To coerce or not to coerce, that is the question

Let's say that I've made up my mind to do X, for my own reasons. Ignorant of my decision, Scott then threatens to harm me severely if I don't do X. I subsequently do X. Have I been coerced?

Bonus question: how does the answer to this question bear on the implications of the non-aggression principle?

(Thanks to Harry Frankfurt for the thought experiment.)

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I should add that the

I should add that the particular example I had in mind in the last paragraph was that of the homeless guy I was about to give a buck to instead putting a gun to my face and taking my dollar. Presumably I was willing to give him the dollar because I assumed that he was an innocent down-on-his-luck fellow in need of a lift rather than a gun-waving desperado. My willingness to X was specifically predicated on my not knowing that he was going to force me to X.

If the person doing the threatening is actually involved in X (as a beneficiary, one assumes -- it would be silly otherwise), the notion that there is no coercion starts to seem pretty seriously odd.

It is possible within the

It is possible within the boundaries of the hypothetical that you have not been coerced -- if the entire universe is one of X and not-X, harm and not-harm. But this is an awfully narrow hypothetical.

Because in reality, what you will do in this case is X-and-worry, you will X-and-make-sure-that-it-is-visible, or X-and-call-the-cops. You cannot now secretly X; you cannot X on your own schedule, or X in the shower, or X all night long if Scott is a morning person, or X the secret and unknown enemies of Scott. You cannot choose instead to 0.99 X or to 1.01 X, or to X in a tentative and cautious manner and stop at the first sign of trouble.

In the formal and narrow and context-free world of an atomic X, there is an argument to be made that you have not been coerced. In the real world, Scott has framed X to you in a particular way, and you have been coerced into the particular approach to and understanding of X that Scott has.

I should also add, by the way, that for some Scott-regarding Xs there are some rather strange issues raised as well. For instance, if your choice to do X was conditioned on your (incorrect) understanding that Scott did not want you to X, or were willing to do X because you thought Scott was a nice guy, this quickly becomes an even odder question.

Scott is guilty of

Scott is guilty of threatening you with severe harm, regardless of whether you've been coerced.

I wanna go to the store.

I wanna go to the store. Some dude says "If you don't go to the store I'll kick your ass". I then go to the store because I was gonna anyway. I wasn't coerced into going, but I WAS threatened, period. Dagon said it.

This isn't really about

This isn't really about Scott, is it? Has McBride been giving you trouble? If you ask me, he's been getting a bit too big for his britches ever since he passed the 125 mark.

You were not coerced but

You were not coerced but Scott is guilty of coercion.

Joe, Read that squirrel and

Joe,

Read that squirrel and tree thing. Unfortunately, I don't buy it. It's a bad example. That is, neither definition choosen in the example actually reflects what we mean by "going around". By the north, south, east, west definition of "around" then one could say that the tree was going around me as much as I was going around the squirrel. By the facing defintion if I went around the tree but always faced north then the tree would be going around me also. Interestingly enough by the facing definition, if I go around a rotating christmas tree at the same rate that it rotated while always facing north then it would be going around me but not me it.

Whether I was coerced into doing something is different than if someone coerced me. The former requires that I do the something while the latter requires no action on my part.

So the answer to the article is that he has been coerced, but he wasn't coerced into taking the action. Since he only asked the former question the answer is yes.

Bonus answer: Based on the immigration post and following the trackback link to the no-treason crowd, I think the answer is obvious. The non-aggression principle requires that he immediately shoot Scott since coercion is a form of trespass and if you don't want someone to cross a line the only way to accomplish it is with deadly force. :)

I believe that you have been

I believe that you have been coerced because the relationships change. If for example I wanted to allow people of all races to enter my store to shop and at the same time the government put in place a law forcing me to allow people of all races to come into my store to shop, the relationship I have with my customers is changed. If they were admitted without the coercion, they could trust that they were in my store because I wanted them. With the coercion in place, they can never know whether I wanted them or not as customers. The whole dynamic of trust is destroyed and the coercion to eliminate racism forces its continued existence.Coercion always carries a price.

Matt, Interesting question,

Matt,

Interesting question, and all the subsequent replies are, I think, exactly right. Indeed, this strikes me as being a similar sort of question to William James' squirrel and tree example. I think that we all can agree that Scott has not actually been successful at coercing you. We can also all agree that Scott is guilty of attempting to coerce you. The question, then, is what we mean by the term "coercion". I see two possibilities.

1. A coerces B to do X if and only if A threatens B with harm if B does not-X, and B does X.

2. A coerces B to do X if and only if A threatens B with harm if B does not-X, and B does X because of B's threat.

Whether you have been coerced, then, will depend on which definition of coercion we adopt. We might well disagree about which is the appropriate definition, but I think that we will not really disagree that you coerced by definition 1 and are not by definition 2.

