Yascha Mounk at the utopian conducts An Interview with T.M. Scanlon: I: Free Will, Punishment and The Significance of Choice
T.M. (Tim) Scanlon is Alford Professor of Natural Religion, Moral Philosophy, and Civil Polity at Harvard, a moral philosopher, expert in contractualism, and the author of What We Owe To Each Other [more inside]
The Utopian: One of philosophy’s oldest worries is causal determinism: the fear that, if what we do and think is determined by physical processes beyond our control, then we should abandon moral categories like praise and blame and choice. But I take it that you’re less worried about that than many of your colleagues?
Tim Scanlon: I think there are three ways in which this problem arises – the problem being the possibility that a causal explanation of a reaction we give would undermine its significance in one way or another.
3QD's 2014 finalists for best blog posts on philosophical topics: Should animal products have ethical warning labels? Why is scientific uncertainty a moral responsibility [see last 4 mins.]? Should people choose probabilistically among competing moral theories? What are some bad ways of arguing about free will? Are most of us just not good enough to be utilitarians? Are volunteer soldiers morally responsible for unjust wars? Do P2P networks provide a model for something to do with consciousness, reality, and, yep, quantum mechanics? When are delusions good for us (see also)? What's up with philosophical systems that knock themselves down, e.g. Nāgārjuna's, Nietzsche's, and Rorty's? There's also an archive page for older prizes and other categories (previously).
The Philosophical Implications of the Urge to Urinate: Our Sense Of Free Will Diminishes When We Need To Pee Or Desire Sex.
Discovering Free Will (Part II, Part III) - a nice discussion of the Conway-Kochen "Free Will Theorem". [more inside]
Disclaimer (Autoplay MP3): "Very Bad Wizards is a podcast with a philosopher, my dad, and a psychologist, Dave Pizarro, having an informal discussion about issues in science and ethics. Please note that the discussion contains bad words that I'm not allowed to say, and knowing my dad, some very inappropriate jokes." Favorite themes include responsibility and revenge, agency and utilitarianism, dishonesty and character, empathy and offensiveness. [more inside]
The Brain on Trial. Advances in brain science are calling into question the volition behind many criminal acts. A leading neuroscientist describes how the foundations of our criminal-justice system are beginning to crumble, and proposes a new way forward for law and order.
"We may someday find that many types of bad behavior have a basic biological explanation—as has happened with schizophrenia, epilepsy, depression, and mania."[more inside]
The Root of Knowledge - "Wikipedia trivia: if you take any article, click on the first link in the article text not in parentheses or italics, and then repeat, you will eventually end up at 'Philosophy.' " (via) [more inside]
The Lucretian swerve: The biological basis of human behavior and the criminal justice system
As de Duve has written, “If … neuronal events in the brain determine behavior, irrespective of whether they are conscious or unconscious, it is hard to find room for free will. But if free will does not exist, there can be no responsibility, and the structure of human societies must be revised”.Ben Libet & free will, previously on metafilter. (And more on: Lucretius, Dualism, Philosophy of mind, and Free Will 1, 2.)
Rod Humble, lead designer for The Sims, and creator of seminal art-game The Marriage -- discourses on free will at E3. [via]
You've stepped out of a time machine, it's 1894 and you're standing in front of a young Adolf Hitler, with instructions to assassinate the child. What you do next may depend a lot on your belief and definition of free will (never mind the unintended consequences) [more inside]
Suppose ... that the right picture is that characters who take themselves to be deliberating and initiating various deeds come to look like somewhat pathetic figures frantically pulling various wires and pushing various buttons which are, unknown to them, not connected to some moving machine they are riding, on a course completely indifferent to anything such characters pretend to do (or much more indifferent than the riders believe) ... The first thing to say is that this is not an academic exercise. The problem I want to raise has become especially interesting in the last hundred and fifty years or so, because, under the influences, first, of the so-called “Masters of Suspicion” – Marx, Nietzsche and Freud – and in our own day under the influence of everything from structuralism and various “anti-humanisms” in European philosophy to evolutionary biology and the neurosciences (experimental results, brain imaging, Benjamin Libet’s famous experiment and so forth), many seem to have concluded that in an ever expanding range of cases, it only seems to us that we are “running any show” as conscious agents in any even metaphysically modest sense; it only seems that we could be actually leading our lives.
