Thursday, May 25, 2006

God's sovereignty and man's responsibility, part 2

All of our choices are determined by the reasons we have for making them--our desires, dispositions, inclinations, motives, etc. But what about the desires themselves? Are they under the control of the will? Do we choose them? It seems not, because that would get us into an infinite regress. If all of our choices are determined by desires, and we choose our desires, then our choices for desires are determined by previous desires. But if we choose those desires, then those desires have desires that come before them. Back and back it goes. To make any choice at all, we'd have to make an infinite number of previous choices to lead up to it. But that's not possible. So if we are able to make choices at all, then they must ultimately originate in some desire that we did not choose.

Ultimately, then, the desires that determine our choices are not under the control of the will. That raises another question. If our choices are ultimately determined by things that are not under the control of the will, then how can we be morally responsible?

Last year, a guy I knew made an argument against morality from determinism. He argued that ultimately all of our choices are determined by things not under the control of the will--our genes, our environment, our upbringing, etc. Since our will is not free but determined, he argued, we cannot be morally responsible.

His argument depended on the notion that "ought" implies "can." If I have a moral obligation to do something, then I must be able to do it. If I'm not able to do it, then I cannot have an obligation to do it. Since I'm not able to choose the desires that determine my choices, then I'm not able to choose other than what I choose. I can only choose otherwise if I am enclined to choose otherwise. But it is a contradiction to suppose that I could be enclined to choose what I am not enclined to choose.

This intuition that "ought" implies "can" seems to be universally recognized. I find that curious in light of people who don't believe in morality. Even people who think morality is an illusion, a convention, or non-existent seem to know beyond doubt that inability is a legitimate moral justification for failure to comply. That's one reason I think morality is not only universal, but also universally known. Even the strictest empiricists subscribe to the notion that "ought" implies "can," though they can give no empirical proof for it. Anyway, that's another subject.

In my response, I argued that not only is compatibalism consistent with moral responsibility, but that it is necessary for moral responsibility. Libertarian free will, which he seemed to suppose was necessary for moral responsibility, turns out to be inconsistent with moral responsibility. I gave my arguments in nine posts, so I don't really want to repeat them all hear. You can do one of three things. You can either assume I'm right for the sake of argument, take my word for it, or go read those posts. They are on parts one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, and nine of "An argument against morality from determinism."

Part 3

to be continued...

9 Comments:

At 5/26/2006 6:24 PM , Blogger Psiomniac said...

ephphatha,
I am interested in where this will go. I know you mentioned this as an aside but I just want to clarify some points raised in the following. You said:

This intuition that "ought" implies "can" seems to be universally recognized. I find that curious in light of people who don't believe in morality. Even people who think morality is an illusion, a convention, or non-existent seem to know beyond doubt that inability is a legitimate moral justification for failure to comply. That's one reason I think morality is not only universal, but also universally known. Even the strictest empiricists subscribe to the notion that "ought" implies "can," though they can give no empirical proof for it. Anyway, that's another subject.

What people who don't believe in morality? Psychopaths? I think many things are curious in the light of them. I am a moral relativist as you know but I believe in morality. I believe in money, yet it is an abstraction. A dollar belongs to the class of objects whose trajectory depends on those concepts held by us pertaining to this class. Otherwise it would just be paper and metal. Do I need to believe there is some intrinsic value to a dollar written into the universe? Of course not.
Now, for a relativist, moral calculus may have more to do with game theory and analogies to contracts than a guarantor in the sky but this makes it easy to show that ought entails can. If I sign a contact knowing I am unable to deliver then it is void.

 
At 5/26/2006 7:13 PM , Blogger ephphatha said...

Psiomniac, I agree with the clarification you're trying to make, so let me make a clarification. When I said, "believe in morality," I meant more specifically, "believe that morality exists as an objective feature of the world."

 
At 5/26/2006 7:56 PM , Blogger Psiomniac said...

As you can hopefully see from my clarification though, whether or not you believe that morality exists as an objective feature of the world is irrelevant in respect of whether you can show that ought implies can.
I agree with you on your main point though that compatibilist free will is the version that is compatible with free will. A hard non compatibilist determinist cannot accept the concept of 'ought' as meaningful anyway, and so is not worried about what can be implied from it.

 
At 5/26/2006 7:59 PM , Blogger Psiomniac said...

Sorry for the tautology, I meant to say compatibilist free will is the version that can be reconciled with responsibility.
We can take that out in the edit right?

 
At 5/26/2006 8:04 PM , Blogger ephphatha said...

No, I don't see that. In your contract analogy, you basically just repeated the ought implies can principle, but you didn't really show how the principle can be true if there are not objective moral values. The problem as I see it is that the ought implies can principle is a moral principle. If there are no morals, then there is no principle. If morals are merely conventional, then the principle is also conventional.

 
At 5/26/2006 8:09 PM , Blogger Psiomniac said...

I disagree with you. It is actually game theoretic in nature. The reason that the contract is void is not a moral one but a technical one, otherwise, as you point out, my argument would be circular. Following the rules need not be a moral choice so much as a pragmatic one, like driving on the right. Or in my case, left.

 
At 5/26/2006 8:17 PM , Blogger ephphatha said...

The reason the contract would be void is because ought implies can. That's why the analogy doesn't prove anything. It just illustrates the ought implies can principle.

 
At 5/26/2006 8:22 PM , Blogger Psiomniac said...

No, I think the technical reasons are why ought implies can. Unless you want to concede that this is axiomatic, or that the definition of 'ought' actually entails 'can'.

 
At 6/09/2006 8:25 PM , Blogger Psiomniac said...

Well having spent a while looking at meta ethics and deontic logic I see that the problem is rather more complex than I had thought. No wonder you haven't seen an empirical proof of 'ought implies can'.

 

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