest the book _Elbow Room: The Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting_.

    Here is a link to the Wikipedia entry about the book (that is, IMO an ok recap of the book):
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elbow_Room

    Here is the relevant excerpt (but please read the entire article - or better yet the book):

    We have free will

    The type of free will that Dennett thinks we have is finally stated clearly in the last chapter of the book: the power to be active agents, biological devices that respond to our environment with rational, desirable courses of action. Dennett has slowly, through the course of the book, stripped the idea of behavioral choice from his idea of free will. How can we have free will if we do not have indeterministic choice? Dennett emphasizes control over libertarian choice. If our hypothetically mechanical brains are in control of our behavior and our brains produce good behaviors for us, then do we really need such choice? Is an illusion of behavioral choices just as good as actual choices? Is our sensation of having the freedom to execute more than one behavior at a given time really just an illusion? Dennett argues that choice exists in a general sense: that because we base our decisions on context, we limit our options as the situation becomes more specific. In the most specific circumstance (actual events), he suggests there is only one option left to us.[citation needed]

    [edit] Determinism does not rule out moral responsibility

    If people are determined to act as they do, then what about personal responsibility? How can we hold people responsible and punish them for their behaviors if they have no choice in how they behave? Dennett gives a two part answer to this question. First, we hold people responsible for their actions because we know from historical experience that this is an effective means to make people behave in a socially acceptable way. Second, holding people responsible only works when combined with the fact that people can be informed of the fact that they are being held responsible and respond to this state of affairs by controlling their behavior so as to avoid punishment. People who break the rules set by society and get punished may be behaving in the only way they can, but if we did not hold them accountable for their actions, people would behave even worse than they do with the threat of punishment. This is a totally utilitarian approach to the issue of responsibility: there is no need for moral indignation when people break the rules of proper behavior. Is it, then, moral to punish people who are unable to do other than break a rule? Yes, people have the right to come together and improve their condition by creating rules and enforcing them. We would be worse off if we did not do so. Again, an argument for utility.

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  10. @jdhuey
    Thanks for information.

    the power to be active agents, biological devices that respond to our environment with rational, desirable courses of action.
    Yes, we're better, more universal robots, definitely upgrade to wasps thanks to rationality. But no free will.

    If our hypothetically mechanical brains are in control of our behavior and our brains produce good behaviors for us, then do we really need such choice?
    We don't need to be able to make a choice. Again, no free will.

    Dennett argues that choice exists in a general sense: that because we base our decisions on context, we limit our options as the situation becomes more specific. In the most specific circumstance (actual events), he suggests there is only one option left to us.
    Finally we have free will - we can make a choice, but we always have only one option to choose. Gosh.

    Interesting attempt, but somehow I'm not convinced.

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  11. Tremor

    I don't quite follow your objection. The essence of making a choice (free will) is to arrive at that one choice you want. What good would free will be if it meant that you would choose something that you don't want.

    (Also, don't confuse 'free will' with just plain old poor decision making.)

    I really do recommend reading the book. Dennet does a much better job of making an understandable and air tight case, than I can.

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  12. I think we are free do decide what we want. To shape our will. To choose what we belive. To do something because we believe it's right thing to do or despite of it. Sometimes we regret wrong choice and that means we feel we were free to do the right thing.
    In my opinion freedom of will, objectivie existence of reality and moral law in our minds is what anyone feels to be true at least at some point of his/her life. Any philosophy that denies that knowledge, those three pillars of common sense, is a lie.

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  13. jdhuey, tremor -

    In case you would be interested, I posted my Christmas rant to my blog just now, called A Quantum of Freedom. These are some ramblings around the issue of free will that have been bouncing around in my head ever since medicineman first brought it up in a discussion long ago (his first post here, I think). It's rather long though, but you're now forewarned :-)

    cheers

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  14. adonais,

    Nice article. Based on my quick read, I would say I agree with you 100%. Especially, about the Hofstadter book, it is a must read for anyone interested in the question of consciousness. I'm not saying that he has the subject completely wrapped up but the concepts he introduces are key to understanding what the problem of consciousness is.

    Someone once said that philosophical problems are never solved, it is just that our knowledge increases to the point that the old problems just cease to exist. I think that this is what will happen to the so-called 'problem of free will'. Once upon a time, I tried to demonstrate this with this thought experiment.

    Imagine that God summons you to heaven (but your not dead) because he needs your help. It seems he has been busy creating multiple universes with bunches of different characteristics. But he lost his list of which universe had what laws. In most cases, this is was easy to figure out just by looking at how things worked. However, he ended up with two universes that when he made them were exactly identical, except that in one the inhabitants had free will but in the other they didn't. Your job is to investigate each of these universes and conduct any all tests conceivable to make a determination which universe is which. God has granted you just about all the magical powers you can think of so you can conduct any tests you want even if it is not normally possible to do so.

    Now I've racked my brains and I've never have thought of a way to tell the difference. So, if I'm right and there is no way to tell the difference between free will and no free will, doesn't that mean that the concept of free will is actually meaningless.
    "A difference that makes no difference is no difference." - William James.

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  15. "So, if I'm right and there is no way to tell the difference between free will and no free will, doesn't that mean that the concept of free will is actually meaningless."

    I completely agree, but for historical reasons we have been stuck with the debate, although one can hope that it is on its last legs by now.

    One of the biggest problems for any discussion on this is that there is no agreed upon definition of exactly what is meant by "free will." So when Dennett tries to settle upon a definition for the purpose of his analysis, he is accused of redefining it into something else which isn't "real" free will. I have never obtained an elucidating answer to what this "real" free will is, or what difference it would make to Dennett's variety, and asking about it is usually a conversation stopper ("..and then something magic happens...").

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