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UCLA Frankfurts Counterexamples and Compatiblist Freedom Discussions

UCLA Frankfurts Counterexamples and Compatiblist Freedom Discussions

Question Description

I’m working on a philosophy discussion question and need a sample draft to help me study.

Discussion Board: Frankfurt’s Counterexamples and Compatiblist Freedom

4848 unread replies.4949 replies.

As you’ve been reading, it seems that it’s part of the libertarian notion of freedom and responsibility that both require the ability to do otherwise. In the free will literature, the ability to do otherwise is often cashed out in terms of alternative possibilities. So, for example, if you’re free to raise your hand, then this requires that at least one other alternative possibility is available to you (e.g., keeping your hand at your side, or clapping, or…). This, in turn, is often called The Principle of Alternative Possibilities (PAP).

(PAP) A person is morally responsible for an action only if they had other possibilities available to them.

However, in “Alternative Possibilities and Moral Responsibility”, Harry Frankfurt famously argued that alternative possibilities are not required for moral responsibility, and thus that PAP is false. The implication is that libertarianism is false: moral responsibility is compatible with determinism (since one could then be determined — thereby lacking the ability to do otherwise — and yet still be morally responsible). He offers several criticisms of it, but the last one he gives is considered the most important:

Suppose someone wants Jones to perform a certain action. Black is prepared to go to considerable lengths to get his way, but he prefers to avoid showing his hand unnecessarily. So he waits until Jones is about to make up his mind what to do, and he does nothing unless it is clear to him (Black is an excellent judge of such things) that Jones is going to decide to do something other than he wants him to do. If it does become clear that Jones is going to decide to do something else, Black takes effective steps to ensure that Jones decides to do, and that he does do, what he wants him to do. Whatever Jones’s initial preferences and inclinations, then, Black will have his way…Now suppose that Black never has to show his hand because Jones4, for reasons of his own, decides to perform and does perform the very action Black wants him to perform. In that case, it seems clear, Jones will bear precisely the same moral responsibility for what he does as he would have borne if Black had not been ready to take steps to ensure that he do it. (463)

So in this possible scenario, we have a case in which a person, Jones, couldn’t have done otherwise (since Black would have intervened and made him do it if he were about to choose something different), yet he clearly seems morally responsible for his actions. But if so, then as it’s currently stated, PAP is false.

For this post:

(i) Read Frankfurt’s paper “Alternative Possibilities and Moral Responsibility”.

(ii) State whether you agree with Frankfurt that he has offered a possible case in which a person can be morally responsible and yet lacks the ability to do otherwise, and briefly defend your position.

Discussion Board: The Basic Argument Against Freedom and Moral Responsibility

4949 unread replies.5050 replies.

As you’re learning in the readings, there seems to be a tension between our ordinary conception of ourselves as free, morally responsible agents, on the one hand, and certain things we seem to know about the world, on other. In particular, we seem to think that we’re free and responsible in virtue of our ability to do otherwise — i.e., our ability to do other than what we actually choose to do. (This is known as the libertarian conception of free will.) On the other hand, it’s not at all clear that we have the relevant sort of the ability to do otherwise. For we have strong scientific evidence from physics, biology, psychology and other disciplines that our actions are determined by factors outside our control, such as the laws of nature, heredity, and environment.

Here’s one way to motivate the problem. We seem to act on our strongest competing desire. So, for example, as I was lying in bed and thinking about what I wanted to have for breakfast, I thought about the different things in the kitchen that I could eat. The two main options were (a) coffee and a bagel with cream cheese, and (b) coffee and a cheese omelette with sourdough toast. After reflecting on the two choices, I weighed them against my desires (e.g., my desire for something I haven’t had in a while, a desire not to feel rushed and not to take too much time to cook, etc.). At the end of a short deliberation period, I chose (a) coffee and a bagel with cream cheese. Why? Because it met my list of desires better than option (a): I had option (b) yesterday, and wanted something new; I was tired, and short on time, and I didn’t want to feel rushed; etc.

In the scenario above, then, it seems that my choice was determined by my strongest competing desire(s). Now of course I could’ve chosen option (b) if I had wanted it more, i.e., if my strongest competing desire was for (b) instead. But here’s the problem: I can’t change my basic wants on the spot: they’re determined by factors beyond my immediate control (e.g., genetics, environment, past choices, etc.). And so just as I can’t make myself have feelings of love for someone I don’t love on the spot, I can’t make myself want an omelette over a bagel with cream cheese on the spot. And the same seems true of all my other choices — at least all my choices I’ve made after early childhood. *Those* choices were ones I made *before* I was a rational, morally responsible agent, and they were shaped by non-rational factors outside my control (again, heredity, environment, etc.).

