Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy, Lewis & Clark College

Pereboom on Incompatibilism

Added on by jay odenbaugh.

Derek Pereboom uses his "four case argument" against compatibilism. We can summarize his cases in this way. 

  • Case 1: Mad scientists implants a device in Plum’s brain. Later, they induce Plum to have desires and reasons to kill White including the second-order desire to have these desires and reasons and to be rationally responsive.

  • Case 2: Mad scientists created Plum as a baby, making sure (by ex- perimenting on his nervous system in the right way) that he would have be a rational egoist and would kill White one day.

  • Case 3: Plum’s parents and culture trained him from an early age to become an egoistic killer to have the motivations and thoughts which led him to kill White.

  • Case 4: Plum is a normal human being raised in normal circum- stances. How he acquired the strong desire to kill White is not spe- cific, but it was determined by the laws of physics. 

He claims that our intuitions are that (1), (2), and (3) are such that we not hold Plum morally responsible for their killing White. However, even if you have a compatibilist intuition about (4), you have to find a relevant difference between the first three and the last case. Otherwise, we should judge that Plum is not morally responsible for killing in White in (4). So, is there a relevant difference between these first three and the last case? 

Fischer on Compatibilism

Added on by jay odenbaugh.

Fischer claims that Frankfurt-examples show that we can have guidance control without regulative control. That is, we can be free in one sense even if we are not in another. Here is his example. 

In any case, Jones goes into the voting booth, deliberates in the "normal" way, and chooses to vote for the Democrat. On the basis of this choice, Jones votes for the Democrat. Unbeknownst to Jones, he has a chip in his brain that allows a very nice and highly progressive neurosurgeon (Black) to monitor his brain. The neurosurgeon wants Jones to vote for the Democrat, and if she sees that Jones is about to do so, she does not intervene in any way -- she merely monitors the brain. If, on the other hand, the neurosurgeon sees that Jones is about to choose to vote for the Republican, she swings into action with her nifty electronic probe and stimulates Jones' brain in such a way as to ensure that he chooses to vote for the Democrat (and goes ahead and votes for the Democrat). Given the set-up, it seems that Jones freely chooses to vote for the Democrat and freely votes for the Democrat, although he could not have chosen or done otherwise: it seems that Jones exhibits guidance control of his vote, but he lacks regulative control over his choice and also his vote. (58) 

Do you think the Frankfurt example is convincing? Why or why not? 

Kane on Libertarianism

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Robert Kane writes, 

In order to explain how free actions can escape the clutches of physical causes and laws of nature (so that free actions will not be determined by physical laws), libertarians have posited transempirical power centers, immaterial egos, noumenal selves outside of space and time, unmoved movers, uncaused causes and other unusual forms of agency or causation – thereby inviting charges of obscurity or mystery against their view. (9) 

Kane's own view is that free will requires "self-forming actions." He describes how this might occurs thusly. 

There is tension and uncertainty in our minds about what to do at such times, I suggest, that is reflected in appropriate regions of our brains by movement away from thermodynamic equilibrium – in short, a kind of "stirring up of chaos" in the brain that makes it sensitive to micro-indeterminacies at the neuronal level. The uncertainty and in- ner tension we feel at such soul-searching moments of self-formation is thus reflected in the indeterminacy of our neural processes them- selves. What we experience internally as uncertainty about what to do on such occasions would then correspond physically to the open- ing of a window of opportunity that temporarily screens off complete determination by influences of the past. (26) 

Do you think his account of "self-forming actions" suffers from the same mystery or obscurity he complains about? Is there a way of making libertarianism less mysterious? 

Churchland on Self-Control

Added on by jay odenbaugh.
Patricia Churchland on Colbert

Patricia Churchland on Colbert

Listen to neurophilosopher Patricia's Churchland's discussion of self-control Philosophybites. According to neuroscientists and psychologists, self-control requires: 

  1. Deferment of gratification of a lesser value now for a greater value later; 
  2. Maintenance of a goal despite distractions;
  3. Suppression of inappropriate impulses;
  4. Canceling an action when it would be disastrous

As you might suspect, Churchland is a compatibilist. Do you then self-control is freedom? Does it leave anything out? 

*If you would like to see a fun interview, what her discuss neurophilosophy with Colbert here


Diagnosing Free Will

Added on by jay odenbaugh.

