A dialogue on compatibilism

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see the rest at: A Dialogue on Compatibilism – Existential Comics.

This edition of Existential Comics manages to summarize most of the free will debate.  I especially like the discussion on libertarian free will on the second page.  As a compatibilist myself, I’ve often said that libertarian free will is incoherent, and this comic explains why.

If we have an immaterial soul, then it still has a nature and is influenced by its experiences.  (Everyone believes this, otherwise they wouldn’t worry about the schools their kids attend or the friends they hang out with.)  The soul would still function according to some kind of rules.  Those rules may be different than the physical universe’s rules, but they would still exist.  Otherwise it’s hard to see how the mind could function.  The only real difference is that an immaterial soul would preserve a mysterious core of self that we might not ever be able to understand.  (Although if we did discover an immaterial soul, I hope we would never cease trying to understand it.)

But, if we remain the summation of our nature and experiences, then the situation for free will is identical whether or not we have an immaterial component to our self.  If strict determinism is true (the domino scenario in the comic), then our actions are predetermined.  If strict determinism is not true, either through quantum mechanics in brain synapses or some magic randomizer in the soul, our actions may not be predetermined, but they are still not free in the libertarian sense.

All of the metaphysical squabbling over free will is somewhat beside the point.  The real issue is whether responsibility remains a coherent concept.  Personally, I think the idea of holding people responsible for their actions remains an important societal function.  Even if strict determinism is true, knowing that you will be held responsible for your decision will be part of the environment that influences that decision, which means that responsibility serves a purpose.

Note that responsibility doesn’t necessarily mean retributive justice, a straw man that many incompatibilists often like to attack.  Many free will libertarians would agree that retributive justice is wrong and unnecessary under the turn-the-other-cheek and similar religious or philosophical doctrines.  Most thoughtful people can agree that we can have moral responsibility tempered with mercy.

Twelve Angry Philosophers – Existential Comics

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continued at Twelve Angry Philosophers – Existential Comics.

I think the final panels in the full version represent the end result of most philosophical debates.  Not that we shouldn’t have those debates, but we should be conscious of the fact that many philosophical problems have no authoritative answer.  Some, and this may include the most interesting questions, may never have one.  Indeed, once it’s possible to have an authoritative answer, it’s usually then in the purview of science rather than philosophy.

Zombies discussing philosophical zombies

Click through for full sized version, and philosophical explanation if you’re not familiar with David Chalmer’s and Daniel Dennett’s positions on philosophical zombies.

Philosophy Humans – Existential Comics.

I can’t say I’ve ever been too impressed with the idea of a philosophical zombie.  I could see maybe a zombie existing that behaves identically to a human being, but whose internals are simply designed to fool people.

But the classic concept is a zombie that is identical to a human being in every way, right down the neurological structure of the brain, but isn’t conscious.  In my mind, that concept only makes sense within the framework of substance dualism, of belief in a non-material soul.  If you have that belief, then the philosophical zombie is a meaningful concept to you.  If you don’t have that belief, then I can’t see how the concept has any coherence.

Perhaps the silliest part of the concept is the idea that, because we can conceive of it, it must exist.  Well, I can conceive of dragons, poltergeists, and perpetual motion machines, but I feel pretty comfortable that none of those things exist.  I think the entire history of humanity demonstrates beyond all question that we can conceive of all kinds of impossible things.

Philosophy Tech Support

(Click through for the rest, and for a caption explaining the philosophy referenced.)

via Philosophy Tech Support – Existential Comics.

Does philosophy have a responsibility to be relevant to real world problems?  This is a question often asked of science.  I think the answer is complicated, because we never know where a real world solution might come from.  Most of philosophy is a waste, but the problem is that there is no agreement on which part is useful and which is a waste, and you can never know when something that initially appears utterly irrelevant to the real world won’t turn out to have profound consequences.

That said, I’ve noticed a pattern in recent years with publications about scientific studies having a short blurb added explaining what its possible real world benefits might eventually be.  Should philosophy contemplate doing something similar?

Many might argue that no one expects mathematical proofs to have this kind of real world application, and they’d be right.  Of course, I doubt anyone would expect an abstract logical proof to have one either.  It’s only when  someone is attempting to apply math and logic to entities in the world where pragmatic applicability starts to become expected.

Personally, I think that both philosophy and science should be free to explore areas that might not have real world applicability, on the promise that many of those pursuits will stumble on pragmatic solutions.  But I can understand the other side of this argument given never ending budget pressures.

What do you think?

A Dialog on Happiness – Existential Comics

What is happiness?  I think anyone who has ever given the question serious thought realizes that there is no one simple answer.

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via A Dialog on Happiness – Existential Comics.

I would say that Amencia’s first example is defective though.  If the man hooked up to the machine is watching terrible things but isn’t enjoying it while it’s happening, then the machine isn’t successful in its purported ability to “to perfectly simulate any feeling” (emphasis mine).

The rest of the dialog does resonate with me, particularly the part about being motivated to do things without necessarily weighing your predicted state of resulting happiness or unhappiness.  For example, many times in my life, I’ve been compelled to understand things, even when I knew that the answer would probably not make me happy, such as understanding how small and inconsequential humanity appears to be to the overall workings of the universe.  You could argue that the satisfaction in knowledge is a type of happiness, albeit an uncomfortable one, but this just shows how malleable and slippery the concept of happiness actually is.

How to divide up the wealth

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via Buried Treasure – Existential Comics.

If you don’t know much about these guys, Marx wants to divide up in the communist manner, Rawls wants you to evaluate societal rules as if you don’t know what your role in society will be (i.e. rich, poor, etc), Hobbes wants to talk about the social contract you agreed to by being a member of that society, and Rand  basically just wants everyone to look out for themselves.

Finding platonism

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via The Sighting – Existential Comics.

Two Brothers – Existential Comics

Existential comics explores a common truth about life.  Click through for the full version.

via Two Brothers – Existential Comics.

It took me a long time to recognize the truth this comic explores.  Whatever path in life we choose, we’ll always wonder what could have been.  And we’ll always feel some regret for missing out on that other path.

This is where I think understanding that libertarian free will does not exist becomes a comfort.  Understanding that the decision we made was the only one that could have been made given our genetics and life experiences up to that point, lessens any sense of lost opportunity.  Even if quantum mechanics adds a random factor into that decision, it’s not one we would have been responsible for.

None of this is to say that we shouldn’t learn from the results of our past decisions.  But we should learn from them in order to improve our future decisions, and then move on, using regret productively and then trying to dispense with it when its usefulness is over.

The Sniper – Existential Comics

The profound thoughts of a sniper.  Click through to read the whole thing.

via The Sniper – Existential Comics.


Existential comics: How philosophy gets made

I would have just shared this on Twitter, but it seemed relevant to our conversation on the ‘Philosophy that ignores science‘ thread, that I decided to highlight on the blog.  Click through to read the whole thing.

via existentialcomics.com/comic/14