[Topics: Compatibilism, Determinism, Free Will, Philosophy of Language]
Free Will Twice Defined:

On the Linguistic Conflict of Compatibilism and Incompatibilism

 

Arthur Schopenhauer Sketch by M.R.P. - compatibilism - free will - determinism

Caricature Sketch by M.R.P.
[High-res prints available here]

Introduction:

“Man can do what he wills but he cannot will what he wills” (Schopenhauer 531).

Attentive readers of last week’s post in this series will have noted that its discussion of meaning, while relevant to the meaningfulness of moral action, is more broadly applicable to all philosophical discussions of meaning. Using that article as a transitional moment, I will now move away from discussing moral action directly and, at least for a time, toward discussing human action more generally.

One of the most persistent debates across the history of philosophy, when it comes to human behavior and morality, is that of whether determinism or free will is true. But in order to get at that debate, I will instead today be confronting an intimately related debate of roughly equal age, that of whether determinism and free will are compatible or not. Many laypeople are casual incompatibilists, and would be quick to dismiss this latter debate as so much sophistry, feeling that determinism and free will are intractable opposites. But various different versions of compatibilism have had some strong defenders over the years, including Thomas Aquinas, David Hume, and the majority of professional philosophers in the world today. So what is compatibilism, and how does it respond to incompatibilism?

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[Topics: Compatibilism, Determinism, Free Will, Philosophy of Language]
Free Will Twice Defined:

On the Linguistic Conflict of Compatibilism and Incompatibilism

was last modified: June 20th, 2017 by Daniel Podgorski

[Topics: Absurdity, Meaning, Morality]
When Mattering Matters:

Thomas Nagel, Final Outcomes, and Considering Actions on Different Scales

 

Introduction:

Thomas Nagel Sketch by M.R.P. - final outcome argument - absurdity - meaning

Caricature Sketch by M.R.P.
[High-res prints available here]

Where is one left, after four weeks of discussing morality, if the conclusions reached are primarily that humans would do well to approach situations of moral choice with earnest, humble attention to nuance and detail? Well, some of the background assumptions which have led to this formulation are somewhat grander, such as that the apparent objectivity of some basic moral strictures may be an expected piece of a socially evolved mind, or that the justifications for trusting most proposed sources of moral knowledge are on equally dubious footing.

So, if by some chance you are willing to grant that I might be on the right track with both the grand propositions and the simple conclusions, then you might think that we are actually left in a somewhat sorry state, as moral actions then lack the special significance for which they are often revered. In responding to that charge, one can refer to some remarks of Thomas Nagel on the experience of absurdity, and on when mattering matters.

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[Topics: Absurdity, Meaning, Morality]
When Mattering Matters:

Thomas Nagel, Final Outcomes, and Considering Actions on Different Scales

was last modified: February 28th, 2018 by Daniel Podgorski

[Topics: Decision-making, Logic, Metaethics]
Moral Decision-making, and Navigating Philosophy:

How Both Consequentialists and Deontologists Actually Make Choices

 

David Hume Engraving 1754 - consequentalist - deontologist - decision-makingThis is a post about moral decision-making, but it is not a post that engages at length with the particular theories involved. As the title is meant to imply, this article discusses a more general point about how any given philosopher uses philosophy to inform both the ises and the oughts of their perceptions and practices.

In the first post in this series, I argued that moral anti-realism may be true and yet have a functionally objective morality nested within it (as a feature of our evolved minds). Across the past few thousand years, compatibilists have argued that determinism may be true and yet have free will nested within it (as a feature of our freedom to act in accordance with our determined motivations). And, as I will treat briefly below, there is a general strategy available here of reconciling two halves of a dichotomous debate by attempting to understand what aspects of each side are really supported by the relevant evidence for each side. In particular, consequentialists and deontologists might make a more compelling case if they ceased to see their views as mutually exclusive.

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[Topics: Decision-making, Logic, Metaethics]
Moral Decision-making, and Navigating Philosophy:

How Both Consequentialists and Deontologists Actually Make Choices

was last modified: January 2nd, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski

[Topics: Cultural Relativism, Culture, Moral Realism]
Cultivating Moral Humility:

What Cultural Differences and Similarities Have to Say about Morality

 

Ruth Benedict - cultural differences - morality - cultural relativism - moral realism

Introduction

In my prior post, I explored the notion that moral realism is not as pragmatically attractive as it presents itself when its proponents are comparing it to opposing systems. I would now like to take up another narrow topic in the discussion of morality—the notion that moral realism must be true for the opposite of the reason that others feel cultural relativism must be true: while some relativists feel that cultural differences demonstrate the lack of objective moral truth, some realists feel that morality must be objective and real because all people across the world, and throughout history, have held certain values in common.

Well, in response, first, I would recommend reading my initial article in this series, on how some basic aspects of what we call morality are necessary features of our evolutionary past, but not ‘objective’ in the desired sense. But second, and more importantly, I would seek to show that this argument for moral realism and the opposite argument for cultural relativism actually fail for the same reason.

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[Topics: Cultural Relativism, Culture, Moral Realism]
Cultivating Moral Humility:

What Cultural Differences and Similarities Have to Say about Morality

was last modified: March 27th, 2018 by Daniel Podgorski

[Topics: Moral Knowledge, Moral Realism, Pragmatism]
The Morality Pageant:

On the Relative Attractiveness of Moral Realism and its Alternatives

 

Introduction:

The New York Society for the Suppression of Vice Emblem - moral realism - nihilism - pragmatismLooking back at my school days, I remember a Ph.D. student in the philosophy department remarking on the differences between moral realism (the system of thought that says that there exists a literal, objective morality) and its alternatives by appealing to the consequences of holding each belief.

The moral realist, he underscored, has the advantages of being able to say that society is making moral progress, and being able to say that some societies have been immoral at different times, such as Nazi Germany and slaveholding America. Moral relativists, moral nihilists, and all related parties, he pointed out, have no such recourse. So, surely, even if one is convinced that moral realism is false, this student concluded, it might be better not to mention that conviction ‘in polite company.’

In fact, the article by James Rachels which I discussed last week makes some very similar statements in its singular effort to refute cultural relativism. But is it true that believing morality is not truly objective is somehow uglier or less desirable than believing that there is an objective morality? To explore this, I will take a closer look at both sides.

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[Topics: Moral Knowledge, Moral Realism, Pragmatism]
The Morality Pageant:

On the Relative Attractiveness of Moral Realism and its Alternatives

was last modified: March 27th, 2018 by Daniel Podgorski