Consider the following argument. 

  1. If determinism is true, then we are not free.
  2. Determinism is true.
  3. Therefore, we are not free.

Given the past and laws of nature, you could not do A. Are you free to do A?

Given the past and laws of nature, you could not do A. Are you free to do A?

One view of free will is this. If one is free, then one could do other than what one did. Or, if one is free, one could have chosen other than one did. However, suppose determinism is true. Necessarily, given the laws of nature and the past, one could not do other than one did. 

If you deny (1) and (2), you are an incompatibilist and a libertarian to boot. If you accept (1) and (2), you are a hard determinist. If you deny (1), you are a compatibilist. Compatiblists deny the account of freedom above; libertarians accept it; hard determinists accept it but because they also accept (2), also accept (3). But, contrary to compatibilism, this seems like a pretty plausible account of freedom. 

But, note the following argument. 

  1. Either determinism or indeterminism is true.
  2. If determinism is true, then we are not free.
  3. If indeterminism is true, then we are not free.
  4. Therefore, we are not free.

For libertarians, it is not clear how we could be free if indeterminism is true. 

Likewise, for hard determinists, we have the following argument. 

  1. If we morally responsible for our actions, then we are free.
  2. We are not free. 
  3. Therefore, we are not morally responsible for our actions. 

Surely, if one murders another uncoerced, we are morally responsible for it. 

Thus, compatibilism, libertarianism, and hard determinism are each unattractive positions. Question: which position do you accept and why? 

The Problem of Temporary Intrinsics

Added on by jay odenbaugh.

A temporary property is one that can be had at one time and not another. An intrinsic property is one that an object can have independent of anything else occurring in the universe. Consider your left hand which has five finger at t. Suppose at t*, you lose your thumb in which t < t*. If endurantism is true, you are wholly present at every time that you exist. This implies that you have both five and four fingers. But, this is impossible. Thus, perdurantists conclude that a temporal part of you has five fingers and a temporal part of you have four, but you, do not wholly exist at both t and t*. 

Endurantists can respond as follows. You are wholly present but the properties you have are five-fingers-at-t and four-fingers-at-t*. These properties can be had by you even if you are wholly present at every time at which you exist. 

How would a perdurantist respond? 

The Ship of Theseus

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Suppose the Ship of Theseus has undergone quite a bit of wear and tear. We decide to replace the wooden planks one by one. We store those planks. For fun, let's call the repaired ship B and suppose we reconstruct the stored planks into a new ship C. Theseus' ship, A, and the others B and C admit of the following:

  • A is neither identical to B or C. 
  • A is identical to B or A is identical to C. 
  • A is identical to both B and C. 

 Which of these options is most plausible? Why? 

Armstrong on Universals

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David Armstrong

David Armstrong

Armstrong denies that there are disjunctive or negative universals but accepts that there conjunctive universals.

Why does he deny that there are disjunctive and negative universals? Why (and when) does he accept that there are conjunctive universals? 

Quine, Evolution and Natural Kinds

Added on by jay odenbaugh.

Quine writes, 

Creatures inveterately wrong in their inductions have a pathetic but praiseworthy tendency to die before reproducing their kind. (126) 

He also writes, 


For me then the problem of induction is a problem about the world: a problem of how we, as we now are (by our present scientific lights), in a world we never made, should stand better than random or coin-tossing changes of coming out right when we predict by inductions which are based on our innate, scientific unjustified similarity standard. Darwin’s natural selection is a plausible partial explanation. (127) 

Question: Does the fact that we have survived "nature red in tooth and claw" imply that there are natural kinds or that our inductive inferences ("All observed Fs have been Gs" so probably "All Fs are Gs") are largely correct? Put differently, does Darwinian evolutionary theory show there is no problem of induction?

Lewis on Methodology and Modal Realism

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David Lewis writes,

David Lewis

David Lewis

I advocate a thesis of plurality of worlds, or modal realism, which holds that our world is but one world among many. There are countless other worlds, other very inclusive things. Our world consists of us and all our surroundings, however remote in time and space; just as it is one big thing having lesser things as parts, so likewise do other worlds have lesser otherworldly things as parts... The worlds are many and varied. There are enough of them to afford worlds where (roughly speaking) I finish on schedule, or I write on behalf of impossibilia, or I do not exist, or there are no people at all, or the physical constants do not permit life, or totally different laws govern the doings of alien particulars with alien properties. There are so many other worlds, in fact, that absolutely every way that a world could possibly be is a way that some world is. 

