Free will and morality
I've opened this thread because the debate was getting too busy here: http://www.rationalresponders.com/forum/32691
I'll paraphrase where the discussion had got too thus far:
There is an objective standard for morality. This is: cause the least amount of suffering to sentient beings. The importance of each individual’s suffering should be treated as having equal weight when deciding how to act.
If you think morality is objective, why does the suffering of each sentient being carry equal weight? Why does it not include the worth of the individual when making decisions on how to treat them?
You cannot take the worth into account because individuals do not have free will, and so are not liable for their actions, which would determine their worth. "Your actions are either entirely caused by your characteristics which you are obviously not responsible for, or they come (in part) from some mystical freedom. The question is, how can this freedom possibly make decisions if it has no pre-existing (and hence, unfree) characteristics of its own with which to judge the best course of action? The only way it could be "free" would be for it to have absolutely no biases or impulses whatsoever, in other words it can't have anything that could possibly affect a decision. Asserting free will is saying your decisions come from nowhere, which is clearly absurd. … All you have to do to make me consider your proposal is prove to me we have free will, or explain why free will is not a relevant factor in assigning ultimate responsibility."
This is essentially the ‘hard determinist’ viewpoint of free will. I.e. our actions are pre-determined; we are nothing more than a wind up toy that goes about its business in an entirely structured way, based upon environmental factors and our own make-up and nothing else.
Aside: I would ask you what you mean by ‘sentient life’ if free will does not exist? Hard Determinism would indicate that we are nothing more than ‘chinese room’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_room) experiments, with no real sentience.
The consequence argument expands on this, by stating that even if you think you have free will, when you make a decision that may have been the decision you were always going to take, and so you didn’t really make that decision at all. This is an unfalsifiable claim – but that doesn’t make it true of course. (god creating the universe is unfalsifiable too).
I obviously can’t prove that free will exists, just as you can’t prove that it doesn’t. If either of us could do such a thing, we would become the greatest philosopher ever to have lived.
So let’s assume we have no free will, for argument’s sake. Everything is deterministic. We all live our lives making deterministic decisions based upon the pre-existing state of the universe, and nothing more. What does this mean for our moral philosophies?
Well, to my mind, it means this.
1. If I have no free will, then I am not responsible for my actions.
2. If I am not responsible for my actions, then any harm I cause others is not my responsibility
3. Further, any harm that is caused to me cannot be blamed on the actions of others
4. Therefore no sentient being has the ability to reduce the harm they may do to others
5. Therefore, the amount of harm increase or reduction in the universe is independent of any moral codes these sentient beings may have
6. Therefore there is no morality, objective or subjective.
I believe that in order to refute this, you must maintain that we do in fact have moral responsibility, and therefore determinism is false (so we do have free will).
So my conclusions are as follows:
1. You cannot maintain that morality exists and that we don’t have free will.
2. If you maintain we don’t have free will, then all your debating on moral objectivity is shown as fallacious
3. If you maintain that there is an objective moral standard, then you must accept there is free will, in which case we are free to consider my ‘objective moral standard which considers the ‘worth’ of an individual. And therefore you must provide an explanation why your objective moral standard is the correct one rather than mine.
PS, I'd prefer to limit the ad hom mudslinging in this thread that has been going on in the last one - let's keep it civil!