I read a fascinating article about free will the other day. The first premise seems unremarkable to me: we initially make our decisions based on emotion, and then rationalize those decisions after the fact by reason. That premise seems well-correlated to me with empirical evidence in many cases; though there might be a small subset of cases in which people actually reason something out first before acting. However, the author then asserted that, because our decisions are primarily driven by emotion, that we only have the illusion of free will. I am not quite sure I completely followed the logical chain from the premise (emotions drive most decisions) to the conclusion (we feel like we have free will even though we actually do not). My questions to the panel are, (a) is the initial premise as reasonable to you as it seems to be to me, and (b) how does the conclusion follow logically from this premise? Thanks very much!

I have to admit: I'm as puzzled as you are. Let's suppose I'm trying to decide which flavor of ice cream I want. My choices are chocolate and rum raisin. I like them both, and there's nothing unreasonable about eating either. What would make the author of the article treat my ending up with rum raisin amount to a free choice? That I did an exhaustive utility calculation? In the circumstances, how is this better than picking rum raisin because at that moment I'm feeling nostalgic and I'm struck by a warm memory of the big scoops of rum raisin I used to get from the ice cream shop in my home town when I was a boy? More generally, what's the issue? Did my momentary emotion compel me to pick the rum-raisin? That doesn't seem plausible. What reason was there for not giving in to my emotion? I'd go a bit further. In a case like this, wouldn't it be a bit unreasonable to second-guess my urge? What's the issue? If it's supposed to be that there's an explanation for how I came to pick what I picked,...

People often ask ill-conceived questions about whether, by using things like modern medicine, we obstruct natural selection. My own thought is that this thinking is facile, because it presumes that either medicine or caring for sick people are somehow "unnatural" interventions for our species. Animals like chimpanzees are known to use tools, and we wouldn't say that is unnatural for them--isn't medicine just a human tool? But then I wonder if conceiving of natural selection in this way makes it impossible to say that we ever obstruct natural selection, which seems like an logically odd consequence. I was wondering if there is a more discriminating formulation of natural selection according to which we obstruct natural selection in some cases and not others.

You're right to be suspicious of the idea that we somehow "obstruct natural selection." That way of putting things assumes a dubious notion of "natural" and suggests that if we influence evolution (which we do) this is somehow a bad thing. As you point out, medicine and other human inventions are natural in a perfectly good sense: we are part of nature and we create these things. Of course, there are also perfectly good uses of the word "natural" according to which medicines, computers, cars and so on aren't natural. But whether something is "natural" in that sense and whether it's good or bad are two very different questions. So is the question of whether these "unnatural" things have a place in evolution. Some people think that because we can manipulate our environment, evolution doesn't apply to humans. This is confusion. Natural selection is a matter of differences in how likely an organism is to reproduce because of features of the environment it finds itself in. Even if we shape the...

Do we have moral duties towards institutions (like the Red Cross)? Do institutions have moral rights?

I often find the words "duty" and "rights" confusing outside of legal contexts, because they're weighted with theoretical overtones that don't always help us think clearly about how we should act and what we should do. So let me refocus the question: are the things we should and should't do when it comes to institutions? I think the answer is yes. Suppose that I find a way to hack into the Red Cross bank accounts and steal money. I shouldn't do that. It's not just that it's against the law (though it certainly is). It's just wrong. It's not wrong just because it may hurt the CEO of the Red Cross, or any of the people who work for the Red Cross. Those people come and go, and it may even be that they aren't actually harmed by my act of theft. What I'm doing is wrong because (dare I say?) it harms the Red Cross itself. We could provide lots of related examples. And when it comes to the fundamental question, that's a pretty good way to answer it, I think. We can do things that help or harm organizations...

Is this a decent argument (i.e. logical, sound)? If God exists, God is an omniscient, omnipotent, wholly good being If God is wholly good, God would want humans to posess free will If God is wholly good, God could endow humans with free will But, if any being is omniscient or all knowing, such a being would know human choices and actions before they are chosen Under such conditions, free will would only exist as an illusion or in the mind as the human perception of having free will; true free will would not exist because God or some other power has predecided all human choices Therefore, God, if God exists, cannot be both wholly good and omniscient Therefore, God does not exist

When we look at arguments, we have two broad questions in mind. One is whether the conclusion follows from the premises, whether or not the premises are true. The other is whether the premises are actually true. So with that in mind, let's turn to the argument. It's often possible by restating premises and adding other premises that are assumed but not stated to make an argument valid even if it's not valid as stated. Your argument is more or less this, I think If God exists, then necessarily God is perfectly good, knows all, and is all-powerful, Suppose God exists. Since God is all-powerful, God can give us free will. Since God is perfectly good, God wants us to have free will. God does anything God wants to do. Therefore, we have free will. Since God knows all, God knows what we are going to do before we do it. If God knows what we're going to do before we do it, then we don't have free will. Therefore, we don't have free will. CONTRADICTION. Therefore, God doesn't exist. We could clean things...

I have been intrigued by the theory expounded by the MIT physicist Max Tegmark that the universe is composed entirely of mathematical structure and logical pattern, and that all perceived and measured reality is that which has emerged quite naturally from the mathematics. That theory simplifies the question of why mathematics is such a powerful and necessary tool in the sciences. The theory is platonist in essence, reducing all of existence to pure mathematical forms that, perhaps, lie even beyond the realm of spacetime. Mathematics, in fact, may be eternal in that sense. The Tegmarkian scheme contains some compelling arguments. One is that atomic and subatomic particles have only mathematical properties (mass, spin, wavelength, etc). Any proton, for example, is quite interchangeable with any other. And, of course, these mathematical particles are the building blocks of the universe, so it follows that the universe is composed of mathematical structures. Another is that the vastness of the universe is...

