Saturday, July 18, 2020

Soft Determinism

Soft determinists believe that even though your actions are determined, they are free because you are doing what you want to do. 
A problem for the soft determinist position can be set up as follows. Suppose someone were to hook up a computer to your brain and cause you to do everything you do. However, the controller takes care to make sure that you form the desire to do whatever they intend to cause you to do. The result will be that you always freely do exactly what they want you to do, 
By the way, soft determinism has the implication that God could have created the world in such a way that everyone freely does what is right. God didn't have to give us the alternative of sinning in order to give us free will. 

39 comments:

Jon Stevens said...

What's the danger in the determinist simply accepting that you are responsible even when your actions are causally determined by the computer?

StardustyPsyche said...

OP
"they are free because you are doing what you want to do"
How does doing what one wants entail acting freely? In what sense then do you assert "free"?

Where did your wants come from? Did you freely choose your wants? Did you want your want to want ad infinitum?

No, wants are not freely chosen, rather, wants arise from deterministic subconscious processes that are not free, therefor acting on those wants is not free.

We all do what we want, the aggregate of all our competing wants, it is the only thing any of can ever do.

You might want all the cash in the drawer at the checkout, but you want to avoid jail, and you want to think of yourself as a good person, and you want to not take what does not belong to you, and you want to not be a disappointment to those whose opinions of you are important to you.

So, in the aggregate, you do what you want and you do not rob the drawer, unless you are a criminal, a person with substantially different wants than you, such that their overall actionable want is to go ahead and rob the register, those inhibiting wants being of lesser value in the criminal mind.

The notion of personal responsibility is an individual and social construct, an evolved social behavior mechanism by which deterministic beings lacking free will influence the behavior of other deterministic beings lacking free will. This construct has evolved to have an overall reproductive benefit to our species.

David Brightly said...

I take it that the problem for the soft determinist is that on one understanding of 'free' the subject, the 'you' individual, is freely doing what it wants but on another it is controlled and so not freely acting.

I reject this on the ground that the 'you' individual has become a mere part of a chimera composed of that individual plus the controller and his hardware. The chimera acts freely but the 'you' part within it no more acts freely than does my arm within me.

Hal said...

Oops, accidentally deleted my post. Here it is again:

If agent A is completely controlling the actions of agent B then it would follow that agent B is not responsible for her actions. Isn't that an essential element of our concept of human agency?

David Brightly said...

God didn't have to give us the alternative of sinning in order to give us free will. Hmmm. Surely the choice between good and evil is a huge part of what we mean by freedom of the will. So there must be the alternative of sinning, and we must know it, in order that we be as free as we say we are?

David Brightly said...

SP,
How does doing what one wants entail acting freely? Well, it seems to capture a good deal of what we mean by 'freedom'. The ability to act on our wants without constraint or interference.

wants arise from deterministic subconscious processes that are not free. You are using 'free' in a sense different to the one in the OP. A DSP is not the kind of thing that can have wants and that may or may not act freely upon them.

therefore acting on those wants is not free. Without an argument this is a non-sequitur. How does the source of a want affect the freedom or otherwise of acting upon it?

David Brightly said...

Hal, in the thought experiment in the OP agent A controls the desires of agent B but not B's actions directly. B then acts seemingly freely on these manipulated desires.

Hal said...

David,

Not completely sure what you are objecting to. I thought your earlier post was pretty much in accord with my post.
See this from the OP:
"Suppose someone were to hook up a computer to your brain and cause you to do everything you do.

Obviously, agent B is still acting but agent A is the one responsible for those actions. Agent B is deluded when he thinks he is acting as a free agent. The one responsible for his actions is agent A.

In any case, based on earlier postings of Victor and of Lewis' writings I don't believe I share their concepts of free will and determinism.

Hal said...

David,

How does the source of a want affect the freedom or otherwise of acting upon it?

Agree completely. We don't typically have control over what we desire or want. I can't really choose that I prefer the taste of Strawberry ice cream over Vanilla ice cream.

