Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The ability to do otherwise and brainwashing

Consider cases where an agent is brainwashed into having to choose A by having a set of desires implanted that are sufficiently strong to motivate her to choose A. Here's a rather rough argument:

  1. In these brainwashing cases, there is no ability to do otherwise.
  2. The relevant difference between these brainwashing cases and cases of agents in deterministic worlds is the history by which the agent came to have those desires.
  3. The ability to do otherwise is independent of history.
  4. So the relevant difference between brainwashing cases and cases of agents in deterministic worlds does not make a difference for the ability to do otherwise.
  5. So agents in deterministic worlds are unable to do otherwise.
Of coure, if we replace "ability to do otherwise" by "freedom", the compatibilist, and many an incompatibilist as well, will dispute (3). But surely your ability to do otherwise depends only on how the world is now, not on how it used to be.

Basically, the point is that while compatibilists can perhaps get out of manipulation arguments by insisting that history makes a difference between cases of brainwashing and cases of determinism, since history makes no difference for the ability to do otherwise, manipulation arguments succeed for the ability to do otherwise, even if they fail for freedom.

There have been two kinds of compatibilists. The Humean compatibilist, well represented by Lewis, have held that determinism is compatible with the ability to do otherwise. The Frankfurtian compatibilist instead insisted that freedom does not require the ability to do otherwise. If my simple argument succeeds, compatibilists must be of the Frankfurtian sort.


Dagmara Lizlovs said...

Interesting arguments on brainwashing and free will. I have pointed out in earlier posts from a while back that brainwashing experiments in the past have been dismal failures pretty much producing psychiatrically damaged persons of doubtful use to the brainwashers.

There is another form of "brainwashing" that is still off into the future but drawing closer. That of implanting a chip into the brain and having someone else remote into one's brain and take over just like you remote into a computer on a network. The frightening possibilities are brought in Tom Kratman's novel "Caliphate". That some of this isn't the work of fiction is shown by the articles here:




Dagmara Lizlovs said...


While we are on the topic of brainwashing, here is an excerpt from a rather unusual article that has been making its rounds:

"When a person takes the Jesuit Oath, he is bound to his master until the day that he dies. Edward Smith had become a man without will or intelligence. He would commit any crime the Order wanted him to commit..."

Here is the rest of the article:


I never knew that a Methodist sea captain could be a Jesuit. Looks like I learn something new everyday. :-)