Monday, March 2, 2020

Yet another simple argument for incompatibilism

  1. If you have always done the morally best you could, you are not culpable for anything.

  2. If determinism is true, you have always done the only thing you could.

  3. When you do the only thing you can, you do the morally best you can.

  4. So, if determinism is true, you are not culpable for anything.

19 comments:

Michael Gonzalez said...

I think this is a perfect and concise defeater of Compatibilism. I wish it weren't necessary, and people could realize that the determinism or indeterminism of Physics has little to do with the voluntary actions of living, animate creatures; but if we must play within their conceptually muddled sandbox, then this kind of argument definitely makes clear that Compatibilism is hopeless.

Alexander R Pruss said...

It occurs to me, too, that you can replace "best" by "worst" and "culpable" by "praiseworthy" and the argument also works.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Or at least it works for beings that aren't self-existent.

Walter Van den Acker said...

Alex

Of course it follows from determinism that, ultimately, you are not culpable of anything.

But why should we care about ultimate culpability?

Michael Gonzalez said...

Walter:

Why add "ultimate"? If Pruss' argument is sound, then on determinism we are not culpable at all, for anything. How can you have a moral theory on which no one is ever culpable (or, for that matter, praiseworthy) for anything?

El Gerente said...

Yes, who cares about ultimate? You can just take one single action and apply this to it, or a collection of say, 5 actions.

Red said...

I think 2 is false unless a global determinism is true.

Walter Van den Acker said...

Michael

It's actually very easy to have a moral theory on which no one is ever culpable.
If action X is good, then doing action X is good. If action y is evil, the doing Y is evil.
Simple as that.

Michael Gonzalez said...

Walter,

That only suffices for moral value; it leaves out moral duty and moral accountability completely. It is insufficient.

Walter Van den Acker said...

Michael

I have no use for moral duties and accountability.

Michael Gonzalez said...

Walter: Whether you have use for them personally or not, any moral theory without them is incomplete. Indeed, I think you smuggle in duty when you say "if X is good, then doing X is good; if X is bad, then doing X is bad". That statement is either empty or it equivocates on value-type and duty-type meanings of "good" and "bad" in order to smuggle in duties.

In other words, you know very well that "X is good" does not entail that "doing X is right", because we are often presented with several "good" options, and so it cannot be the "right" thing to pick any one of them (e.g. it is good to save people from fires and it is good to heal injured people, but a young man would need to pick either a career in firefighting or a career in medicine; not both). This is the problem of duty. But, you can't get around that by leaving out "right" and just using "good" in two different ways.

Walter Van den Acker said...

Michael

I do not smuggle in duty at all. X is good means that doing X is good. In the case of the young man, both his options are good, so none of them is 'right' (or both are).
It's simply a matter of definitions. If libertarian free will is coherent, I can choose to do Y instead of X, and if Y is bad, then I have made a bad choice.

A moral theory does not need duty and it most certainly doesn't need extremely ambiguous notion like 'praiseworthy' and ' culpable'.



Michael Gonzalez said...

Even if "doing X is good" that doesn't meant that doing X is right. On a theory with no duty there is no right or wrong behavior. You say "I have made a bad choice", and again there is a serious danger of equivocation (I won't accuse you of doing it intentionally, but I'd be surprised if you weren't aware of it). "I made a bad choice" usually means "I made a wrong choice" or, at least, "an incorrect choice", which you can't get without duty. All you can get is that they have made the choice to do what is morally bad. So what?

Now, it is quite natural to go from "what they are doing is morally bad" to "they shouldn't do that" or "it was a wrong choice", but that's duty again.

Walter Van den Acker said...

Michael

Doing X is good means doing X is right. That's because I define it that way. It has nothing to do with duty.
Simply, what is good is what is right. A wrong choice is a choice for something that isn't good. No duty involved anywhere.

Michael Gonzalez said...

Walter,

That's just conflating what is normally called "value" with what is normally called "duty" (whether you use the term or not). That something is good carries no weight at all as to what I ought to do. Adding in that I ought to constrain my behavior so as to pursue good things and avoid bad ones is a statement of moral duty, whether you like it or not. Further delimiting my choices among the various goods is also a matter of "oughts" or "duties".

When asking "what should I do" in a situation or with my life course, it is not enough to just point to all the goods (including beauty, self-expression, generosity, prudence, mercy, justice, etc... many of which will often be at odds with each other). And why pursue the good at all? Or why all the time? Against what standard is it incorrect to do some bad things when I feel like it?

Alexander R Pruss said...

Michael:

That's controversial. One might reduce the right and the wrong to the good and bad. I think it is an attractive view to claim that a wrong action just is an action that is bad, in the sense of being flawed as an action. That doesn't mean that one can reduce the right and the wrong to the action's effects being good or bad, of course.

I think the attractive view is false, because not every kind of badness of an action qua action is a moral badness. For instance, an action is flawed if it is unsuccessful. But being unsuccessful doesn't make it wrong.

It is, no doubt, true that an action is wrong if and only if it is morally bad. But that's not going to be much of a reduction.

Walter Van den Acker said...

Michael

What Alex said. If we reduce the right and the wrong to the good and the bad, morality is compatible with determinism.

Alex

My suggestion would be that actions that are intrinsically bad are 'wrong'. That is, we use 'wrong' as a synonym for 'intrinsically bad'. I do not know if we don't consider the action's effect, intrinsic badness makes any sense, but defining 'intrinsically bad' would be a problem for any moral theory.
Anyway, my point was that it is not obvious that morality necessarily requires indeterminism.

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