StardustyPsyche said...

David,
" Well, it seems to capture a good deal of what we mean by 'freedom'. The ability to act on our wants without constraint or interference."
Without constraint by who or what? If an external actor puts me in a cage I am no longer free to go where I want.

But who or what constrains ourselves? What causes a decision to be made?

Decisions are made by balancing wants.

If I want vanilla more than I want chocolate I choose the vanilla. The strength of my wants was not freely determined therefore the apparent choice was not freely determined.

Computers also choose. If X is greater than Y do A else do B. The computer evaluates the magnitude of X and Y, compares those magnitudes and chooses to do either A or B.

"A DSP is not the kind of thing that can have wants ."
I want food. A deterministic subconscious process monitors signals from my internal organs and generates what we call "a feeling", which is itself a signal from one part of the brain, the deterministic subconscious process, to another part of the brain, the deterministic conscious process.

Where do any of your wants come from if not the subconscious?

"How does the source of a want affect the freedom or otherwise of acting upon it?"
Because the source of the want controls the strength of the want which controls the decision making process.

David Brightly said...

Hal, not sure it's as clear cut as you suggest. Victor goes on to make it clear that the control is achieved through the desires. We all understand that our desires can be altered by sights, smells, advertising even, but we accept that our buying decisions, say, are still free.

Hal said...

David,
Victor goes on to make it clear that the control is achieved through the desires. We all understand that our desires can be altered by sights, smells, advertising even, but we accept that our buying decisions, say, are still free.

Am still having trouble seeing why you think that negates my point that it is agent A who is responsible for agent B's actions.

The examples you list have to do with influences. In Victor's example, agent A is not merely influencing agent B, he is controlling her. The fact that agent B is still able to move her body does not make her a free agent.

By the way, what do you think Victor was trying to show with his example?

David Brightly said...

Apologies, Hal, I suspect your reading of the OP is correct. A directly interferes with B's brain (a) to produce a certain external action, and (b) to produce a desire in B to perform that action. There is a physicalistic background assumption that a mental thing like a desire is or is caused by brain activity of some sort. So the action and the desire for it are determined. Now because B wants to do said action the soft determinist will have to say that the action is free. But those of us who can see what's going on would not judge the action to be free at all. So the soft determinist's claim that an action can be free despite being determined looks to be in trouble. The SD could respond by sharpening up his criterion for a free action. Maybe there has to be some causal connection between the desire and the action which A's intervention has severed. Or he could say that B's integrity as a feeling, thinking, and acting individual is so violated in the thought experiment that it's no longer clear who (or what!) 'owns' the desire and the action.

David Brightly said...

SP,
But who or what constrains ourselves? In normal circumstances, nothing at all. What causes a decision to be made? We do. If an external actor puts me in a cage I am no longer free to go where I want. And if he releases you then you are free again to do as you wish, no? So you are happy to use 'free' in its ordinary sense here and yet elsewhere, eg, in the choice between chocolate and vanilla, you appear to deny this freedom. Which is it to be?

Hal said...

David,
No need to apologize. Your understanding of the issue accords with mine, but you presented it more clearly than I could have. Thanks!

Hal said...

David,
The SD could respond by sharpening up his criterion for a free action. Maybe there has to be some causal connection between the desire and the action which A's intervention has severed. Or he could say that B's integrity as a feeling, thinking, and acting individual is so violated in the thought experiment that it's no longer clear who (or what!) 'owns' the desire and the action.

I believe that the responsible agent is the one manipulating B's brain. So I don't see it providing a very good case against the SD's basic philosophical beliefs regarding free agency. The same kind of scenario can be set up for a non determinist.

David Brightly said...

Hal, I think Victor is trying to show us that freedom, understood as doing what we want, is not compatible with determinism. It's a bit of a cop-out to say that freedom is really about responsibility in some way. Are we saying freedom has nothing to do with doing what we want? You could try this line I guess. But if not, we have to pick holes in the argument in its own terms.

Hal said...

