Sam Harris devotes eleven pages or so in The Moral Landscape to denying that human free will exists, because physical determinism governs every event.
Sam Harris says he is pro-choice.
I was wondering if anyone could explain that for me.
What exactly needs to be explained?
Easy: He’s bound by his physicalism to that position (not to mention his abhorrence of religion, his advocacy of physical determinism, etc.).
I see what you did there.
So the problem is that if determinism is the case, then choice is an illusion. Determinism is the case, according to Harris. The pro-choice position isn’t much of a choice. In face there isn’t any choice involved with the pro-choice stance.
I don’t know that there is anything paradoxical about Harris’ claims.
He believes one should be pro-choice…unless one isn’t.
I need to retract, with apologies. Sam Harris supports abortion, certainly, but I do not know whether he has said he is “pro-choice” in precisely that wording. He might be pro-abortion/anti-choice, for all I have been able to prove with statements in his books or on the web.
But is there anything that still needs to be explained?
Paul said, “I don’t do what I want to do, but I do what I don’t want to do.”
“For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.”-Paul, and really all Christians; all who are born again; who are quickened in their mind and heart.
So, God working in us helps us to over come physical determinism, doesn’t He. What a loving, kind, and awesome Savior!
RR, there is much that remains to be explained about both determinism and pro-choice attitudes, but no, the specific contradiction I thought I saw in Sam Harris does not exist.
Now suppose Harris said he was “pro-choice.” What would have been “the specific contradiction” you thought you saw?
That he would have supported “choice” while believing that choice is not real.
Why would he have to believe that kind of choice he would value (as “pro-choice”) isn’t real?
I didn’t say he had to believe it wasn’t real. I said he actually disbelieves in free will. I did not infer that from any source other than actually reading it in his book. If there is no free will, then there is no such thing as choice, except as something misleadingly named.
Certainly, modern biology is clear: the fetus is human, and the moral cororally that one should derive from this is that, the fetus deserves protection in law.
Opps, “corollary” is the right word.
I thought you said that he would believe “that choice is not real.” Why would he believe that, for the kind of choice that he would apparently support (as “pro-choice”)?
RR: that’s a great question. He accepts philosophical materialism, which (he argues) allows for no free will in any agents. Why he accepts that position when it is so obviously at odds with other things he believes—and also with other universally accepted human beliefs—I do not know.
Why do you think that Harris does believe that choice (the kind he values as “pro-choice”) is unreal?
RR, it’s because of his philosophical materialism, which (he argues) allows for no free will in any agents. I don’t mean to sound repetitive, but you’re asking pretty much the same question, and the answer is the same.
Yes, you’ve already said what Harris believes about philosophical materialism and free will. Why do you think that this means that Harris believes that choice (the kind he values as “pro-choice”) is unreal?
Because he has no other choice.
RR, this is not complicated, yet you keep asking it. Harris believes that free will is unreal. To be pro-choice is to be in favor of the ability to choose. To deny free will is to deny that humans have the ability to choose. See Harris’s own words beginning here (p. 103) and following:
All of our behavior can be traced to biological events about which we have no conscious knowledge: this has always suggested that free will is an illusion.
He goes on to affirm that suggestion.
I have already said this in comments 12 and 18, and I’ll say it again: The reason that I think that he believes this is because he has said so.
Perhaps you are thinking that (quoting you now), “choice (the kind he values as ‘pro-choice’)” is not the same kind of choice that is associated with free will. If that’s the direction you’re heading, then please quit pussy-footing around and go there. If not, then you need not ask again why I think Harris believes that choice is unreal. I have answered that question.
To have one’s path determined by government coercion is different from having one’s path determined by one’s own desires, beliefs, and other attitudes (even if these attitudes are themselves determined by “biological events”). Do you agree?
To have one’s path determined is not choice, regardless of whether it is determined by government or by one’s one biological events. So in terms of choice, your question is irrelevant.
But the issue, as you’ve framed it, concerns what Harris believes regarding choice, not what is actually the case regarding choice (much less what Tom believes about choice). Do you concede these distinctions, along with the previous?
RR, would you please clarify your last comment? If I understand you correctly, then yes, I have framed the issue in terms of Harris’s beliefs concerning choice. So have you, in #9. The question here has always been whether a determinist can coherently take up a pro-choice position.
