Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Good news


claysky
Originally uploaded by Clayton Littlejohn
Survived my first jump from an airplane. I don't know what's with the suit. If the chute doesn't open, they could at least let you die with dignity. I won't bore you with the details. The flight up is the scariest part. (I have a fear of heights and flying.) For some reason, jumping out is thrilling but not the slightest bit scary. Having read all sorts of gruesome tales about skydiving fatalities after the jump, this might be a once in a lifetime sort of thing.


I've been a tad busy with summer school to post much philosophy as of late. Inspired by a post over at Dangerous Idea (here), I'd be interested in knowing what readers thought of the following. In the paper linked over at DI, the author suggests that Frankfurt examples work only if we're working with some materialist conception of mind. The idea, if I understand it (no guarantees, I've just skimmed it) is that if we were working with a view of mind on which there is no sufficient cause to be found temporally prior to the relevant agent's actions, then the causal-intervener could not do its causal intervening. Or, something like that.

Well, let's suppose that substance dualism is true and that this means that when someone performs a free action, there is nothing in the world just before that free action is performed that the causal intervener could be aware of and deduce that the agent would perform some action A. Let's also suppose that the fact that there is no deductive basis for the judgment 'S will A in just a moment from now' means that there could be no agent to intervene who knows that S will A in just a moment from now. Why should that matter to the Frankfurt example?

Suppose that the causal intervener is a god or an angel who knows the character of the relevant agent quite well and simply makes decisions about whether to intervene on the basis of judgments about what the agent will be likely to do. Sometimes the decision to intervene will result in a situation in which the intervener forces the agent to do other than she did. Sometimes the decision not to intervene will result in a situation where the agent acts out of character and does something the intervener wanted to prevent. In a wide range of cases, however, the intervener might remain idle, the agent will act in just the way the intervener expected, and it still seems that had the agent decided she would act in a different way than she did the intervener would have intervened. (In the nearest worlds where the agent decided to act otherwise, this decision would have required a substantially different character and the intervener would have either known that the agent's character was different.)

I don't see why we can't just run the Frankfurt case as follows. Over the person's life, there were many cases where the intervener was idle because the intervener judged reasonably and correctly that the agent would act in just the way the intervener wishes _and_ judged reasonably and correctly in many of these cases that had the agent decided to act otherwise the intervener would have intervened. In these cases, it still seems that the agent is responsible. She's responsible across the wide range of cases. However, in some of these cases she could not have done otherwise in the relevant sense.

Anyway, this is all very rushed. What I don't get it this. We can have an intervener poised to intervene in a wide range of cases {c1, c2, c3, ..., cn}. We can stipulate that the intervener knows as much as possible in these cases short of knowing what the agent will do in any case in particular. What matters (it seems to me) is whether there are cases within this range of cases in which we can say that the agent is idle _and_ where we can say had the agent tried to do otherwise the intervener would have intervened. I do see that denying the intervener knowledge might lead us to say that there will be some cases in this range where things don't go as they should (the intervener intervenes when it isn't necessary or fails to intervene at the right time), but I don't see why it's not sufficient to say that it's possible for there to be a single case in this range where the agent is responsible but would not have been allowed to do what she intended had she intended otherwise.

7 comments:

Degenerate and Close Personal Friend said...

Dude, where's your "Mission Accomplished" banner?

Clayton said...

I think this crazy guy is still using it.

Kevin Timpe said...

Clayton,

I haven't read Tedla's paper, but I know that Stump discusses the relationship between dualism/materialism and Frankfurt cases in her 1999 “Alternative possibilities and moral responsibility: The flicker of
freedom,” The Journal of Ethics, 3, 299–324.

Kevin Timpe said...

Oops, now that I scan through the paper I see that I did read an earlier version of it. So ignore that part of my previous comment.

Clayton said...

Kevin,

Thanks for the lead. I've been meaning to read more on the "flickers of freedom" literature. I recall that someone had once written a piece on their dialectical significance that looked pretty interesting, but the name slips my mind...

James A. Gibson said...

The appeal to substance dualism, imo, does not adequately resist the Frankfurt cases. As you point out, we can think of other immaterial interveners that can play the role of Black. It is true, I think, that most Frankfurt cases are presented in such a way that presupposes materialism. There are exceptions (e.g. Dave Hunt's work). So the Frankfurt defender simply appeals to an omniscient being (with impressive powers) who can "monitor" Jones's nonphysical mental states in a way that Black's monitoring device cannot. Fill in the rest of the Frankfurt story, e.g., if Jones shows a prior sign of his deviation from killing Smith, the omniscient being would bring about the following intention in Jones....

xnewmodx said...

WOW that picture.
ps nice job jumping!