At this point, people raise two main objections to the claim that our actions are determined, and thus not free in the libertarian sense of the ability to do otherwise. The first objection is that we know by introspection on our own thoughts and feelings during deliberation that we can imagine alternative choices before the moment of decision, and that this is sufficient evidence that we have libertarian free will. However, the reply is that the ability to imagine alternative choices isn’t good evidence that you could have actually chosen them at the moment of decision. For while it’s of course true that you could’ve chosen one of these other options if your desire for them were stronger, that’s irrelevant to whether you could’ve chosen one of these other options given your actual desires and preference structure immediately prior to your decision (remember the problem of being unable to change your preference structure on the spot — e.g., you can’t make yourself desire someone by an immediate act of sheer willpower). The second objection is there is good evidence for libertarian free will that comes from our ability to act against our strongest competing desires. So, for example, some people who have been longtime chain-smokers have overcome their strongest competing desire to keep smoking, and this is sufficient evidence that we have libertarian free will. However, the reply is that an such people quit because they reached a threshold point that triggered an even stronger competing desire to live (or some other relevant desire, e.g., to live long enough to raise their child), which in turn determined their choice to quit smoking.

The first half of the problem of free will, then, is that if free will and moral responsibility require the ability to do otherwise, and if it’s not clear that we have the ability to do otherwise (i.e., to act against our strongest competing desires, the laws of physics, genetics, etc.), then it’s not at all not clear that we are free and responsible agents. The second half of the problem of free will and moral responsibility is that we seem to lack the right kind of control over our own actions even if determinism is false, and the laws of nature are indeterministic. For if there is literally nothing at all that determines our choice to do some action A rather than some other action B, then it looks as though our actions are uncaused and random (and sad). But no action that is uncaused and random is one for which we can be counted as a free and responsible action. Therefore, even if determinism is false and indeterminism is true, we still lack the right kind of control over our actions to count as free and responsible agents.

After reading the introductory notes and the reading from van Inwagen:

(i) State whether you think we’re free and responsible.

(ii) State why you do or don’t think we can act contrary to the sorts of factors mentioned above (your strongest competing desire, genetics, the laws of physics, etc.).

Discussion Board: Why is Knowledge Important?

2525 unread replies.2626 replies.

In Plato’s Thaetetus, Socrates and his interlocutors (fellow reasoners) seek to answer the question, “What is knowledge?” After much discussion, the authors seem to tentatively settle on an analysis of knowledge: Knowledge is justified belief with an account. That is, knowledge is justified true belief. According to this account, then, three conditions must be met for anyone to know anything:

(i) The person believes the statement.

(ii) The statement is true.

(iii) The person is justified in believing the statement (i.e., they have sufficient reasons/evidence in support of the statement).

This has subsequently been known as the Traditional Analysis of Knowledge (TAK).

Here’s an illustration. Consider the statement, “I’m typing this post.” I believe this statement — that is, I accept it as true. So I satisfy condition (i). Furthermore, I have good evidence for the statement (my current visual perceptual experiences that seem to be of letters being typed on a computer screen, my auditory experiences that seem to be of keys being typed, my tactile experiences that seem to be of my fingers touching the keyboard, etc.). Therefore, condition (iii) seems to be met. Finally, if the statement is true — that is, I really am typing this post (as opposed to, say merely dreaming or hallucinating that I am), then condition (ii) is met. Therefore, it looks as though all three conditions are met, in which case I know that I’m typing this post – at least if TAK is the correct analysis of knowledge.

Unfortunately, and as you’ll learn in this unit, the consensus among philosophers is that TAK is false: knowledge requires more than justified true belief. However, the majority of philosophers think TAK is at least approximately correct, in that knowledge requires at least justified true belief. The main reason they think so is this: knowledge is different from mere belief, opinion, brainwashing, and lucky guessing, and this seems to require that our beliefs have sufficient justification or evidence.

For this post:

(i) Read Plato’s Thaetetus, with special focus on his third attempt at a definition of knowledge.