I don't think that that's

I don't think that that's what Carter actually meant. From an interview by Fox News:

Well, I was asked by the Playboy interviewers, with whom I should have been more cautious, as he was leaving my house, "Since you are a born again evangelical Christian, I guess that means that you consider yourself to be superior to most of the other people in this country, that you’ve escalated yourself above others on a moral basis."

I said, "No, that’s not the case at all." And I was trying to explain to him some phrases from the Sermon on the Mount where Christ said that we shouldn’t distinguish between ourselves if our hearts are filled with hatred and compare ourselves favorably to someone who has actually committed murder. And we shouldn’t distinguish between ourselves who may have lusted for another woman outside of marriage and someone who has actually committed adultery.

What Carter meant was not that we shouldn't distinguish between intent and action, but that we shouldn't even distinguish between desire and action.

I do agree about the distinction between intent and action, though. I've never really understood why we don't punish attempted murder as severely as successful murder---why should incompetence be considered exculpatory?

You bear moral

You bear moral responsibility for what you choose to do, not precisely for what you do. If you've made up your mind to do X you've already chosen.

Suppose BB sees MM dozing on his front porch and, filled with disgust at MM's blogging, BB decides to blow MM's brains out with a high powered rifle. BB shoots and does indeed splash MM's brains about but it turns out that MM wasn't really dozing because SS had killed him three hours earlier with poison (for much the same reason).

It was actually impossible for BB to harm MM at the time he decided to, but he is still fully responsible for choosing to murder MM.

Jimmy Carter said he committed adultery in his heart. If he was speaking correctly this meant he had chosen to commit adultery thought perhaps circumstances had prevented consummation of that choice. He apparently understood that he was fully responsible for his choice regardless, which I'd say is correct.

Phosphorious, You know what,

Phosphorious,

You know what, I'm going to take back what I said. I was thinking about this as if it was blackmail. I don't think it is exactly analogous. I think it is reasonable to think of it as merely attempted coercion if the person doesn't do the act X or was going to do X anyway.

Your are right and I was wrong.

Regards,
Brian

Matt -- I'll conform to your

Matt --

I'll conform to your notational conventions when everyone else conforms to my preferences regarding, e.g., symbolic logic notational conventions. Seriously, though, I probably should have conformed my comments to the notational format you introduced in the thread for the sake of clarity.

Well, now, I'm not so sure about sufficiency except in the obvious ex post sense that whatever happened in the past were sufficient conditions for purposes of whatever came next in the past. For that matter, given the basic cause / action distinction, I'm not generally comfortable with the notion that John's act causes X where X is Mary's act. (Better?) On the other hand, metaphysical baggage aside, I have no problem with someone claiming that John made Mary do X under any variety of circumstances or with someone else claiming he didn't.

My original point, however obliquely expressed, was that there is something wrongheaded about saying any one of these examples clearly or decisively falls into the "X caused Y" camp while another clearly doesn't. Or, conversely, that there isn't anything wrong with doing so as long as one qualifies that contention with something along the lines of "given my stipulative definition of cause..."

Of course, a metaphysical intuition cannot be proof of anything. Like a moral intuition, it is merely a philosophical datum to be examined and weighed. I don't think Dennett believes in intentionality in any sense sufficiently robust to distinguish it from mere causation, and insofar as that is a fair assessment of his position I don't agree with it. Any form of determinism so weak as to admit moral responsibility would be pretty thin gruel philosophically. Conversely, any sense of moral responsibility weak enough to be compatible with a determinism worthy of the name would suffer likewise.

In any case, I think the law (surprisingly enough) handles these sorts of issues better with its invariably fuzzy senses of contributing causes, proximate causes, superceding and intervening causes, etc., than does the philosophical literature of which I am aware. In that context, legally (and insofar as positive law reflects positive morality, morally) there is nothing wrong with saying John coerced Mary but Mary is nonetheless responsible because, for example, we deem Mary just too easily coerced. Equally, we might hold John guilty or at least liable of wrongful coercion even where Mary had indeed already decided to do X. E.g., John, Mary's father, 'forces' her to marry Bill, whom she already wants to marry. Given that marriage must be consensual to be valid, did Mary really marry Bill? Could she seek an annulment? Could Bill?

Sure, but he's not much of a

Sure, but he's not much of a danger if he sticks to that.

Yes, you have been coerced.

Yes, you have been coerced. You have not been coerced to do X. You have been coerced to keep you from exercising your freedom to change your mind for any reason or no reason and not do X. Suppose X was "going to the grocery store." On your way to the store, your car broke down. Would Scott still carry out his threat?

