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. 


Zyracksis 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...

"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.

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...

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.

StardustyPsyche said...

" 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.

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...

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?

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

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:

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.

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.

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.

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.