I wrote recently about Sam Harris appearing on Very Bad Wizards to debate free will. Sam retweeted my analysis and Tamler (from the podcast) engaged me in some discussion on my site. Here’s are the relevant bits:
May main assertion:
If you are a Meat Roomba then it’s simply impossible for you to be responsible for your actions in any sense other than a consequentialist one.
This is not something that needs to be argued for if we agree on definitions. Let’s tighten up what we mean by “responsible”, and “blame”.
I’d challenge your definition of desert. My definition would go: someone deserves blame if it is fair or appropriate (in a non-consequentialist sense) to blame them. I’d leave responsibility out of that definition entirely. This definition doesn’t allow either side to beg the question. So you’d still have to argue for the substantive conclusion that it’s only fair or appropriate to blame someone if they are ultimately responsible for their behavior.
[ Emphasis mine. ]
Extraordinary. I’m unsure of where to begin.
Someone deserves blame if it is fair or appropriate (in a non-consequentialist sense) to blame them.
Tamler claims to want to avoid getting caught up in definitions, and I generally admire that as a goal, but unfortunately we’re using language here to express our ideas, and the definition he’s provided hinges upon other definitions whether he approves of it or not.
I’m also troubled that he’s justifying “deserves” with “fair or appropriate”, when those are functionally the definition of deserving something. That doesn’t seem like a mistake he should be making. And here are the words he used:
Let’s start with fair. Fair means justified. Fair means deserve. Fair means that it’s right to hold someone accountable for something in a very real sense.
So, no, it’s not fair to hold someone responsible for something when they could not have done otherwise. And we’e already established that he doesn’t believe people could have done otherwise.
As an illustration, it’s not fair to blame a Roomba for bumping into your foot. And as someone who doesn’t believe in libertarian free will, I would like to see him explain the freedom difference between a Roomba and a Meat Roomba.
Ok, so that’s one down. Then he surely must mean the second word he used—appropriate—is the key to getting to deserving blame. So let’s look there.
First of all, appropriate is itself a slippery word. It’s tied to values and all manner of other subjective concepts. Different things are appropriate in different parts of Seattle, let alone in a moral conversation. So that’s a poor word to use unless you’re arguing that perception is reality. Let us all hope he’s not doing that.
There’s another curious property of the word appropriate in that it includes an element of practicality. It would seem to include things like making an example of someone so that we’ll be better off as a society. If he were going that direction then he’d be firmly in the backyard of consequentialism, yet his next bit says:
…in a non-consequentialist sense…
Meaning, it’s appropriate, but not in the benefit it gives to others.
Ok, now I’m lost.
I think we’ve established that it’s not fair to blame someone when they couldn’t have done otherwise, and Tamler has stated that he’s not using appropriate to mean anything related to the consequences of punishment or reward, so I ask a simple question:
If we all agree that people cannot have done otherwise, and we take away consequentialism, then what basis remains for blame?
I propose that there are only two (2) options to get there…
- The person could have done otherwise
- It benefits others to blame them
…and since Tamler has already rejected both of these, I eagerly anticipate his description of alternatives.
- I do not actually believe consequentialism is a means to get to deserving anything. Because people could not have done otherwise they cannot ever get to blame or deserve. Those require the ability to have made a different choice. All it does is get us to it being better to pretend that they do.
- Image by http://kgoel12.wordpress.com