Brandon, WRT the puzzle of

Brandon,

WRT the puzzle of differential punishment for attempted and actual murders, I think intent is a red herring. Consider that a drunk diver is punished more severely if he crashes his car into someone else's than if he crashes it into a ditch, despite not having any ill intent in either case. Yet it seems like the same principle applies. I think the real distinction is between ex ante and ex post: let's say that if I try to kill you, there's a 50% chance ex ante I'll succeed. But of course if I do actually kill you, the ex post probability is unity. So under this simplistic model, it makes sense for the optimal level of punishment for attempts to be half that of successes.

Alternatively, we could look at it from the marginal deterrence POV: we don't punish rapists with death because this would give the rapist no incentive not to kill his victims. A similar argument might apply to attempted murder: most attempted murders are done out of rage, and a non-negligable number of attempted murderers probably repent after coming close to killing someone, once the reality of the situation hits them. But if the mere attempt was as likely to get them thrown in prison for life as actually going through with it, then after they've tried it once they have no incentive not to keep trying until they get it right.

Grant,

In the example, X is just X -- the X Scott wants me to do is precisely the same in all relevant ways as the one I want to do. You're right that things can get a little weird once we get into Scott-regarding Xes, but for the sake of this discussion we can exclude those.

Kennedy,

Wait, are you actually affirming A and ~A here? How can Scott be guilty of coercing someone if by your own lights nobody has been coerced? It's fine if you want to draw a distinction between threats and coercion (such as Dagon, Dain & Joe do), but maybe you don't want to do that...? He's guilty of something, but by definition it can't be coercion. Which was really my point with the question: there are non-coercive things that can merit coercive punishment. I think this yet another situation where the NAP breaks down at the edges, but somehow I don't expect agreement...

Joe,

Right. Personally I find (2) more in line with intuition, and I suspect most people would too. But this raises further interesting conclusions explored by Frankfurt: Scott has effectively (ex hypothesi) closed off my possibility of doing ~X, which means that it can sometimes be appropriate to hold someone morally responsible for their actions even if they couldn't have done otherwise.

pb,

Okay, but that seems less intuitive than saying I wasn't coerced, and taking that route seems to imply the even more counterintuitive conclusion that one can be responsible for one's own actions even while being coerced.

You were not coerced but

You were not coerced but Scott is guilty of coercion. JTK

So the answer to the article is that he has been coerced, but he wasn’t coerced into taking the action. BM

Each of these responses strike me as odd. Who is Scott guilty of coercing, If MM were not coerced?

And if MM was not coerced into action X, then what was he coerced into?

It seems to me that what we have here is the attempted coercion of MM, by Scott, to do X.

Matt, I meant he is guilty

Matt,

I meant he is guilty of the same thing as any coercer, he's guilty of choosing to coerce. Whether or not he accomplishes coercion is morally irrelevant.

You weren't coerced to do X.

You weren't coerced to do X. Scott may have threatened you (is he your friend btw?) but he did not coerce you to do X. In my book, Scott is not guilty of coercion unless he wants you to give/do Y in return as well, or you change your mind and don't do X and Scott keeps his word.

/me pounds the gavel.

JTK writes: _It was actually

JTK writes:

_It was actually impossible for BB to harm MM at the time he decided to, but he is still fully responsible for choosing to murder MM._

Suppose he tried to 'murder' MM by sticking pins in a voodoo doll. It is impossible to harm MM in this way but is BB guilty of attempted murder, assuming BB genuinely believed in the efficacy of voodoo, nevertheless?

The simplest and most

The simplest and most precise definition for coercion is: any action which removes another person's right to disassociate.

If an arsonist sets fire to a house, the owner can choose to flee or to remain and die. What he cannot do, what has been forbidden to him, is the option of not interacting with the arsonist, of not having his house set ablaze. Likewise, if the arsonist is arrested, he cannot choose to not interact with the prison guards. Both scenarios involve coercion. The question then becomes what coercion is justifiable, hence the "initiation" modifier often appears.

It is worth stressing that when an agreement is voluntary (i.e., non-coercive), any agreed upon constraints that follow cannot be viewed as coercive.

Hmmm... above should read

Hmmm... above should read "whether Y wishes to do A or not". Apparently, an edit does not take unless one previews again.

To invoke a bit of

To invoke a bit of Wittgenstein here, say whichever way you like but refrain from seeking some essence in the concept of coercion that will be present in each case. Assume, for example, that coercion is at least generally an intentional act (though I can imagine cases in which X unintentionally coerces Y, e.g., X is Y’s role model or Y is just generally afraid of X’s reactions and even though X doesn’t care if Y does or refrains from doing act A, X’s own behavior is in a sense coercive in inclining Y to do A as well – this is a common problem in the military). Where X acts intentionally to effect Y doing A whether A wishes to do A or not, it makes sense to call that coercion, but it equally makes sense to say that X’s attempt at coercion failed where Y would have done and did do A anyway because one means by coercion successfully changing Y’s behavior in the “but for” sense. Alternatively, Y may have already been inclined to do A but had not yet decided to do so and X’s behavior becomes the deciding factor. Does it make more sense then to say X caused (by coercion) Y’s behavior or only that it was neither necessary nor, in context, sufficient but a contributing cause?

