Sunday, November 13, 2011

Moral responsibility and Freewill for Moore and Chisholm

The Western tradition has tied moral responsibility and freewill together. Contrary to popular opinion, I would like to divide these two concepts from each other because the truth conditions for both are different. For moral responsibility, the truth conditions for morality do not exist in the world since being cannot justify an ought; as a result, the methodology for creating a moral theory is not as clear as in an empirically informed metaphysics. A philosopher can in this vagueness define moral responsibility without necessarily appealing to a fact about freewill. Freewill on the other hand is an metaphysical issue which has all the same requirements for proof that comes with that field. With this distinction in mind, Moore and Chisholm both successfully create a means of thinking about moral responsibility but fail to provide a convincing case for their respective account of freewill. Moore's freewill lacks the actual ability to do otherwise which is necessary for freewill, and Chisholm freewill lacks facts.

Moore argues for compatibility by making a distinction between to senses of could. Could1 is the strict metaphysical sense (Moore 397). Could2 is a vague sense which Moore defends as allowing for both a sense of freedom and moral responsibility compatible with determinism (397). In other words, one could1 not do otherwise, but one could2 do otherwise.

Could2 depends on a division of a subjects abilities from their expressions. Moore sees an agent as having many logically possible actions for any given situation. These logical possibilities depend on the abilities of the subject. While an agent could1 only express itself one way, the agent had the power to act differently. For instance, a murderer was causally determined to pull the trigger, but his or her body has the capacity not to pull the trigger. This commonsense language formulation of the word could allows Moore to bring in moral responsibility into his theory.

While this provides a commonsense way of assigning blame in a society which recognizes determinism, Chisholm is justified in critiquing Moore's more radical argument for calling this could2 freedom. Morality is a pragmatic construct that helps keep society stable and self-justified, but freedom is an issue of fact. Chisholm demonstrates that one of Moore's formulations of freedom reveals its self-defeating nature. Moore's goal with the two senses of could is in order to reach a commonsense reformulation of the following premise: One could2 do otherwise (Moore 397). Moore claims in that this formulation is equivalent to: If one had chosen, one would have done otherwise (Moore 399). As Chisholm argues, the second formulation has no bearing on the first because the second can be true while the first false. Since this is true, Moore unsuccessfully reformulated the first statement. Chisholm further demonstrates this point by providing another reformulation: One could2 have chosen to do otherwise. If determinism is true, this third formulation also deserves to be rejected because one does not have the ability to choose. If the third is rejected, what Moore cannot achieve any meaningful notion of freewill in the first formulation. Since formulation two is separable from any meaningful definition of freewill, one can accept a principle of blame and reject freewill.
Chisholm also defends a radical notion of freedom, which he believes does not have the faults of the indeterminist and determinist position. Chisholm's issue with both determinist and indeterminist positions is that both assume that there is only transuent causation (from one state of affairs to another) (404). The indeterminist believes that one could1 do otherwise, but this does not mean an agent actually chooses, rather from a purely transeunt perspective this means that the actions are random. Since Hume demolished any chance of ever knowing something actually causes another, Chisholm feels as if he can provide a solution to the freewill debate by positing a rehashed medieval concept of immanent causation (404). Instead of only positing God as a primemover, human agents become primemovers as well for Chisholm (404). This simultaneously explains where transeunt causation comes from since a transeunt cause always requires another cause before it and how to place blame upon human subjects.

There are two objections against transeunt causation which Chisholm addresses, and the first he dismisses far too quickly. The first objection is that the self doing something to the brain is just another transeunt cause. Chisholm's response is to say that immanent causation is not about doing but about making something happen (405). This is unsatisfying. My intuitions tell me that while I may indirectly make something happen by doing something, I cannot make something happen without doing something. In other words, the brain event that supposedly I make happen requires something to directly cause it to happen. Chisholm might mean however that this make something happen that the self controls physics. This again baffles the determinist mindset, for how does willing bring about changes in physics (I avoid “laws of” to be charitable to a Humean critique)? Because Chisholm's notions of causation are so counter-intuitive, his early dismissal of the first objection is unjustified.

Another reason why the first objection cannot be easily dismissed is that the solution implies the second objection. In order to answer why this is not only transeunt causation, Chisholm introduced a distinction between making A happen and doing A (404). Objection two is attack on the conceivability of this seemingly indirect form of causation, which I already applied in the criticism of his answer to objection one.

Despite this, Chisholm's opinion about how causation should be thought about in the vacuum left by Hume is conceivable. It is an opinion because since causation and the self have become free to be reinterpreted, there are several equally counter-intuitive ways to salvage moral responsibility, which many value more than the truth. It is conceivable because if one shares in the Humean skepticism, causation could work radically differently than that of the regular naturalistic notion. One can still believe emotively in Chisholm's answer in order to salvage morality, but until freewill is verified, one ought to remain skeptical in regards to his or her metaphysical position.  

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