David,
It's a bit of a cop-out to say that freedom is really about responsibility in some way. Are we saying freedom has nothing to do with doing what we want? You could try this line I guess. But if not, we have to pick holes in the argument in its own terms.

Sorry, looks like I didn't explain very well the point I was trying to make.

Humans are rational beings with the capacity to act and refrain from acting. Being rational agents we can act for reasons. It is because we are rational agents acting for reasons that we can be held responsible for our actions. That is why I pointed out that agent A is the responsible agent. Agent A is the free agent. He is the one causing everything to occur including the thoughts and actions of agent B. Agent B is deluded into thinking she is the one acting for his reasons.

I'm having trouble seeing why because agent A is controlling agent B that somehow negates agent B's belief that she can act for reasons under normal circumstances. To me it just illustrates one situation under very unusual circumstances in which one can no longer be considered a free agent.

Hal said...

One correction.

Agent B is deluded into thinking she is the one acting for his reasons.

should be:

Agent B is deluded into thinking she is the one acting for her reasons.

David Brightly said...

Sure, we would judge that B is no longer a free agent. But B finds nothing amiss. She has desires and acts upon them as usual. She might notice that she's wanting to do things she's never wanted to do in the past, of course, but we know our tastes can change and she might think nothing of it. But according to the SD because she is doing what she wants, she must, by definition be free. But we can see that B is being determined by A. So it looks as if the SD's understanding of freedom, in the presence of determinism, fails rather badly.

Victor will then press on. He will ask, How does this thought experiment differ from normal existence? The material particles of my brain are doing their deterministic thing producing desires and corresponding entirely consistent actions. How can I possibly claim I'm free? Soft determinism must be wrong. QED.

Hal said...

David,
The material particles of my brain are doing their deterministic thing producing desires and corresponding entirely consistent actions.

I thought that the issue might end up here. I see that as the real reason for Victor's attack on the SD.

It really depends on what one's conception of the mind is. For after all, it is only because a human has a mind that he is able to act as a rational agent. But what is the mind?

If one is a non-materialist, they will claim that the mind is a non-physical thing that interacts with the body and causes it to act in accord with its reasons for acting. If one is a materialist, they will identify the mind with the brain and think it is the brain interacting with the body to cause its acting. In effect, both believe the mind is an agent that acts through the body.

I reject both claims. The mind is not an agent. Nor is it a thing. So it makes no sense to identify it with the brain. Nor does it make sense to think it interacts with the body.

It is the human being who can be said to have a mind that is the agent.

Of course, if humans did not have a brain they could not be said to have a mind. The brain is, so to speak, the engine that enables humans to have the capacity to act as rational agents. In the same way, it is the jet engine that gives a jet plane the capacity to fly. But it is a mistake to confuse an engine with its power. The jet engine does not fly, it is the jet plane that flies. The brain does not act as a rational agent, it is the human being that acts a rational agent.

Hal said...

David,
Sure, we would judge that B is no longer a free agent. But B finds nothing amiss. She has desires and acts upon them as usual. She might notice that she's wanting to do things she's never wanted to do in the past, of course, but we know our tastes can change and she might think nothing of it. But according to the SD because she is doing what she wants, she must, by definition be free. But we can see that B is being determined by A. So it looks as if the SD's understanding of freedom, in the presence of determinism, fails rather badly.

Let me say in the SD's defense that her belief that she is able to act as a free agent in a deterministic world does not entail or guarantee that she will always be able to act as a free agent. So I don't see Victor's scenario demonstrating her belief to be false.

Many people if they live long enough will experience or go through situations where they may think they are acting freely but really aren't. And as we age our capacity to act rationally often deteriorates to the point where our status as agents can be thrown into question.

Victor Reppert said...

Let us set this in a context. Of course you can have certain types of freedom given determinism. Someone who is released from prison is freed from imprisonment. Such a person can actualize their desires in ways they could not as an inmate. But, if determinism is true, is it, in the final analysis, their fault if they do something wrong? If there is such a thing as a Last Judgment, can God tell a person that the deserve a certain punishment for having sinned, even though, in the final analysis, it was God's decision that made the difference between the person's sinning and not sinning?