Nolan, Scott is Stewie to my

Nolan,

Scott is Stewie to my Brian. Or vice, versa, whichever works better.

D.A.,

Gah, stop introducing different notations! It's confusing! Forthwith, 'X' stands for an action and we use proper names for parties, because I say so. That out of the way, a nitpick with this: "Does it make more sense then to say X caused (by coercion) Y’s behavior or only that it was neither necessary nor, in context, sufficient but a contributing cause?"

Ex hypothesi, even in your modified hypo where I haven't made up my mind, Scott's actions *are* sufficient to bring it about that I do X. In this case we can also, I think, say that Scott's actions caused my doing X, but we couldn't say that in my original example -- this despite the fact that the circumstances in both cases were sufficient to bring about my doing X (i.e. my actions were determined). The upshot is that this is an intuitive proof that determinism and moral responsibility are compatible in principle. Causation is a little messier, but for my money this Taylor & Dennett paper does a pretty good job of untangling it.

Speedwell,

No. Ex hypothesi I've already committed myself to doing X in any case; there's nothing being taken from me in any meaningful sense. Analogously, if I decide I don't want my bike anymore and leave it abandoned by the curb, then Joe comes along and takes it, have I been robbed? (After all, until the moment he takes it I could always change my mind and run back to get it.) It would seem queer to say "yes."

Cornelius,

That last sentence seems like question-begging to me. Why can't they be viewed as coercive? My right to disassociate has been removed if I sell myself into slavery, which fits your own definition.

Matt, Maybe some font

Matt,

Maybe some font styling will clear things up...

"any action which removes another person’s right to disassociate."

Or are you being intentionally obtuse?

No, it comes naturally to

No, it comes naturally to me. I'm not sure that totally works, though -- it takes two to make a contract, after all. I suppose you mean unilateral removal of another person's right to disassociate, which covers that problem. But that's still slightly problematic at a deeper level because it implies that one can be coerced without ever knowing it or having one's behaviour changed by the coercion -- e.g. if Scott didn't openly threaten me but secretly took sufficient preparations to make it so that I had no choice but to do X. By your definition I'm coerced since my ability to do ~X has been removed by Scott, but this is of no consequence to me and I'm totally ignorant of it. This isn't necessarily wrong, but it is weird.

On the other hand, it

On the other hand, it occurrs to me that there are reasons to like your definition -- it actually gets the right answer to other well-worn hypos like the man who buys up all the property around my house and then refuses to let me leave across his property (clearly coercive, though perfectly legal under absolute propertarianism).

But that’s still slightly

But that’s still slightly problematic at a deeper level because it implies that one can be coerced without ever knowing it or having one’s behaviour changed by the coercion.

But this is precisely the case with theft. If someone should break into my house we have interacted, yet I had no option to not interact. If something of mine has been stolen, but I don't realize it, theft has still been committed.

Analogously, if I decide I

Analogously, if I decide I don't want my bike anymore and leave it abandoned by the curb, then Joe comes along and takes it, have I been robbed?

Did you give or sell the bike to Joe? No? Then an act of theft has occurred, because Joe took property that was not his.

Honestly, your intention has not much to do with the analogy you proposed. What if you intend to abandon the bike, then Joe comes across it and intends to go home and get his pickup truck so he can come back and pick it up? Suppose Susan calls her brother Billy and asks him to pick it up for her on his way home from work? Suppose your mom finds it and brings it back home thinking you lost it? Who owns it then? LOL.

it actually gets the right

it actually gets the right answer to other well-worn hypos like the man who buys up all the property around my house and then refuses to let me leave across his property (clearly coercive, though perfectly legal under absolute propertarianism)

I disagree with your conclusion. So long as the guy leaves you alone on your property, he is not violating the rule. In fact, it would be you who was in violation by legislating right-of-way. While the pressure of nature or your desires may make such a situation unpleasant to the point of wanting to label it coercion, it is not. I would suggest writing better contracts.

Errr, make that "cause /

Errr, make that "cause / reason distinction."

D.A., "Of course, a

D.A.,

"Of course, a metaphysical intuition cannot be proof of anything. Like a moral intuition, it is merely a philosophical datum to be examined and weighed."

Indeed, intuition is never final (same in morals as in vision -- see optical illusions), but it unquestionably has some force. And unless you've got something better to appeal to...