The Free Will Theorem - "If there exist experimenters with (some) free will, then elementary particles also have (some) free will." (previously)
Philosophy’s great experiment. "Philosophers used to combine conceptual reflections with practical experiment. The trendiest new branch of the discipline, known as x-phi, wants to return to those days. Some philosophers don’t like it." [Via]
Free Will versus the Programmed Brain. Shaun Nichols discusses some recent experiments relating belief in free will to moral behavior. [more inside]
Stickk.com allows people to undertake commitment bonds: promises that they will do something (lose weight, quit smoking, etc.) or else forfeit a pre-determined amount of money to a charity. Either the honor system or a referee can be used to decide if the goal is met. The idea is related to Nobel prize-winner Thomas Schelling's concept of strategic precommitment. More here, here, and here.
Recently passed Benjamin Libet conducted some famous experiments that had incredible implications on how we think about free will and consciousness. The results of these experiments are open to interpretation.
According to this guy, you’re not ultimately morally responsible for choosing whether to snark or not to snark in response to this FPP. A discussion of the philosophical problems surrounding freewill from British Analytic philosopher Galen Strawson. (Oh, and while we’re at it, let’s throw in this unrelated review of Strawson’s latest work on consciousness, just for an extra splash of color.)
Neurolaw - The Brain on the Stand
[NSFW] Much of contemporary liberal thought rests on the idea of the Social Contract. In this scheme, we agree to give up a certain amount of freedom in exchange for the protection and opportunity that society provides. Our individual lives mirror this. We defer to others when politeness requires it. We assert ourselves and our needs with pleases and thank yous. Most of daily life has some power dynamic to it, expressed with the subtlety that civilization demands. And what is implicit in daily life is made explicit in the role-playing of BDSM, based on the idea of a Power Exchange, where one party explicitly agrees to give up a certain amount of power to another. For most people who are into this, the “scenes” are circumscribed by rules, usually discussed beforehand, such as appropriate safewords, time limits, etc. For a small subset of this group, the typical safeguards are cast aside and the slave surrenders all aspects of his or her life to the master. The female submissive Polly Peachum has written about this lifestyle in her essay “Violence in the Garden” about her life as a 24-7 slave and the sexual dimensions of that relationship.
Living Without Ultimate Moral Responsibility. Is it desirable to live without the idea of free will as we normally understand it? Is it even possible? This interview with Galen Strawson explores these questions. Those who like something meatier may enjoy Derk Pereboom on the same subject (from the previously linked Determinism and Freedom Philosophy Website). Also of note: Susan Blackmore on living without free will.
We've talked about quantum computation a few times before, but how much do we really know? Metafilter, instruct thyself. Don't forget to learn some advanced probability and computational complexity (Scott Aaronson has more). Whoa, that's a lot o' learning, so let's so check out the much easier, and much cooler "sleeping puppy" experiment. I can only dream that will help break quantum mechanics' association with animal abuse. Then, there's the Free Will Theorem that just came out (some discussion on it) and another paper with a new look at an old problem. The latter describes another way of solving ye olde, super importanto Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen paradox using the relational interpretation of quantum mechanics (lots of discussion running around). Whew. We don't need the crackpot ramblings of What the #$*! Do We Know? when we've got real physics to keep us up at night. So, who wants to become a physicist? (t'Hooft has some thoughts for those who want to go theoretical.)
"Jesus?" he murmured, "Jesus -- of Nazareth?..." Pontius Pilate, prefect of Judea, is the only historical figure named in the Nicene Creed -- Coptic saint or eternally damned, his role in the greatest story ever told has been debated by many of history's greatest minds: St Augustine, Dante Alighieri, Tintoretto, John Ruskin, Mikhail Bulgakov, Monty Python. Unfortunately, there is very little historical evidence about him. His role in the death of a certain charismatic Galilean healer and apocalyptic preacher is still being debated today by theologians and historians alike. He is also, of course, the main character of The Procurator of Judea, the classic short story (complete text in main link) by Anatole France. (France's magnificent story has lately been tragically neglected by publishers, even if the author was one of his era's most acclaimed writers in the world -- he won the Nobel Prize in 1921 over Shaw, Yeats, Joyce, Thomas Hardy, D.H. Lawrence, and Proust, and when he died in 1924, hundreds of thousands of people followed his funeral procession through Paris). These last 2,000 years of fascination with Pilatus can be explained, some argue... (more inside, for those unwilling to wash their hands of this post)