Hal said...

Victor,
But, if determinism is true, is it, in the final analysis, their fault if they do something wrong?

But what is the final analysis? Unless you and the soft-determinist can agree on the appropriate way to analyze human agency it appears to me you will simply talk past each other.

Also, I don't see how an appeal to God helps you here because some forms of Christianity have no problem believing in determinism.

David Brightly said...

...even though, in the final analysis, it was God's decision that made the difference between the person's sinning and not sinning?

I'm not sure this position is coherent. It appears to make God responsible for evil.

Hal said...

David,
I think Victor's position is that the physical world is deterministic but the world of the mind is not. In other words he sees the mind as a kind of thing that can interact with the world.
That is, in my understanding, a Cartesian conception of the mind.

Hal said...

David,
As I'm sure you are aware there are many different philosophical positions regarding human agency. One philosophical position that I have found to be very sensible is presented in Bed Rundle's book Mind in Action.
Here is a link to a preview of the book at Google Books: Mind in Action preview

Hal said...

Here is an interesting lecture presented by G.H. von Wright
Of Human Freedom


A small quote from the lecture that presents a scenario similiar to Victors:

Assume, however, that the agent does not know of the operation of the cause but that we know. The agent said he did something for a certain reason, and we say that the physical aspect of his action would have occurred even if he had not acted. Was his action free? Since he had a reason for his action it was what we call “free action.” But suppose we did not only know of the operation of the cause, but that we had ourselves made it operative? (“We gave him an injection.”) Shall we then say that the agent had been “manipulated”? This would not be right. His body had been manipulated. But since he happened to have reasons for doing an action the physical aspect of which consisted in the muscular activity which we had caused to happen, his action was not a result of manipulation. Only by influencing an agent’s reasons can he be (genuinely) manipulated.

David Brightly said...

I haven't read the paper yet, but taken out of context perhaps, this looks somewhat disingenuous. For reasons are merely intermediate between wants and actions and we know that wants can be manipulated psychochemically. One of the justifications for outlawing heroin, say, is that by creating an overwhelming want it severely affects the ability to act freely.

Hal said...

David,
I am not sure what you mean by “reasons are merely intermediate between wants and action”. Could you elaborate on that?

Hal said...

David,
...we know that wants can be manipulated psychochemically. One of the justifications for outlawing heroin, say, is that by creating an overwhelming want it severely affects the ability to act freely.

In the scenario I quoted there was no mention of wants being manipulated. The only manipulation von Wright was referring to is that of the agent's body.

David Brightly said...

It's Hume: 'reason is the slave of the passions', equating wants with passions. I see Humean passions as an obvious starting point which von Wright seems to leave out. My picture is roughly this:

dehydration(body)-->
I'm thirsty(want,mind)-->
to satisfy thirst get beer from fridge(reason,mind)-->
drink the beer in the fridge(plan,mind)-->
go to fridge, raise wrist, drink, etc(action, body)

Italicised bits are mental/linguistic. For vonW the starting point seems to be reasons. So his scenario differs in an important way from Victor's, I think.

Hal said...

David,
Thanks for the explanation. Appears that I don't share Hume's conception of human agency. I do agree that passions play a very important part in human agency. Passions are one of the many elements that can comprise the reason an agent is acting for.

You also pointed out that von Wright's scenario differed from Victor's in an important way. I agree. In Victor's scenario both the agent's body and the reasons for her action was being controlled by other agents. It was because those reasons could no longer be called her own that it can be said the she was deluded and not acting as a free agent.

In von Wright's scenario the agent's body was being controlled by the drug other's injected into his arm but his action was still in accordance with his reasons. Because it is true that he acted for his reason he can still be considered a free agent.

David Brightly said...