"Any form of determinism so weak as to admit moral responsibility would be pretty thin gruel philosophically. Conversely, any sense of moral responsibility weak enough to be compatible with a determinism worthy of the name would suffer likewise."

Eh? Did you just dismiss hundreds of years of compatibilist philosophy with a wave of your hand? Come now comrade, this is a serious argument that merits being taken seriously. Flat, unargued assertions won't do it.

And yes, in your example, Mary Married Bill, but of course when we look at these things in the real world it's difficult to tease out to what extent someone is choosing for themselves.

Cornelius,

"But this is precisely the case with theft. If someone should break into my house we have interacted, yet I had no option to not interact. If something of mine has been stolen, but I don’t realize it, theft has still been committed."

I don't think that example is very good since it's hard to conceal having stolen something from someone's house, but in principle you're right. I think a better example would be inflation -- very few people notice the purchasing power they've lost if inflation is kept low, but that doesn't make the loss any less real. The fact that people don't notice isn't the point, conceded.

However, this isn't really analogous to the modified example because Scott's actions have no consequential effect. They're what Dennett would call an "inert historical fact" -- it makes no difference to me whatsoever that Scott was fully prepared to coerce me if need be, because it never came to that point, yet nevertheless I could not have done otherwise.

"I disagree with your conclusion. So long as the guy leaves you alone on your property, he is not violating the rule."

But yes he does! He's just unilaterally removed my right to to exit to anywhere other than my property! He's violated the rule by a plain reading of it, so you're going to have to do better than intone "I disagree" -- or revise the rule, but I've started to like it as it is. I also don't see what contracts have to do with it -- I was never consulted!

Speedwell,

I don't understand how you can say an act of theft has occurred when I've already decided to disown the bike. (It's possible, but I haven't seen an argument yet.) Whether Joe knows that or not is material in discerning what sort of a person he is, but it's unclear why it should be material in deciding whether a theft has actually occurred.

The variations you use are good examples of why ownership can sometimes be a murky concept, but I don't understand how you think they demonstrate that my intention is irrelevant.

Matt -- I've been known to

Matt --

I've been known to dismiss thousands of years of certain philosophical positions, so a few centuries is hardly worth noting. Say instead, however, that the comment was the expression of an opinion, and not all opinions can or need to be argued. For that matter, the fact that others take an argument seriously is only of prima facie evidence whether I should as well.

In fact, it may be a real question of law whether Mary married Bill, though Bill, curiously enough, may have the easier burden making that argument.

However, this isn’t really

However, this isn’t really analogous to the modified example because Scott’s actions have no consequential effect.

It would only be truly inert if the threat was made after you acted. What you told yourself you would do is irrelevant to defining Scott's actions as coercive. I think your intuition is dealing with the level of retribution merited by Scott's actions. That would be a wholly separate matter.

But yes he does! He’s just unilaterally removed my right to to exit to anywhere other than my property!

You don't have a "right" to exit, since "exiting" implies going on other people's property (read:interaction), and can only be done with their consent. It doesn't matter if it's one guy or a dozen, in the anarcho-capitalist dream world, everyone is surrounded by someone else's private property. As such, you better know what you're getting into before you buy a plot of land (hence my comment about contracts).

D.A., I'm a compatibilist.

D.A.,

I'm a compatibilist. I'm open to change however if you can come up with a good argument.

I think of it this way. I've got a bunch of computer programs. They are all deterministic. I try them under various scenarios. The ones that pass my tests are "good" while the ones that don't are "bad". They pass by fitting some criteria.

Now assume I have some moral criteria, and assume that it turns out that people are deterministic. Why can't I classify those people who pass my moral criteria under various scenarios to be "good" while those who fail are "bad"?

I actually think that determinism is generally ill defined and at the minimum unfalsifiable. I can think of no experiment which would show the world to be deterministic or not. Given that it is also true that I do not think that issues of moral responsibility, punishment, insanity, deterence, and are effected by whether the world is deterministic or not.

After all punishment can work in a deterministic world. Insane people are just as intractable to corrective actions in a non-deterministic world as a deterministic one.

In fact you want a certain amount of "determinism" to be able to have the kind of predictability needed for correlation between actions and goals. In a non-deterministic world it would not be reasonable to expect people to correct their behavior based on moral approbation, punishment and the like. They would act in indeterminant ways, just like everything else.

Of course it all depends on your definition of "determinism". I've never actually seen one I've liked.

Brian -- I'm not a

Brian --

I'm not a noncompatibilist so much as a whatareyoureallytalkingaboutist, so I'm afraid I have no 'argument' to offer. Do I believe that the world operates according to natural laws, discoverable by human beings, and that human beings themselves are a part of that natural world? Of course? Does it follow that however the configuration of elementary particles that constitute human beings works it precludes genuine intentionality, volition and the ability of human beings literally to engage in otherwise undetermined (i.e., free) acts? Not a chance.