(ii) State whether you think Plato is right that knowledge requires justification/reasons/evidence for one’s belief.

(iii) Briefly defend your answer.

Discussion Board: Descartes’ Response to Skepticism

3333 unread replies.3333 replies.

1. If you know you’re in class, then you’re evidence is good enough to rule out that you’re in the Matrix.

2. Your evidence isn’t good enough to rule out that you’re in the Matrix

———————————————————–

3. Therefore, you don’t know you’re in class.

Since the argument’s valid (modus tollens), the only way to reject the conclusion is to find a sufficient reason to reject a premise.

Recall that premise 2 says that your evidence can’t rule out that you’re in the Matrix (or pick your favorite skeptical hypothesis e.g., that you’re dreaming, that you’re being deceived by an all-powerful demon, that you’re a brain in a vat hooked up to a computer, etc.). Therefore, defeating premise 2 would require showing that your evidence can rule out that you’re in the Matrix (and every other skeptical hypothesis). The philosopher Rene Descartes argued that he can do just that.

Descartes argued that we can rule out the skeptical scenarios with our evidence. For he thought that we could prove that a perfect being – a God – exists. From there, he argued that God would be a deceiver if our perceptual experiences were unreliable (e.g., if they are caused by, say, an evil demon, or the Matrix, etc.). But since a perfect being can’t be a deceiver, then since a perfect being exists, it follows that our perceptual experiences are reliable (e.g., they’re not caused by an evil demon, the Matrix, etc., but are caused by, and accurately depict, the material world).

However, from the time he wrote the Meditations, most philosophers have been unconvinced of his refutation of radical skepticism about the world outside our minds. First, his arguments for a perfect being don’t seem to work. But if not, then we lose his reason for thinking that a perfect being is ensuring that our perceptual experiences are reliable. Second, even if his arguments (or some other argument) for a perfect being did work, it’s not clear why what would guarantee that he wouldn’t deceive us. For recall that a basic response to the problem of evil is that a perfectly good God might allow evil if it’s necessary to achieve a greater good (whether we know what that good is or not). ›But if that’s right, then it could be that God is allowing our perceptual experiences to be systematically unreliable (by the Matrix, or an evil demon, etc.) for some greater good that we don’t know about.

For this post:

(i) Read the online course readings and materials for this unit.

(ii) State whether you think Descartes has successfully beat back the skeptical argument.

(iii) Briefly explain your reasons for thinking so.

Discussion Board: Moore’s Response to Skepticism

2929 unread replies.3030 replies.

As you’ve been learning, the problem of radical skepticism poses a serious challenge to the commonsense view that we have lots of knowledge of the material world external to our mind. Thus consider the following variation on the Basic Argument for (radical) Skepticism:

1. If you know you have hands, then your evidence that you’re in class is good enough to rule out that you’re in the Matrix.

2. Your evidence that you have hands is not good enough to rule out that you’re in the Matrix.

————————

3. Therefore, you don’t know you have hands.

We’ve seen that the argument is valid (modus tollens), and so the conclusion must be true if the premises are, in which case the only way to rationally resist the conclusion is to find principled grounds to reject a premise. You’ve also learned, via Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy, that it’s really hard, and perhaps impossible, to defeat the argument by challenging premise 2. That is, he tried to show that we can rule out with our evidence that we have hands (and in general, that there is an external world of physical objects that we can reliably detect with our five senses). Descartes tried to prove (i) that there is a perfect God, that (ii) that no perfect being is a deceiver, and that (iii) God would be a deceiver if our sense organs didn’t give us reliable information about our environment. However, we saw that, first, it’s not at all clear that his argument for God works, and second, it’s not at all clear that a perfect being would prevent us from being deceived about our environment (Recall our exploration of the problem of evil: perhaps God allows evil for some greater good that’s beyond our understanding. If we grant that response to the problem of evil, then it’s hard to resist granting that God might let us be (e.g.) plugged into the Matrix for some greater good beyond our understanding. And it seems blasphemous to say that God isn’t smart enough or powerful enough to give us systematically unreliable perceptual beliefs about our environment).

