Posted: Aug 05, 2019 5:24 pm
by zoon
romansh wrote:
zoon wrote:
I’ve been arguing that free will is still a useful concept, because we don’t want to blame or punish someone for an action they were coerced into doing. To blame somebody when they were coerced would not encourage them to change their behaviour, and would sent the wrong message to everyone else?

I think by all means praise someone if you want and think praise will get more of that behaviour. Praise is a reinforcing behaviour, is it not?

So should we blame people and perhaps penalize them for trying addictive drugs and risk becoming addicted? Are they using their free will here? Is, say, succumbing to peer pressure or perhaps curiosity free will by your definition?

zoon wrote:For this purpose, I’m defining someone with free will in a minimal way, as someone who is uncoerced and mentally capable. I’m also thinking this use of the concept of free will may fade away as brain mechanisms become better understood.

Are you suggesting people with low IQs have less free will here? Or perhaps a summary judgement on mental capability? While my mental capability is not bad (I suspect) in certain situations it might be positively dangerous.

While you may be advocating certain definitions of free will as useful, I am advocating of doing away with the idea all together as being more accurate and less likely to cause mischief.

I think my view here is that any human group, from hunter-gatherers onwards, needs to consist mainly of people with enough mental capacity to cope with the rules and take an active part in maintaining them. Anyone in the group who does not have that mental capacity is to some extent being carried, looked after, by the ones who do have the capacity. The line between being treated or not as a full member of the group may be blurred, but it’s there, most noticeably as children grow up? Many societies mark a transition between treating a young person as a child, and then as an adult.

Humans are unique in managing close and detailed cooperation with conspecifics who are not close relatives (unlike, for example, ants: the ants in a colony cooperate in detail, but are also close relatives). Without relatedness, individuals in human groups are often competing at the same time as cooperating. As far as I can tell, scientists studying human evolution think that we can only manage this combination of cooperation with competitiveness because we have high intelligence (e.g. a 2018 paper on the evolution of cooperation and cognition in humans here, which I think I’ve linked to before.) The ability to set up rules and then gang up on rule-breakers, which is seen in all human societies, is likely to have been an aspect of our social evolution? The rules enable effective cooperation in different situations, but, because of our competitiveness as non-relatives, there is always the temptation for individuals to steal a march on the other group members by (surreptitiously or otherwise) breaking the rules. If this rule-breaking is not to spread and lead to the breakdown of cooperation, the other group members need to be quick to spot an infraction and threaten the perpetrator with sanctions if they don’t make reparations and mend their ways.

If a group is to survive and be effective, this internal wrangling cannot take up too much of its time. People with the necessary mental capability will be careful not to cheat too often, and if they do cheat and are caught and sanctioned, they will be quick to express remorse and re-ingratiate themselves (unless they’ve gone too far and get thrown out of the group). These people, who have the necessary mental capacity, will be actively managing their relationship with the rest of the group at all times, including the times when they have been punished for rule-breaking. Being punished is usually temporary and not especially painful, it’s not nearly as bad as losing one’s status as a functioning adult member of the group? Most punishments in small-scale societies, and in the small sub-groups which make up large-scale societies, don’t go much further than being laughed at or cold-shouldered for a few days. Fully competent members of human societies are forever cycling between helping to enforce the rules, and finding themselves on the other side and needing to make amends. All of this takes high-functioning brains, using evolved processes which we don’t by any means entirely understand.

Where people have full social competence as described above, it makes sense to treat them as having personal responsibility on the occasions when they break rules? They are probably well aware that they took a chance and were rumbled, they can take a punishment and sort out their own reintegration into society again (assuming the punishment wasn’t as final as execution). To treat them as if they had been mentally ill, and attempt to change their way of thinking, would be an invasion of their privacy as well as a waste of everyone’s time and energy? (This is unless they were actually coerced in some way, in which case their action would not have been free.)

The people you mention are those who are not mentally capable of operating within the rules of society, whether because of drugs or low IQ? Punishments are inappropriate if they are unable to realise that they have broken the rules in the first place. These people are incapable of integrating themselves into human society in the way that normal people manage, they have to be looked after? To treat them as having personal responsibility for infringing rules would be to assume capabilities which they don’t have? Such people are not given the freedom of action which normal adult members of society have, they are not punished, but most normal people would not want to be in their situation.

I think all human societies make this distinction between people who can operate as a part of the society, and those who for mental reasons are incapable? Ordinary functioning as an adult in a human society requires active intelligence, using evolved processes which we don’t altogether understand. Treating the capable people as having personal responsibility for their actions is an efficient and effective aspect of maintaining human cooperation in groups. I’ve been using “free-willed” as a description for such people, I’m not too worried about the nomenclature, but it does seem to me that while we continue to use our evolved social brains for cooperating, it makes sense to treat most adults in human societies, most of the time, as having personal responsibility for their actions. ?