But for purposes of this discussion, even saying that John coerced Mary into doing X is not saying that Mary could not but have done X. It is only to say that Mary's decision to do X was influenced by John in some morally blameworthy sense. As such, it still makes sense to question whether that influence exculpated Mary from moral responsibility for her decision or not, but it is not at all the same thing as, say, hypnotizing Mary or otherwise depriving her of the free will we presume under most circumstances and take as a necessary condition for moral responsibility. If that is the only sense of compatibilism at risk here, there isn't anything really at risk.

Does it follow that however

Does it follow that however the configuration of elementary particles that constitute human beings works it precludes genuine intentionality, volition and the ability of human beings literally to engage in otherwise undetermined (i.e., free) acts? Not a chance.

This statement is considerably more controversial than you appear to realise for it amounts to declaring that intentionality exists somehow outside the physical universe. If you are a materialist, you are bound to note that humans, including our brains, exist within the physical universe and are subject to the rules of physics. The question of determinism or indeterminism, is, as I think Dennett (see Freedom Evolves) demonstrates quite clearly, separate from this. Basically, indeterminism doesn't rescue the type of sovereign free will implicit in your definition of intentionality. Posit two alternative universes identical in all respects to our own. Universe 1 is deterministic, Universe 2 isn't. Causes may, in principle, be identified for any action in Universe 1, in Universe 2, is identical to our own remember so there are still physical rules, but there is also a degree of unpredictability. That randomness in itself doesn't confer an exemption from the physical universe to incorporeal "souls" or "minds".

Phooey. First, "two

Phooey. First, "two alternate universes identical in all respects to our own" are by definition identical to each other and therefore not different at all. (You might try "apparently" or "observationally," though.) Second, my contention that the world is the way it is, including human agency, has nothing to do with a probabilistic model for subatomic behavior and a mechanistic model for macro behavior, nor did I introduce any non-naturalistic conjecture in my contention. I don't know about materialism, but I don't suppose whatever human minds are or how they work is anything other than natural. ("Realism without empiricism, that is the difficult part." - Wittgenstein) That we may not have an intellectually satisfactory understanding of how people make decisions and act on them in terms of the best physics we currently have available to us or haven't otherwise seen a way to reconcile the apparent tensions that arise as a result says more about the current model and our intellectual limitations than about how the world works, let alone leading to the conclusion that free will (even constrained as it obviously is by nature) does not exist. Only a fool or a philosopher would contend otherwise. I leave to others to determine which category applies to Dennett, et al., though I will add that the two are not mutually exclusive.

Phooey Well you've convinced

Phooey

Well you've convinced me - bravo!

Seriously: Sure, "observationally" obviously. My point is that we don't need to determine whether the universe - the one we observe - is actually deterministic or indeterministic to conclude that we, including our brains, exist within that physical universe and everything we do is subject to the rules of that universe. If you make the claim that you personally have the "free will" to choose act A instead of act B (leaving aside the tricky question of whether act B was the act "predetermined" to happen) you're making the implicit claim that there were no physical causes which brought you to the point of choosing act A or B, that your own decision-making process is somehow sovereign. But the you that makes this decision is a mere human being composed of cells, composed of molecules. There are a series of physical processes which have brought you to this point, including evolution, the entire cultural history of mankind, and the intuitions conferred on you by your genes and your experiences to date. All of these will constrain you to choose in a certain way (even including the possibility that you choose "at random"). This is not to deny that you have what you understand to be free will - you can be "free" to choose as you please, but the "as you please" bit doesn't just appear from the ether - it comes from somewhere.

Fine. Not, by the way, that

Fine. Not, by the way, that I was trying to convince you of anything in the first place, but I was making no such implicit claim and am now explicitly denying it. Of course all those constraints and influences of which you speak are present and, no, my freedom to turn to the right or left at an intersection (as opposed to what? Staying put? Going up or down?) need not invoke any non-natural mechanism or power at all; but neither do they "constrain [me] to choose in a certain way" if by that you mean I didn't really choose to act and really act on my choice but only imagined that this was the case. (The conscious arrow, having reached the zenith of its arc, says to itself "I think I'll start descending now.") That's what I read Dennett as really asserting, and as with his "Consciousness Explained" -- "Explained Away" or "Denied" would have been more intellectually honest -- I can only say, as I will now say to you, you are free to believe that if you choose.

but neither do they

but neither do they “constrain [me] to choose in a certain way” if by that you mean I didn’t really choose to act and really act on my choice but only imagined that this was the case.

