April 1, 2011
woodchuck64 recently said that “Logic easily disposes of libertarian free will and ultimate moral responsibility via something like Galen Strawson’s basic argument.” I replied that I felt this was false, and asked for elaboration, which he supplied by linking to this PDF.
The Pessimist’s argument woodchuck64 cited seems the same as Strawson’s basic argument outlined here:
The Basic Argument has various expressions in the literature of free will, and its central idea can be quickly conveyed. (1) Nothing can be causa sui – nothing can be the cause of itself. (2) In order to be truly morally responsible for one’s actions one would have to be causa sui, at least in certain crucial mental respects. (3) Therefore nothing can be truly morally responsible.
I agree with woodchuck64 that most who reject this argument do so out of aghast reaction to it’s ramifications as opposed to sound refutation of one or more premises. While I won’t go that route, I can’t help but ponder these ramifications. Hitler’s actions become equivalent to the Japanese tsunami in Strawsonian morality: ultimately blameless events necessitated by prior causal interactions. More revoltingly, if true, Strawson seems to have successfully proven the illusion of rationality. Perhaps most revoltingly of all, if true, Strawson has proven that the very foundation of law-abiding civilization is an illusion. What does this mean for legislation founded on illusion? Interesting thoughts, but let’s cut to the chase.
I’ll go ahead and agree with P1, that nothing is causa sui. After all, this echoes basic Aristotle, which I support when endorsing the argument from kinesis. However, I deny P2, that one must be causa sui for ultimate responsibility to hold. Why must I cause myself to be ultimately responsible for my actions? I submit that one only need be the cause of one’s individual actions, not the cause of oneself, in order for ultimate responsibility to hold. As an interesting aside, those who accept P2 can no longer criticize the God of the Bible as an immoral monster, because the God of the Bible is not causa sui.
The problem, as I see it, is the claim that one is the cause of one’s individual actions seems ultimately unfalsifiable. How might we demonstrate that an individual could not have done otherwise in any given scenario? It’s not like we can rewind time to test the hypothesis and replicate our results.
Therefore, the claim that “logic easily disposes of libertarian free will and ultimate moral responsibility” strikes me as premature. Unless I’m missing something, it seems we have to suspend judgment.