Monday, September 14, 2015

No one can make you freely do a serious wrong

I've just been struck by the obviousness of this principle: It would be unjust for you to be punished for something that someone else made you do.

But it wouldn't be unjust for you to be punished for freely doing something seriously morally wrong. Hence, it is impossible for someone to make you freely do something seriously morally wrong. But if compatibilism is true, then it is possible for someone to make one freely do something seriously wrong: a powerful being could produce a state of the universe long before one's conception that determines one to do that wrong. (In principle a compatibilist could insist--as Ayer did--that it takes away one's freedom when an agent determines one to act a certain way. But this cannot be maintained. Whether I'm free shouldn't depend on ancient history.)

1 comment:

Angra Mainyu said...

Your argument seems to assume that determination by causation (or even just determination; there might be a difference here, but at least causation) implies coercion in the sense that is relevant with respect to free will. But that's part of what many of us compatibilists reject.
So, in the "powerful being" example, a question is whether the powerful being is merely a determining cause, or it's coercing people.
The scenario is not described precisely enough to tell I think, but I would say that - for example - if there is a possible world where a powerful being sets things up like that and the state she brings about eventually results in humans whose brains work normally [a matter on which I take no stance], they are morally responsible for their behaviors.
Granted, an incompatibilist could object and saying it would be very unjust to blame (and/or to punish) those people in that situation. But I - and I reckon many other compatibilists - would simply say that that is not the case - assuming, as I mentioned, that such scenario is possible -, so we get a clash of intuitions.

That said, a compatibilist is not committed to their being such a possible world. For example, a compatibilist might hold:

Compatibilist thesis CT1: (something some but not all compatibilists might believe).

The universe - and the actual world - is such that it is not possible for any entity that interacts with humans or causes anything involving humans to predict the future to any arbitrary degree of accuracy only based on information from the past (arguably, QM suggests so. QM is not a 100% accurate representation of the part of the world we live in, but it's a pretty good one for most purposes, arguably probably including this one). Any other possible world in which there are humans is also like that, because "humans" are the sort of entity that exists in our world, and a world that is different in that particular regard works so differently that entities that exist in it would not be humans - they/their brains too would work too differently to classify as "humans", under the usual concept "human".
So, it's probably impossible that a powerful being does that to any humans.
What if a powerful being creates other, non-human moral agents in a situation like that?
Assuming that beings different from humans in that regard (i.e., in that particular way the world, and in particular their brain/minds, work) can still be moral agents [a matter depending on factors such as a deeper analysis of moral concepts and on which the compatibilist needs to take no stance, so CT1 takes no stance on that], then as long as those agents' minds work normally [assuming also that they can work normally like that], they can be at fault for their actions.
Humans, on the other hand, cannot be in that situation. So, if humans were made in a situation in which a powerful being sets up what they will do in the future, their brains would not be working normally, and she would be interfering with their choices, depriving them of freedom.

(To be clear, I'm not saying compatibilists are all committed to CT1. It's an example).