However, Moore famously attempted to defend common sense by attacking premise 1 instead. That is, he argued that you can know you have hands without having evidence that’s good enough to rule out all of the alternatives to that belief (e.g., that you’re in the Matrix, and thus that you’re having misleading experiences that are generated by a computer simulation of the material world). Below is a summary of his argument from “Proof of an External World”:

A good deductive argument requires just three things: (i) the premises are different from the conclusion, (ii) the premises are known to be true, and (iii) the argument’s valid. But we can easily construct an argument for the existence of the external world, using the evidence of perceptual experience that meets these three conditions. Here’s the argument:

(i) here’s one hand (said while gesturing to it), (ii) here’s another hand (said while gesturing to it); Therefore, (iii) two hands exist at this moment.

There is thus a perfectly good argument for the existence of the external world, and the premises are supported perceptual experiences. And if that’s right, then skepticism is refuted.

However, Moore anticipated an objection to his argument, which is that there’s another condition of a good argument, and Moore hasn’t met it, viz., the premises have to be proven. In particular, Moore hasn’t proven that his hand-experiences are caused by his hands, rather than by some deviant causal source (e.g., the Matrix). So the argument hasn’t proven that an external world exists.

In reply, Moore argued that this further, fourth condition isn’t a condition of a good argument. For there’s a difference between having conclusive evidence (In this case, the perceptual experiences that seem to be of hands) and being able to give it — e.g., having the ability to spell it out to the skeptic that one’s perceptual experience that seems to be of one’s hands is caused by one’s hands (and not, say, the Matrix) in the form of a sound deductive argument. And one need only have conclusive evidence in order to know something; one need not also be able to give it. Finally, although he’s unable to give you his evidence for the existence of his hands, he has it. But since it’s only required for knowledge that one have such evidence, he can know that the premises are true. In other words — and this is the punchline — we can know some things without proof. And knowing that one has hands (if one has hands) is one of those things. (Careful, though: Moore thinks only very “obvious” things, such as that one’s hands exist (if one has hands), can be known without proof. He doesn’t think you can know matters of significant controversy without proof).

In effect, then, Moore is arguing that premise 1 is false, on the grounds that one’s evidence doesn’t have to be good enough to rule out all alternatives to what you believe. Rather, perceptual evidence is good enough, even if it’s logically possible that we’re (say) in the Matrix. The rational person believes the more obvious over the less obvious. And since it’s more obvious that his hands exist than that premise 1 is true (i.e., that knowledge always requires ruling out all alternatives with one’s evidence), the rational person should reject premise 1 and hold on to their belief that their hands exist (and, more generally, that their perceptual experiences are generally reliable guides to the world around them).

For this post:

(i) Read the online course readings and materials for this unit.

(ii) State whether you think Moore has successfully beat back the skeptical argument.

(iii) Briefly explain your reasons for thinking so.

Discussion Board: The Basic Argument for Skepticism

An historically important epistemological problem is the problem of radical skepticism. The version of radical skepticism we’ll be focusing on is the view that we can’t know anything outside our minds on the basis of our five senses. The problem can be expressed simply in terms of the following deductive argument:

1. If you know you’re in class, then your evidence is good enough to rule out that you’re in the Matrix.

2. Your evidence that you’re in class isn’t good enough to rule out that you’re in the Matrix.

3. Therefore, you don’t know you’re in class.

The argument is logically valid (modus tollens); so, if the premises are true, then the conclusion logically follows. Thus, the only way to resist the conclusion is to find principled grounds for rejecting one of the premises. But why should we accept the premises in the first place? Are the arguments for the premises any good? Let’s take a look.

Premise (1): It seems to be a straightforward condition of your knowing something that your evidence is good enough to rule out alternatives to what you believe. To back up this claim, consider the following three cases:

The Crow/Raven Case: you form the belief that you saw a crow. When asked how you know that it was a crow, you say that it was black, and about the size of a crow. However, the questioner points out that there are lots of ravens in the area, and that they look very similar to crows in size and color. As a result, you say to yourself, “Oh! Perhaps I was wrong in thinking that it was a crow – I don’t know whether I saw a crow or not.”

The Coke/Generic Coke Case: your significant other brings you a soda in a paper cup. You take a sip, and then form the belief that it’s Coca-Cola. However, a few minutes later, your roommate tells you that they picked up two liters of soda – one of them is Coca-Cola, and the other is a generic version that tastes just like it, but has a few different chemicals in it that make it different in composition from Coca-Cola. However, your roommate doesn’t tell you which soda it was that they served you. As a result, you say to yourself, “Oh! Maybe it wasn’t Coca-Cola after all. I don’t know.”