By that I don't mean that your choice is an illusion as such, but rather that you are part of the universe, deterministic or not, and aren't in anyway independent of it. Thus, the train of thoughts or pattern of decision-making that led you to make that choice is constrained by the person you happen to be at that moment which is itself part of a chain of, ultimately, physical processes and cannot be in anyway "uncaused".

D.A., I wasn't responding to

D.A.,

I wasn't responding to your post with regards to coercion. I pretty much agree with you on that. What I was being responsive to was this statement:

"Any form of determinism so weak as to admit moral responsibility would be pretty thin gruel philosophically. Conversely, any sense of moral responsibility weak enough to be compatible with a determinism worthy of the name would suffer likewise."

I didn't understand why you would say this.

You preceded that quote with this sentence which I didn't address.

I don’t think Dennett believes in intentionality in any sense sufficiently robust to distinguish it from mere causation, and insofar as that is a fair assessment of his position I don’t agree with it.

I really don't know what you mean by this either. This isn't compatible with my understanding of Dennett. My understanding of Dennett is that he has a very robust understanding of intentionality and that his position isn't merely that it is equivalent to causation. Dennetts ideas on intentionality are broader than the issue of moral responsibility.

R.A., I just read your post

R.A.,

I just read your post implying that Dennett is a fool. I guess you haven't read any Dennett. He's a polymath in the sciences as far as I'm concerned, not some armchair science illiterate philosopher.

... I meant science

... I meant science illiterate - armchair philospher.

Cornelius, "It would only be

Cornelius,

"It would only be truly inert if the threat was made after you acted. What you told yourself you would do is irrelevant to defining Scott’s actions as coercive."

Sorry, I was referring to the modified example in which Scott never actually does threaten me -- just secretly makes preparations to coerce me if I fail to do X.

"You don’t have a “right” to exit, since “exiting” implies going on other people’s property (read:interaction), and can only be done with their consent. It doesn’t matter if it’s one guy or a dozen, in the anarcho-capitalist dream world, everyone is surrounded by someone else’s private property. As such, you better know what you’re getting into before you buy a plot of land (hence my comment about contracts)."

You've rendered your definition circular, in that case. You're smuggling in "rights" which are presumably defined by you in terms of non-coercion... into your definition of coercion. Clearly in the land-locking example my *ability* to exit has been unilaterally revoked.

Mr Macker: You are quite

Mr Macker:

You are quite right that Dennett is no fool. If you will re-read my earlier comments you will find that I have indeed read some (but admittedly not all) of his published work. You linked to one of his papers on intentionality which mentions his longstanding differences with John Searle. If you have read extensively in that literature it should suffice to say that, as between the two, I think Searle generally has the better position. If you disagree, well and good, perhaps we can discuss it further another time and place. But I think we have threadjacked on this point long enough for now.

You’ve rendered your

You’ve rendered your definition circular, in that case. You’re smuggling in “rights” which are presumably defined by you in terms of non-coercion… into your definition of coercion. Clearly in the land-locking example my ability to exit has been unilaterally revoked.

1) I advise you to look up the definition of circular logic.

2) The only right I'm asserting here is the right of disassociation (i.e., "non-coercive" is when both parties agree to interact). You are the one claiming you have a "right to exit". The latter conflicts with the former, and conflicts with the notion of private property in general.

3) I advise you to look up the difference between positive and negative rights.

4) How did you get on your property in the first place? How did you exit before I became the owner of the surrounding private-property?

Cornelius, (1) I understand

Cornelius,

(1) I understand it just fine, thanks.

(2) I have not agreed to interact. The other guy never consulted me before buying up all the land around my house and then refusing to let me leave. (Also, consider if my wife and I then have a child: the Spooner critique applies here.) I also don't understand the distinction you're trying to make between exit and disassociation -- I'm using them synonymously here. And yes, I know that in this case exit is conflicting with property -- that's kinda the point, hombre.

(3) I don't understand why this is relevant. If anything it highlights the circularity -- "negative freedom" is defined entirely by the absence of coercion, so if your definition of coercion is the violation of negative liberty...

(4) I dunno, how much does it matter? We can say it was unowned and you homesteaded it, or that the previous owner didn't particularly care if I used his dirt road, or that he did care and charged me a small sum but you've discontinued that policy out of spite (because you want to develop on my land and I refuse to sell thus far, say).

Mr. Ridgely, I wouldn’t

Mr. Ridgely,

I wouldn’t worry about thread jacking. Intentionality is certainly within the scope of this article. This kind of content, intelligent commentary, is part of the draw of the site.
It’s not like we are discussing Paris Hilton or something.