Many philosophers meet Lewis’ view with an “incredulous stare”; how could anyone believe in something which we have no access? Explain Lewis’ justification for believing in modal realism. 

Kripke on Mind-Brain Identity

Added on by jay odenbaugh.

Kripke notoriously argues against the mind as being identical to the brain roughly as follows. 

Saul Kripke

Saul Kripke

  1. My being in a pain is identical my brain state.

  2. If my being in a pain state is identical to my brain state, then necessarily my being in a pain state is identical to my brain state. (rigid designation)

  3. Hence, necessarily my being in a pain state is identical to my brain state.

  4. However, we can imagine imagine disembodied minds or brain-states with no pains.

  5. But, it follows that it is not necessary that my being in a pain state is identical to my brain state.

  6. Therefore, my being in a pain state is not identical to my brain state. 

Questions: How would a materialist respond to this argument? How would they "explain away" the appearance of contingent identity mentioned in (4)? 

Max Black on Identity of Indiscernibles; or Who is Castor and Who is Pollux?

Added on by jay odenbaugh.

Consider the following two principles, the Identity of Indiscernibles and Indiscernability of Identicals.  

Max Black

Max Black

For any property F, if object x has F just in case y has F, then x = y. 

For any objects x and y, if x = y, then x has F just in case x has F. 

The second principle is trivial but the first is not. Could an object x and an object y has all of the same intrinsic and extrinsic properties and yet be distinct? Consider the following argument that the Identity of Indiscernibles is false. 

  1. Suppose the universe contains two perfectly symmetric iron spheres two miles apart which have all the same intrinsic and relational properties and there is nothing else. 
  2. It follows that the two spheres possess the same properties and hence are indistinguishable. 
  3. However, they are not identical. 
  4. Hence, indiscernibles may not be identical.

Question: Do you agree with the premises? If not, which premise(s) do you reject? 

Yablo, Metaphor, and Metaphysics

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Stephen Yablo

Stephen Yablo

According to W. V. Quine, "to be is to be the value of a bound variable." This is his account of ontological commitment. MIT philosopher Stephen Yablo claims that the difficult of drawing a distinction between literal and figurative language is a problem for Quine's account of ontological commitment. Explain why figurative language like metaphor is problematic for Quine's account. 

Carnap on Internal and External Questions

Added on by jay odenbaugh.

According to Rudolf Carnap, we should distinguish between internal and external questions. Let us say that,

With respect to various expressions, A linguistic framework is a set of rules for using for those expressions.  

Thus, an internal question is a question about whether x exists given a linguistic framework of rules governing the use of 'x'. An external question is a question as to whether it would be useful to adopt the use of 'x' with those rules. 

Suppose one asks but does x exist independent of the linguistic framework? Carnap might argue as follows: 

  1. One can answer an existence question only if there are rules for determining whether exists.

  2. External questions regarding x occur independent of a linguistic framework regarding x.

  3. Therefore, external questions regarding x are not existence questions.

Questions: (a) Is this sound argument? (b) Why or why not? 

Rudolf Carnap

Rudolf Carnap

What Is There?

Added on by jay odenbaugh.

As we saw from David and Steffi Lewis' "Holes," sometimes ordinary objects are really strange. If one is sympathetic to nominalism (i.e. all there is are concrete objects) or materialism (i.e. all there is are material objects), then especially so. Task: given nominalism and materialism, give one example of something, which is ordinarily accepted to exist, but is very difficult to square with those views. Proviso: you can't use either mathematics or consciousness since those are  go-to examples. 

Blogging Introduction

Added on by jay odenbaugh.

Each week you should contribute to the class blog twice. During each week, I will write a prompt that contains a question, comment, or argument on which you will comment. You can comment on my prompt or on another blogger’s post. This helps ensure you are keeping up with the readings. Again, you will do fine if you have done the readings with care.  The first blog post will occur next week on Monday January 27, 2014. Whenever you post, you should choose a name that I can recognize as yours. E.g. "first name, last initial."