The Judy/Trudy Case: on your way to the bakery section in the grocery store, you see a girl in the cereal aisle that looks just like Judy, a new friend of yours. You’re in a hurry, and so you have no time to go up to her and chat, but the perceptual experience causes you to form the belief that you saw Judy at the grocery store. However, you later learn that Judy has an identical twin sister – Trudy — who lives in the same town and who dresses similarly, has a similar haircut, etc. As a result, you say to yourself, “Oh! Perhaps I was wrong in thinking that I saw Judy at the grocery store. After all, it could’ve been Trudy.”

-In all three cases, a person forms a belief on the basis of evidence (in these cases, perceptual evidence). But when they come to realize that their evidence isn’t good enough to rule out alternatives to what they believe (“Was it a crow or a raven?” “Was it Coke or generic cola?” “Was it Judy or Trudy?” The evidence isn’t good enough to decide), we conclude that they didn’t know what they thought they knew. Thus, premise (1) seems justified: the linguistic practice (of retracting our claim to know when we realize we can’t rule out alternatives) indicates that it’s part of our public concept of knowledge that knowing something requires evidence that rules out the alternatives to what we believe.

-But surely your evidence that you’re in class should be good enough to rule out that you’re in the Matrix, right?

Premise (2): As strange as it may seem, our evidence for being in class doesn’t look to be very good. To back this up, consider the following scenario, which I’ll call the “real world vs. Matrix” case:

The Real World/Matrix Case: You wake up in your bed one morning, and go out to the kitchen to get a cup of coffee. You take a sip of your hot, delicious gourmet coffee, and from the pleasure of the experience, you spontaneously proclaim, “This coffee is delicious!” However, your roommate is also in the kitchen at the time – a philosophy major – and they reply, “Well, it might be that you’re drinking coffee. However, your evidence doesn’t justify your belief that you are. For your evidence is your current experience – the experience as of heat, flavor, a liquidy texture, etc. But you would have the same experience if you were in the Matrix. But if you were in the Matrix, your belief would be false – you’re not drinking coffee, or holding a cup, at all. Rather, you’re lying unconscious in a vat of goo, with wires hooked up to a massive computer at one end, and your brain and central nervous system at the other. These wires are sending signals to your brain that mimic the signals your brain would receive if you really were in this kitchen and drinking coffee. So, your evidence doesn’t rule out this alternative to what you believe. So, you don’t know if you’re drinking coffee. You then think to yourself, “Wow! That’s an extremely bizarre possibility! On the other hand, I have to admit that what she says seems right: my evidence – my coffee-type experiences – would be the same whether or not I’m now in the Matrix; so I can’t rule out this bizarre alternative. But knowledge requires that one’s evidence rules out alternatives. I don’t believe that I’m in the Matrix, of course, but I no longer feel perfectly confident that things are as they appear.”

The “real world vs. Matrix” case points out that no matter what feature of your experience you can point to, your experiences would be exactly the same even if it were caused by something wildly different than the material objects you believe you see in your ordinary experience. But if that’s right, then your evidence that you’re in class is on a par with the person’s evidence in the Crow/Raven Case and the Coke/Generic Cola Case – it’s not good enough to rule out the alternatives.[1]

So, as surprising as it may seem, the evidence for the premises isn’t too shabby. But if the argument is valid, and the premises are all true, it follows that the conclusion is true: you don’t know that you’re in class!

Thus, we only have three options:

(i) Give principled grounds for rejecting or resisting premise (1). This would require that we show that knowing we’re in class doesn’t require that we have good enough evidence to rule out that we’re in the Matrix. This might require showing that knowledge in general doesn’t require having evidence that’s good enough to rule out alternatives – or at least in a wide range of cases.

(ii) Give principled grounds for rejecting or resisting premise (2). This would require that we show that our evidence that we’re in class is sufficient to rule out that you’re not in the Matrix. This will most likely involve showing that there is some feature of our perceptual experience of being in class that distinguishes it from a “Matrix” experience — a feature that not even an all-powerful God could duplicate. Otherwise, we’ll have to come up with some independent argument for why we’re experiences are really being caused by class.

(iii) Accept both premises. Since the argument is deductively valid, this forces us to accept the conclusion as well: we don’t know that you’re in class.

For this post:

(i) Read the online course readings and materials for this unit.

(ii) State which of the three views you accept.

(iii) Briefly explain why you accept it, and why you reject the other two options.

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