I will confess that I don't see the charm of Tegmark's view. I quite literally find it unintelligible, and I find the "advantages" not to be advantages at all. You suggest a few possible attractions of the view. One is that "atomic and subatomic particles have only mathematical properties (mass, spin, wavelength, etc.) and hence we might as well see them as nothing but math. Any proton, for example, is quite interchangeable with any other." But first, the fact that we only have mathematical characterizations of these properties is both false and irrelevant insofar as it's true. It's false because knowing something about the mass or the spin or whatever of a particle has experimental consequences. It tells us that one thing rather than another will happen in real time in a real lab. If that weren't true, we'd have no reason to take theories that talk about these things seriously; we'd cheat ourselves of any possible evidence. Of course, we may not know what spin is "in itself," and perhaps to that...

Dear philosophers, I've been told that instead of looking for objective moral facts, many philosophers see the task of ethics as bringing intuitions into "reflective equilibrium". But if intuitions aren't a sort of sixth sense that allows people to perceive moral facts, and are merely behavioural tendencies from nature and nurture, why ought we try to systematise them? What special authority do they have, and why duree action viagra should we care about them?

I think there may some some false dichotomies afoot here. Most of us think there are some first-order moral facts. For example: I may think (I do, actually) that torturing people just for fun is wrong. However, if I'm doing moral philosophy, I'm not trying to assemble a collection of first-order moral truths. I'm trying to present an account of (for instance) what makes things right or wrong. And so I offer some general view—for example, some version of utilitarianism, perhaps. But how do we decide whether my theory is correct? What counts as evidence? One important piece of evidence is whether my theory can account for uncontroversial cases. I think it's pretty uncontroversial that torturing people for fun is wrong. If my theory didn't entail this, that would be a serious piece of evidence against it. (Compare: if a scientific theory fails to account for some apparently unproblematic piece of experimental evidence, that's a strike against the theory.) Part of the process of arriving at reflective...

If I have a choice between two candidates, neither of whom I like, is the morally responsible thing to not vote, because I then wouldn't be causally implicated in either of them coming into office?

That's certainly one acceptable response. Others might include voting for a third candidate if one is available, writing in a candidate's name if the ballot allows, or, in extremis , spoiling the ballot as a protest. There's another issue worth raising. One might ask whether one's dislike of a candidate stands up to scrutiny. In this Presidential election, many people claim that they dislike both major party candidates. But a couple of things to bear in mind. 1) Personal dislike, as in "I find him/her obnoxious" doesn't strike me as a very good reason to vote against someone, especially if there's a lot at stake. What one might more reasonably care about is whether the politician favors policies that one find acceptable, and whether s/he will be effective at promoting them—whether or not s/he is someone whom you find obnoxious. Is what you find obnoxious just a matter of personality? Or is it a symptom of something that matters for larger reasons? 2) Is the dislike based on good information? Here I...

People often die in car accidents due to their own negligence or incompetence. For example, a cyclist may be fatally struck by a car as a result of failing to stop at a red light. In cases like this, I have often seen observers express the following sentiment: "The cyclist should be denounced. He was the one at fault, and because of his failure the driver must live with the burden of having killed someone. If anything, it was the driver who was wronged by the cyclist, even though the former killed the latter." This seems to me puzzling attitude, and I was wondering if the panel had anything to say about it.

An interesting case! My reaction is that the attitude you describe isn't incoherent or confused, but isn't noble or wise either. Just to review: in the case you've described, the cyclist is negligent, ends up dead because of that, and someone (the driver) who did nothing wrong becomes the unwitting instrument of the person's death. If the driver had happened along a second earlier, she might have been able to swerve and avoid hitting the cyclist. If a police officer had been there, the cyclist might well have gotten a ticket. We hold people responsible for being negligent, and depending on the consequences of their negligence, the responsibility might be extensive. And so it's not confused to say that the cyclist is to be blamed if anyone is. It's also not confused to say that in addition to his own death, the cyclist's negligence had the effect of leaving an otherwise innocent person with a tremendous psychological burden. But what do we do with all those thoughts? If the driver was distraught,...

It seems to me that a lot of basic philosophy is about definitions of abstract words. So, Plato might have asked what courage or love are, Enlightenment philosophers might have been interested in what freedom is, more modern philosophers might inquire what science is. I guess I'd like to ask a two-part question. The first is what the difference is between the sort of definition a philosopher might give and the sort of definition a lexicographer might give. What are philosophers doing that lexicographers aren't? The second is, if it's fair to say that philosophers are interested in defining abstract words, well, is the task inevitably culturally and temporally specific? I mean, does the Latin word "pulchritudo" really mean the same thing as the English word "beauty"? Does the Greek "aletheia" really mean the same thing as "truth"? And couldn't the meaning of a word like "freedom" change over time?

Think about water. When a lexicographer asks what the word "water" means, s/he is asking how the word is used. It's an empirical question about people's actual linguistic behavior. If it turned out that enough people use the word "water" to refer to vodka, then "vodka" would be one of the meanings of the word "water." But when a chemist answers the question "What is water?", s/he's not telling us how the word is used. On the contrary, s/he will assume that that's settled. The question isn't about the word; it's about the stuff that we use the word to refer to. What is it? And, at least close enough for present purposes, the substance that we refer to by using the word "water" is the liquid composed (mostly) of molecules of H2O. The chemist's answer can be quite different from the lexicographer's. A lexicographer could have come up with a perfectly acceptable account of the meaning-in-use of the word "water" before we knew what water is. Many people who use the word "water" correctly don't know...

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