Human Kindness and the Smell of Warm Croissants: An Introduction to Ethics makes philosophy fun, tactile, and popular. Moral thinking is simple, Ruwen Ogien argues, and as inherent as the senses. In our daily experiences, in the situations we confront and in the scenes we witness, we develop an understanding of right and wrong as sophisticated as the moral outlook of the world’s most gifted philosophers. By drawing on this knowledge to navigate life’s most perplexing problems, ethics becomes second nature.
Even if a superpowerful computer predicts, years in advance and with absolute precision, what we are going to do, we will do it freely even so!
Imagine that, a century from now, we know all the laws of nature and we build a supercomputer capable of deducing, on the basis of these laws and the present state of the world, everything that is going to happen.
SCENARIO 1: Imagine that this supercomputer knows the state of the world down to the last detail on March 24, 2150, twenty years before the birth of Charlie. The supercomputer deduces from the state of the world and the laws of nature that Charlie is going to commit a holdup at the Bank of American (which still exists of course) on the street corner, on January 26, 2195, at 6:00 PM.The prediction is correct, obviously, and Charlie commits a holdup, on January 26, 2195, at 6:00 PM.
SCENARIO 2: The supercomputer predicts that Charlie is going to save a child on January 26, 2195, at 6:00 PM.
SCENARIO 3: The supercomputer predicts that Charlie is going to go jogging on January 26, 2195, at 6:00 PM.
Do you think that, when Charlie commits the holdup, he is acting freely? And what about the other scenarios?
SCENARIO 1: (Submitted to a group of students who had no training in philosophy)
Of them, 76 percent replied: ‘Yes, Charlie acts freely.’
But we know that our tendency to estimate that a person is responsible for his actions is much stronger when these actions are judged to be immoral.
SCENARIO 2: (Submitted to other groups with the same general characteristics)
68 percent answer that Charlie acts freely when he saves the child exactly as the supercomputer predicted.
SCENARIO 3: (Submitted to other groups with the same general characteristics)
79 percent answe that Charlie acts freely when he goes jogging exactly as the supercomputer predicted.
How can we set about rendering these somewhat contradictory ideas and attitudes compatible?
Professional philosophers have long wondered, without having made much progress, whether it is possible to reconcile what we know of the behavior of humans, subjected, like everything belonging to the natural world, to forces that elude them, and our tendency to judge them as if they were free and responsible for their actions.
The philosophers have proposed different solutions to this conflict.
(1) Derives from Hobbes. It consists in observing that a free act is not an act that is mad, arbitrary, or without reasons, but an act caused or determined by our own reasons, that is to say, a voluntary act. In reality, ‘free’ would not be the contrary of ’caused’ or ‘determined’, but merely of ‘nonvoluntary’, ‘constrained’, or ‘imposed by a threat or by a force.’ It is in this voluntarist sense that liberty and determinism are compatible.
(2) From the ‘incompatibilists.’ For them, to be free is not only to act according to our own reasons, but to have, in addition, the power to choose our reasons or to be at their origin. Now, according to them we do not have that power. This is why liberty and determinism are incompatible.
(3) Another way of attemting to resolve the conflict involves saying that our beliefs in determinism and in liberty can happily coexist without contradicting each other, for they come under wholly different aspects of our lives.
On the one hand, we know that there exist reasons for believing that we are subject to forces that elude us or that we cannot act otherwise than we do.
On the other hand, we cannot help having emotional reactions of joy, anger, and indignation toward what we do or what others do–as if we were free. These attitudes express the deep necessities of life in society. It would be absurd to imagine that we could eliminate them.
In other words, our belief in determinism and our belief in liberty reflect different necessities. Each belief has its own independent life. The one has no reciprocal influence upon the other. It is in this sense that they are compatible.
Are you compatibilist or incompatibilist?
In short, for certain philosophers, known as ‘incompatibilists’, liberty and determinism are irreconcilable. If determinism is true, we are not free. And if we are not free, all ideas of responsability or of ‘deserved’ punishment are cruel and irrational human inventions.
For other philosophers, known as ‘compatibilists’, liberty and determinism are reconcilable. Even if determinism is true, we can be free to act and responsible for our actions.
Certain experiements show that, contrary perhaps to what we might expect, the majority of people tend to align themselves with the second group. They are compatibilists.
Complement Human Kindness and the Smell of Warm Croissants: An Introduction to Ethics with The Freedom of the marionette and the faith of puppets. In modern thinking freedom is not much more than a relationship between human beings. Freedom in this sense may come in a number of varieties.