AND DETERMINISM: COMPATIBILISM, INCOMPATIBILISM, AND THE SMART ALECK
by Ted Honderich
-- the Determinism and Freedom
Philosophy Website --
First some definitions. An action is voluntary if it is in accord with the agent's embraced desires, and hence not constrained or compelled. My pacing up and down my room is voluntary partly because the room isn't a cell. An action is originated if it is within the control of the agent but is not the effect of a certain causal sequence. I originate answering the phone if I now choose this action but I can choose differently given the past just as it was and the present just as it is. One fundamental proposition of Incompatibilism is that we all share one settled idea, or anyway one that is important, of a free action for which the agent may be held morally responsible. A second fundamental proposition of Incompatibilism is that in fact this is an idea of an action both voluntary and originated. A third fundamental proposition is that there can be no such actions if determinism or near-determinism is true. It is also fundamental to Incompatibilism that the principal philosophical problem of determinism and freedom is that of somehow proving its second and third propositions. Compatibilism shares the proposition that we have one settled idea of a free action. But it supposes that this idea is only that the action is voluntary, and hence that there can be such actions if determinism is true. It has a counterpart idea of the problem of freedom and determinism.
Those are not finished definitions, and they prompt a lot of questions. But they are good enough for our purposes. They have the satisfactory result that Kant and many toiling successors down to the present moment are Incompatibilists, and that Hobbes and Hume and many successors are Compatibilists. Kant wrote that we take an agent in her action to begin an entirely new series of consequences, and that for philosophers to say that it would have been enough for moral responsibility if she had just acted voluntarily is only quibbling, indeed a wretched subterfuge.1 Hobbes wrote that every man's own experience reveals to him the one thing he means when he says an action is free, which is only that it is voluntary.2 Hume wrote that all men, both learned and ignorant, have always been of the same opinion. They have ever agreed that a free action is only a voluntary one.3
My own view in one part is that it is provable that each of us has two different and important attitudes with respect to moral responsibility, attitudes being complexes including desires and evaluations. It is provable, also, that we act differently on these two attitudes, as in the case of punishment. These propositions necessarily presuppose that each of us has two ideas of a free action.
For example, we may hold a vicious politician responsible, which is to say we disapprove of her morally for an action, where this particular disapproval involves a retributive desire -- a desire to subject her to discomfiture or worse -- and where the disapproval issues in certain behavior. We may also disapprove of her morally for her action in another way. This attitude involves desires, but it does not involve a retributive desire, and it issues in distinct behavior. It follows that the attitudes have different contents, and in particular that the first takes the politician's action to be both voluntary and originated, and the second only takes it to be voluntary. Further, putting aside their relations to determinism, there is no interesting sense in which either attitude or idea is less important or secondary.
It is thus also my view that the principal philosophical problem about determinism and freedom cannot possibly be what Incompatibilists and Compatibilists take it to be, proving that we have a single idea. The true problem, in so far as it concerns moral responsibility, springs from the fact that each of us has the two attitudes between which we move. The attitude which takes an action as originated is inconsistent with determinism, and hence when we contemplate that determinism is true, our response is dismay. The attitude which takes an action only as voluntary is consistent with determinism, and hence when we contemplate that determinism is true, we respond with intransigence.
The two responses of dismay and intransigence are also in a way inconsistent with one another, and each response is unsatisfactory in itself. The true problem of determinism is that of making our way towards a third and satisfactory response to it. This will be affirmation. It is a valuing of what we can persist in attitudinally and also behaviorally if determinism is true, and a giving up of what we cannot persist in.
Finally, it seems to me that moral disapproval is not uniquely important among the things affected by determinism. Three others, life-hopes, personal feelings of a non-moral kind, and attitudes with respect to knowledge, are at least as important. In each of these cases it is also provable that each of us has two attitudes and ways of behaving, again necessarily presupposing that we have two ideas of a free action. There is also the same story about responses.
To turn now to two articles by Double and his book,4 he supposes that Incompatibilists and Compatibilists in general did not get to the real truth because they mistakenly took determinism's challenge to moral responsibility to be a challenge to something other than an attitude of the sort indicated above. He supposes further that we can all follow some recent philosophers including myself and himself towards the truth by becoming attitudinists rather than cognitivists or Moral Realists.5 This, by my lights, is Double's first mistake.