Morning Hal,
I think in this we should distinguish between reasons and reasonings. If you ask me, Why did you drink the beer?, and I reply, Because I wanted to, I guess I have given a kind of vacuous reason, but there isn't any reasoning in this account at all. I prefer to start with a bodily need, thirst say, which engenders the thought, I want a drink. There then follows a process of reasoning whereby a plan for satisfying this want is worked out and put into action. The reasoning process can itself involve further evaluative elements and sub-plans. Hot or cold? Taste? Immediacy?, and so on. I may want a hot drink but am I prepared to wait for the kettle to boil?, for example. Knowing there will be a delay is a thought and forms part of the reasoning process, as is the knowledge of the layout of the kitchen and navigating around it. It seems to me that the whole business is driven forward from a starting point which itself is not rational---it's not an inference from earlier premises---it just wells up, as it were, but can of course be expressed in language. So I'm disinclined to say a passion amounts to a reason. That's confusing. This is what I take Hume to be telling us.

Hal said...

David,
I think in this we should distinguish between reasons and reasonings. If you ask me, Why did you drink the beer?, and I reply, Because I wanted to, I guess I have given a kind of vacuous reason, but there isn't any reasoning in this account at all. I prefer to start with a bodily need, thirst say, which engenders the thought...

I agree completely that we need to distinguish between reasons and reasoning. And, as you pointed out, one can give a vacuous reason for their actions. One can even lie about their real reasons - give a false reason.

I have no issue with starting from bodily needs if that is called for. But bodily needs are not the only reasons for the actions we take. For example, if a friend asks me to try out a different brand of beer because he is curious to learn whether or not I enjoy it as much as he does, then I can decide on an appropriate time for my going to the fridge to take out that beer and drink it. I would not choose a time when I was thirsty because that would likely impact my evaluation of the beer's taste. If my wife were to ask me, "Why are you drinking that beer? We just had dinner a short time ago. Surely you aren't already thirsty." I could give the following response as a reason for my action: "My friend Jose asked me to it try in order to see if I like it or not. I thought it best to do so when I'm not actually thirsty." In this particular case it would be misguided to look at bodily needs for understanding the action I took.

Also, our reasons for acting are not always rational. If we see someone behaving in a way that we wouldn't expect given the circumstances of that behavior, we could ask them the reason for their behavior. Even though the behavior may appear irrational, it may turn out that based on their reason they really are acting rationally. Or we may find fault with their reason and decide that our original assessment was correct: they are acting irrationally.

David Brightly said...

Hal, I would say that your beer story also begins with a bodily need, this time a felt moral sentiment. You value Jose and his friendship to the extent that you want to be able honestly to say that you took the time to appreciate his beer suggestion and didn't just gulp it down in a moment of thirst.

In general, if we trace our reasoning backwards with repeated 'why' questions we eventually arrive at something felt rather than thought. A passion rather than a reason. But this is not to say that the passions cannot be educated or trained. We want people to have righteous passions that will benefit themselves and society.

Hal said...

David,
I would say that your beer story also begins with a bodily need, this time a felt moral sentiment.

I think I misunderstood your original point. I didn't fully realize that you want to reduce every motive or reason for a human agent's actions to his bodily needs.
Sorry, but I don't see any value in engaging in such a reductionistic agenda. Nor can I see a good reason for believing it to be true.
I don't see this as a bodily need at all. Seems to me that a need for friendship is a psychological need.
Nor do I see this as a 'moral sentiment'. I not only want to provide Jose with an accurate account of the beer's taste, I also want to ensure that I can satisfy my own curiosity regarding the beer's taste. And that can best be evaluated when I am not feeling thirsty.

David Brightly said...

Bodily need, psychological need, moral sentiment,..., however we label the motive force, it is not reducible to further rationalisation. It's at the boundary of the sphere of reasons. Why do you want to satisfy your curiosity? Well, 'curiosity' is a name we have for a state of impelled---note the metaphor of force---inquiry. Analysis stops here. Our spade is turned, as someone once said.

Hal said...

David,

Unless we have a good reason for being unsatisfied with the reason a person gives for his action, then the spade has turned.