Re: [asa] Law, Mind, Free Will

From: Merv <>
Date: Fri Oct 17 2008 - 21:25:10 EDT

I had understood (and agreed with) your point, George, even though I
didn't respond to it --sorry. I don't think science (for any of the
various reasons you list) will ever refute or even properly address free
will. But that doesn't stop people from acting on their metaphysical
assumptions as David O. suggests. In this case the metaphysical
assumption they act on is that all decisions are reductionistically
explainable in principle (even if science never reaches it or even if
their definition of science is warped enough to allow for such), and
they therefore think that *responsibility* in any true sense is a
negated artifact. Or at least they operate as if it were already shown
(by science, of course).

Your point about the metaphysic informing the method is well taken.
Yet, can I presume, David, that they don't *really* buy into that during
the affairs of their own daily lives? They may attempt to maintain that
hermetic seal around that philosophy in their intellectual lives or
their law philosophy, but I doubt they would pat their own children on
the heads and shuffle them off to the clinic for meds and therapy the
moment they caught them cheating or lying. (On the other hand, maybe
some people really do that!!? --or maybe we all do this in part?) If
so, then what a crippling trait this metaphysic is! Every time I want
to improve something about myself or stop doing something bad, I would
consider myself helpless to make any decision and be forced to look
instead to the pharmaceutical and psychiatric institutions for every
trivial "correction". And presumably, being unable, to rationally
enlist myself into those programs, I couldn't even make that decision
for myself and .... well, that is exactly where Lewis went with it.
Do these people actually think through the logical consequences of their
world view? We do shuffle children off for drugs if they have an
attention deficit in the classroom. But imagine if we teachers decided
students aren't really responsible in any meaningful sense. If Suzy is
disruptive in class, I don't have to ask her to quiet down then. I can
just reach for my tranquilizer gun, right? Since she isn't responsible
and can't help herself anyway. And forget teaching her math. If it
doesn't come naturally to her, then, well --that's just the way the
chemicals fell! I wonder what some of your colleagues would think if
we teachers adopted their metaphysic with their children? I'm with
George on this ---I thought Skinner's behaviorism in its extreme form
was long gone and dismissed by any seriously thinking person --and far
beyond rescue by science.


George Murphy wrote:
> David, Merv, et al.
> There are several angles from which the "law, mind, free will" topic
> can be approached, but permit me to point out that the point I was
> trying to make in my earlier post (below) seems to have been missed.
> Even if one is a "reductionist" & believes that questions about free
> will &c can be answered by the "hard sciences," those sciences are
> opposed to a hard determinism. This doesn't mean that we must claim
> that quantum or chaos theory "proves" free will or, for that matter,
> admit that the older physics disproved it. So even if, for the sake
> of argument, one accepts reductionism, or metaphysical naturalism, or
> "science ueber alles," or however it may be phrased, none of those
> extreme positions can be claimed in support of a claim that human
> beings no choice about what they do - IF one pays serious attention to
> what science actually says.
> Shalom
> George
> ----- Original Message -----
> *From:* David Opderbeck <>
> *To:* <>
> *Cc:* <>
> *Sent:* Friday, October 17, 2008 9:07 AM
> *Subject:* Re: [asa] Law, Mind, Free Will
> Merv, the interesting thing is that the trend in scholarship that
> deals with public affairs, certainly in legal scholarship, is
> towards seeing this view of humanity as scientifically determined.
> It's a bit too easy to hermetically seal off methodological
> naturalism from metaphysical naturalism when we talk in-house
> about ID. The reality in the social sciences and law is that the
> methodology is informed by a metaphysic.
> On Thu, Oct 16, 2008 at 9:59 PM, <
> <>> wrote:
> Maybe Lewis' musings on this are out-of-date as well, but this
> all reminds me of
> his "Abolition of Man" --the indignity (inhumanity) of anyone
> being denied the
> human right to actually be *responsible* for their actions.
> Lewis paints
> Orwellian visions of "rehabilitation centers" from which
> unfortunate parties
> (future Christians?) will only emerge after they have been
> relieved of any
> offending sensibilities as determined by the controlling
> elites of the day.
> I am glad that such questions are mostly safely beyond the
> reach of science, and
> I hope not too many others in power think the same way as your
> colleague does,
> David.
> --Merv
> Quoting George Murphy <
> <>>:
> > I thought B.F. Skinner was dead. He had some slight excuse
> for believing in
> > Laplacian determinism since quantum theory hadn't had much
> of an impact
> > beyond physics when he was being educated & chaos theory had
> not yet been
> > invented. Nowadays talking so casually about determinism is
> like believing
> > in phlogiston.
> >
> > & that's only for starters.
> >
> > Shalom
> > George
> >
> > ----- Original Message -----
> > From: David Opderbeck
> > To: ASA
> > Sent: Thursday, October 16, 2008 3:39 PM
> > Subject: [asa] Law, Mind, Free Will
> >
> >
> > We had a fascinating talk at the law school today by a
> lawyer who is a
> > behavioural psychologist. His perspective was that we
> should no longer
> > include any aspects of "punishment" in criminal law because
> the notion of
> > "mens rea" -- that an intentional mental state is required
> for an act to be
> > "criminal" -- is unsound. Our mental states, he argued,
> arise from
> > deterministic processes. "Mind" and "will" are emergent
> properties but they
> > exert no independent downward causation. Therefore, it
> makes no sense to
> > "punish" someone for having "bad intent". The only thing
> the criminal
> > justice system should focus on is behavioural modification
> that will prevent
> > recidivism.
> >
> > In a conversation after that talk, I asked him if most
> people in his field
> > take the assumption that there is no independent human
> "mind" as a
> > methodological or a metaphysical limitation. He said this
> is the
> > metaphysical view of most people in his field.
> >
> > Here is a concrete example, outside our in-house debates
> about ID, in which
> > methodological naturalism has important, and in my view
> terrible, social
> > consequences. We cannot really say that a criminal act --
> say, hitting an
> > old lady with a shovel (an example he used) -- is an "evil"
> or "wrong" act
> > that a system of justice should inherently condemn. All we
> can say is that
> > hitting old ladies with shovels has some undesirable social
> consequences that
> > the criminal justice system might be able to mitigate
> through behavioural
> > engineering. In fact, this isn't simply "methodological"
> naturalism, it's a
> > metaphysical judgment about the nature of "justice."
> >
> > --
> > David W. Opderbeck

To unsubscribe, send a message to with
"unsubscribe asa" (no quotes) as the body of the message.
Received on Fri Oct 17 21:21:19 2008

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Fri Oct 17 2008 - 21:21:19 EDT