I agree that most Incompatibilists and Compatibilists did not clearly understand that to hold someone morally responsible for an action, or to credit someone with responsibility for one, is to adopt an attitude to her. Instead, most of them supposed that in holding someone morally responsible for an action, I am not taking an attitude to something, but perceiving or registering some funny moral fact. (Something the same is supposed, presumably, by contemporary defenders of Moral Realism.) This helped Incompatibilists and Compatibilists to suppose we all share a single settled idea of a free action, written into our language.6
But dealing adequately with determinism does not actually depend, at all, on seeing that what is affected by it is attitudes, and of course resulting behavior. Dealing adequately with determinism mainly depends on seeing that each of us has two relevant ideas of a free action. Plainly a Moral Realist could come to see this without giving up his Moral Realism. And Hume was an attitudinist, and he didn't see it.
To my mind Double's second mistake, as you may not be stunned to heard, is claiming that my resolution of the problem of freedom and determinism is just warmed-up Incompatibilism. One reason he gives is that Incompatibilists have allowed that in addition to their own idea there is another "weaker" idea of freedom, the idea of voluntariness by itself, and that this idea is consistent with determinism.7 Well, I happily grant that Incompatibilists have allowed there is this second idea, that it exists. In fact they could not conceivably have missed it, embroiled as they were with the Compatibilist philosophers who never stopped going on about it.
What distinguishes me from Incompatibilists at this point, however, is that they gave no importance at all to the idea of freedom as just voluntariness. Following Kant, they supposed it to be something like a contrivance of philosophers, notably philosophers wanting to be comfortable with determinism. They supposed that this idea on its own has no part in our lives. Any of them who saw that what determinism affects in the first place is attitudes would say we have no important attitude which contains or rests on only this idea, and we engage in no related behavior. My view, as explained above, is the opposite.
Double offers another reason for his claim that my resolution of the problem is Incompatibilist. It is that I agree with Incompatibilists that origination has to be a fact if we are to have everything we want in connection with freedom, responsibility, and so on.8 Indeed I do agree, as readily as I agree that voluntariness has to be a fact if we are to have all we want. So, by the way, do many Compatibilists agree with both points. We will come to Double's argument against the need for origination9, the principal argument of his paper. But let me now concede that Double here might be thought to have one reason for his discovery that I am stuck in the old Incompatibilist cart tracks.
The reason needs to be weighed against five that tell in the other direction. I maintain (i) that we have two equally important ideas of freedom, as already remarked, (ii) that for this reason both Incompatibilism and Compatibilism are mistaken, which both traditions have supposed impossible, (iii) that the problem of freedom and determinism is wholly different from what Incompatibilists and Compatibilists have thought, as already remarked, and (iv) that the proposition that each of us has two ideas of a free action gives us a good explanation of the persistence of the interminable debate between the two traditions. It is an explanation better than and different from the common one offered by each side, in brief that the other side is made up of philosophical duds. Of more that might be said, let me mention only (v) that my supposedly Incompatibilistic resolution of the problem, the response of affirmation, rests on valuing and indeed celebrating what Compatibilists take to be our only freedom, voluntariness.10
It thus seems to me that a better argument than Double's, but not a good one, could be advanced for the opposite conclusion that my resolution of the dispute is Compatibilist. So whether or not my resolution is right, it isn't old hat. But enough amour propre.
Double rightly notes that I suppose, to put the point in the most traditional way, that there are no logical relations between facts and values, and in particular that facts do not entail values.11 To speak in a more relevant and less vague way, facts do not entail desires and evaluations. Hence my factual belief that someone acted both voluntarily and out of origination does not entail any desire. It does not entail the retributive desire which is based on it. Above all, a denial of origination does not entail that I give up the desire. Hence the truth of determinism, although this entails a denial of origination, does not entail that I give up the desire. More generally, the truth of determinism does not entail any of dismay, intransigence, affirmation, or any other such response to determinism. I can believe determinism and all its entailments and, as far as logic goes, still desire anything at all.