I had actually read all your comments. There was nothing definitive in them that indicated you had read Dennett beyond following a link and perhaps skimming an article. Mocking the title of a book does not indicate to me that you have read anything. It was not even an original mocking as I have seen that elsewhere. I do agree with the assessment that the title was over ambitious. I read the book and was NOT satisfied that consciousness had been explained. It was not however a waste of time to read the book. I hope you can understand where I might be mistaken on this. I’ll take your word for it. Sorry for my misapprehension.

I was not familiar very deeply familiar with John Searle prior to this article. I had heard of some of his ideas but his name didn’t register. I did read several of his articles since this article was posted. I think he is out of his depth on several of the topics he has addressed. I can’t say the same for Dennett. I found many oversights in his articles that would be obvious to someone well versed in computer science.

I will give you a concrete example. In his article Is the Brain a Digital Computer?


Why are the defenders of computationalism not worried by the implications of multiple realizability? The answer is that they think it is typical of functional accounts that the same function admits of multiple realizations. In this respect, computers are just like carburettors and thermostats. Just as carburettors can be made of brass or steel, so computers can be made of an indefinite range of hardware materials.
But there is a difference: The classes of carburettors and thermostats are defined in terms of the production of certain physical effects. That is why, for example, nobody says you can make carburettors out of pigeons. But the class of computers is defined syntactically in terms of the assignment of 0's and 1's. The multiple realizability is a consequence not of the fact that the same physical effect can be achieved in different physical substances, but that the relevant properties are purely syntactical. The physics is irrelevant except in so far as it admits of the assignments of 0's and 1's and of state transitions between them.
But this has two consequences which might be disastrous:
1. The same principle that implies multiple realizability would seem to imply universal realizability. If computation is defined in terms of the assignment of syntax then everything would be a digital computer, because any object whatever could have syntactical ascriptions made to it. You could describe anything in terms of 0's and 1's.
2. Worse yet, syntax is not intrinsic to physics. The ascription of syntactical properties is always relative to an agent or observer who treats certain physical phenomena as syntactical.
Now why exactly would these consequences be disastrous?
Well, we wanted to know how the brain works, specifically how it produces mental phenomena. And it would not answer that question to be told that the brain is a digital computer in the sense in which stomach , liver, heart, solar system , and the state of Kansas are all digital computers. The model we had was that we might discover some fact about the operation of the brain which would show that it is a computer. We wanted to know if there was not some sense in which brains were intrinsically digital computers in a way that green leaves intrinsically perform photosynthesis or hearts intrinsically pump blood. It is not a matter of us arbitrarily or "conventionally" assigning the word "pump" to hearts or "photosynthesis" to leaves. There is an actual fact of the matter. And what we were asking is, "Is there in that way a fact of the matter about brains that would make them digital computers?" It does not answer that question to be told, yes, brains are digital computers because everything is a digital computer.
On the standard textbook definition of computation,
1. For any object there is some description of that object such that under that description the object is a digital computer.
2. For any program there is some sufficiently complex object such that there is some description of the object under which it is implementing the program. Thus for example the wall behind my back is right now implementing the Wordstar program, because there is some pattern of molecule movements which is isomorphic with the formal structure of Wordstar. But if the wall is implementing Wordstar then if it is a big enough wall it is implementing any program, including any program implemented in the brain.


There are several bad assumptions in this section and I bolded one of them. Multiple realizability absolutely does not imply universal realizability. If you will read the rest of the article you will see this same mistake stated in several ways. He seems to think that because you could theoretically make a Turing machine out of certain objects that implies that any object can be a Turing machine. That’s a bad assumption. I don’t know where he got this notion but it is incorrect. I can assure you that walls don’t implement the Wordstar program. A string of bits that happen to match the Wordstar program is not a sufficient entity. In order to properly match the Wordstar program as it is implemented in a computer one also needs to match the structure of the computer the Wordstar program was designed to work on. I can assure you that no sheetrock and 2x4 wall has the proper structure for this. What he is actually contending is that any permutation of >n bits can be converted to any particular string of <=n bits, given the proper encoding method. So what?

I do not buy his Chinese Room argument either. It rests on a false intuition of what should be and not any deep understanding of computation.

Matt, The answer depends

Matt,

The answer depends entirely on how we construct coercion. If coercion requires that the threat of force is a factor in your decision, yes; if not, no. The answer has no implications whatsoever for the non-agression principle: just because it's not coercive does not mean it is non-aggressive (consider my ability to simply punch people randomly while making, and having, no demand of them at all). Presuming, however, merely a non-coercion principle, it still has no implications for the principle qua moral principle but does have implications for the NCP qua legal norm. In the form of a moral principle, the implications do not exist because we know you either to be coerced (the first construction) or not coerced (the second). In the form of legal code, it produces the odd necessity of the assaulted proving that they had no intention to undertake the act in the first place under the first construction of "coercion."

As to determinism, clearly it is wrong because God hates it.