Double also notes that I take an attitude as a whole to lack a truth-value.12 Indeed I do, since an attitude is not just a proposition. None of morally disapproving of someone, or hoping to help achieve a decent society, or taking against someone on account of a remark, or losing confidence in a claim to knowledge, can rightly be said to be something with a truth-value. This is so, plainly, since each of these things includes desires and evaluations.
But neither the proposition that facts do not entail values nor the proposition that an attitude as a whole does not have a truth-value comes close to being a ground for the proposition which seems to me Double's third and most fertile mistake.
It is the simple mistake of ignoring that we do in fact share standard factual reasons having to do with voluntariness and origination for desires, evaluations, and behavior, despite the absence of entailments. We do have these factual reasons, settled ones, which enter into and support moral disapproval -- as certainly as we base our hopes in such factual propositions about our future actions, or a feeling of gratitude in such proposition's about another's action, or confidence in our beliefs in such propositions about activities of inquiry. I have the human nature I have, not the nature of a Martian or a lunatic, despite the little truths about facts not entailing values and an attitude as a whole not having a truth-value.
As a result of the mistake of ignoring this, Double supposes he can come to the aid of the smart aleck he mentions, and who inspires so much of his paper. This is the fellow who asks for a reason for thinking that if determinism is true we have to give anything up, have to allow that we have a less full, strong or deep freedom than we might have had.13 As it happens, I considered the smart aleck myself, some time ago, but let that pass. 14
Double goes beyond the smart aleck by drawing the fourth and principal conclusion of his paper, the general conclusion of "the strident compatibilist.". It is that determinism has no consequences at all: it leaves us free to take up any attitude at all, and to make any response at all, dismay, intransigence, or affirmation.15
In particular, to come to a fifth conclusion, there is everything to be said for the smart aleck's question, because in fact there is no reason to think that if we give up on origination we must give up on full, strong, deep freedom, which is to say retributive desires and the like. The fundamental "Incompatibilist intuition", shared by Compatibilists and just about everyone else, is a blunder.16
Sixthly and finally, there is the particular conclusion that there is no sense in which the third of the three responses to determinism I consider, affirmation, described by Double as my supposedly "objective" resolution of the problem of determinism and freedom, is superior to dismay or intransigence. There is no correct conclusion to be drawn about the consequences of determinism.17
Let me repeat in a different way one plain truth that bears on Double's fourth, fifth and sixth conclusions, a truth evidenced by sentence after sentence in his article. It is that an attitude not only includes desires and evaluations but also has a propositional content. Attitudes in the indicated sense are a species of the genus which the philosophical world calls propositional attitudes. It follows, evidently, that other propositions stand in standard logical relations with the propositional content of an attitude -- say that an action was both voluntary and originated. That particular proposition is inconsistent with determinism. If I take determinism to be true, I logically cannot ascribe origination to the agent.
To repeat the second plain truth that bears on Double's fourth, fifth, and sixth conclusions, it is that the desires and evaluations in an attitude rest on its propositional content.18 That the propositional content does not entail the desires and evaluations does not begin to put the fact in question. To express it in terms of moral responsibility, and in a general way, it is agreed on all hands that some factual belief about an action's having been free is required by us for holding an agent responsible and of course for blaming or punishing her. If I lose the belief, I cannot persist in the attitude or the behavior. Currently at any rate, that is a psychological impossibility.19
It readily follows, with respect to Double's fourth and principal conclusion, that it is simply false that determinism has no consequences at all. It readily follows, too, with respect to Double's fifth conclusion, that if we give up on origination we also have to give up on other things. It follows, sixthly, that the response of affirmation does have among its recommendations that it is objectively superior to, above all, the response of attempting to persist in retributive desires despite accepting the truth of determinism and hence without the reason having to do with origination we habitually take ourselves to have. Affirmation is also objectively superior to the responses of dismay and intransigence, but not for reasons having to do directly with the present issue. One is that affirmation recognizes the truth that we have attitudes and ideas of two kinds, as in the case of moral disapproval.
There are other items in Double's papers and a good many in his book that seem to me in need of attention, not least the claim that in ascribing freedom to someone I am already ascribing to her a moral property, and hence that all attitudes affected by determinism, including hopes and so on, are moral attitudes. We are non-stop moralizers, at it all the time. But I end with three comments.
More is said by Double of the "Incompatibilist intuition" mentioned above, in one form the proposition that determinism is inconsistent with certain of our attitudes. The suggestion seems to be that there is a nice logical point about which it is possible to differ. That is not how I see the matter. Rather, it is indubitable that there is an idea of freedom, origination, that is inconsistent with determinism, as seems agreed on all hands. The question is whether the idea informs any of our attitudes and behavior. My plain argument specified above20, resting on the solid premises of an elucidation of our actual attitudes and on attention to our behavior, is that it does.
A word now on the supposed analogy between (1) Ayer's emotivism or denial that our convictions of right and wrong have truth values, as related to those convictions themselves, and (2) the proposition of which we know, that attitudes lack truth-values, as related to those attitudes themselves. The idea is that just as the emotivism leaves us free to persist in our convictions in several different ways, so the proposition about attitudes leaves us free with respect to those attitudes. As perhaps will be clear, the analogy seems to me incomplete. The story about emotivism and the moral convictions needs to have in it something about the propositional content of those convictions, and it also needs to have in it something inconsistent, analagous to determinism. When these things are supplied, I take it, the upshot will be the same in both cases.
As remarked, it is impossible in a short
reply to turn over the considerable amount of philosophical lumber in
book. But I take it he would direct a main line of argument in it
my conclusion that we have the two ideas. This is the line, in fact
to more or less all philosophical reflection on freedom and
that our thinking and speaking about free actions is an inconsistent
upon which philosophers have futilely tried to impose some
and hence that in no interesting sense is there such a thing as a free
action. This line of argument, wonderful in its excess, strikes me as
1. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Practical Reason, trans. L. W. Beck (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1949), 99
2. Thomas Hobbes, Works, ed. W. Molesworth (London: Bohm, 1839) 275-6
3. David Hume, An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding, ed. L. A. Selby-Bigge (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963), 81. For subsequent Incompatibilists and Compatibilists who have shared the convictions in question, see my A Theory of Determinism: The Mind, Neuroscience, and Life-Hopes (Oxford and New York: Clarendon Press, 1988) or The Consequences of Determinism (Oxford and New York: Clarendon Press, 1990), in each case the chapter on Compatibilism and Incompatibilism. The 1990 paperback is the second half of the 1988 book.
4. "Honderich on the Consequences of Determinism", this journal, pp. 847-53; a review of How Free Are You?, forthcoming, Philosophical Books; The Non-Reality of Free Will (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991). All the following page references unless otherwise indicated are to "Honderich and the Consequences of Determinism".
5. Pp. 848, 850 [typscript paras 4, 11] I am very uncertain, by the way, that the recent philosophers he mentions do hold the view in question about attitudes and freedom.
6. For my consideration of one funny fact, see A Theory of Determinism, pp. 478-480, or The Consequences of Determinism, pp. 110-112.
7. P. 849 [paras 6, 7]
8. Pp. 848, 849 [paras 6, 7]
9. See below, p. 859. ["Double notes..."]
10. I don't ever take voluntariness as "inferior" to origination, as Double suggests on p. 000 [para 6]. If given a choice between a life of voluntariness only and a life of origination only, we might well take the former.
11. P. 848 [para 3]
12. Pp. 847, 849, 852, 853 [paras 2, 8, 17, 21]
13. P. 850 [para 11]
14. A Theory of Determinism, pp. 526-7, or The Consequences of Determinism, pp. 158-9.
15. Pp. 848, 849, 852, 853 [paras 4, 8, 17, 21]
16. Pp. 848, 849, 850, 852, 853 [paras 6, 7, 9, 11, 19, 20]
17. P. 848 [paras 4, 5]
18. For consideration of the question of whether we should take the proposition to be within an attitude or external to it, see A Theory of Determinism, p. 339, or The Consequences of Determinism, p. 81. The matter does not affect any present issue.
19. For a bit more on the matter, see A Theory of Determinism, p. 526, or The Consequences of Determinism, p. 158.
20. See p. 856 ["My own view in one part...."]