What needs clarification is your phrase, “along with the previous.” It’s unclear what you’re including in that.
The previous distinction is the one made in the previous comment, namely #22.
I have already told you my position on #22.
You’ve only said that my question is irrelevant. But your claim about irrelevancy seems to be short-sighted or confused, apparently overlooking the other set of distinctions (#24).
Then enlighten me, please.
So, let’s start again with the simple question: do you, or do you not, concede the distinction in #22? (If you have any doubt that there is a distinction here, we need to address this doubt before we proceed.)
RR, please see the end of comment 21. I’d like to know what direction you’re heading with this. As I told you when you first asked the question in #22, it has every appearance of being irrelevant to the discussion of choice and determinism. Your asking that question again does not making it seem any more relevant than it did before. I do not care to go on a wild goose chase with you.
Tom, you are now asking me to explain to you the relevance of a simple question. This will slow us down, but I will follow your lead.
In order to show you the relevance of the distinction in #22, let me first ask you whether you can, just for the sake of argument, concede the distinction in #22. (And if you cannot, it would be helpful to know why.)
If I’m still moving too quickly, please let me know. We can try to explore the relevance of these latter questions, but we’re in danger of regress.
No, you’re not moving too quickly, you’re moving too slowly. Please try saying something rather than asking something. For example, “Tom, if you were to concede (or not concede) the distinction in #22, then this would follow: …”
I’m really trying to get off this merry-go-round of you asking questions that have no apparent purpose. That’s why I’m not answering.
There’s a touch of condescension, RR, in “Tom, you are now asking me to explain to you the relevance of a simple question. This will slow us down, but I will follow your lead.” In #23 I told you why I think the question is irrelevant. You have studiously ignored what I said there.
There’s also more than a touch of control-taking in your insistent attempts to take me on a path to an end that you refuse to disclose. I prefer not to interact that way.
Tom, if you recall, I did assert something, namely:
To have one’s path determined by government coercion is different from having one’s path determined by one’s own desires, beliefs, and other attitudes (even if these attitudes are themselves determined by “biological events”).
While this is only starting point, but it is not a good starting point if you do not agree that there is a distinction here. Now you are asking for an explanation of it’s relevance. But it is not clear what sort of explanation will satisfy you. Therefore, I ask whether you would be able to provisionally accept the distinction (if not, then this would block a very convenient method of providing the very explanation you are asking for). But I’m starting now to suspect that you are unable to even provisionally accept this distinction. And this suggests that suitable explanations of relevancy might require more innovation. (Because common ground may be more difficult to find).
RR, I really don’t prefer to interact this way.
What you seem to think is a simple yes-no question is not so, because on the one hand there is an obvious difference between external and internal determination. That difference is too obvious for you to have bothered with; I can’t begin to guess why you repeated your question so often when the answer (on one level) is so obvious. On the other hand there is a real sense in which the two are quite the same, and that sense is the operative one when considering whether one can coherently use the word “choice” as a determinist. I said that in #23.
If you have a point to make, please feel free to make it. Or feel free to work with the answer I have just given you to your question. Bear in mind, however, that you are not Socrates and I am not your disciple. (And even Socrates, if someone were to ask him the relevance of a question, would not just repeat the same question over and over again.)
I would have also thought that the distinction in #22 was obvious. And, as a starting point, it is good to start with obvious things that we can both agree to. I began to worry, however, when you apparently could not agree to the obvious. I began therefore to doubt whether even Socrates could provide you with any explanation–of even trivial matters!
I would have thought that you would have paid attention to what I wrote in #23 rather than repeating the question so often.
I do not prefer to be treated with condescension and control maneuvers such as you have been employing. It is, in a word, disrespectful on your part; and you have given me no reason—you have repeatedly refused to give any reason—to believe we might be heading in a direction that would make the experience worthwhile. Good day to you.
Tom, you will note that I did pay attention to what you said in #23. What I suggested is that, in light of the distinctions in #24, you were perhaps too quick to convince yourself of the irrelevancy of #22.
At any rate, I am sorry that you feel disrespected.
#24 was followed by #25 through #29, in which I attempted to obtain a clarification from you, after which in #30 you just repeated the question.
I’m not quite sure how to regard your apology. It seems to be an apology for how I feel. Maybe that’s not what you intended to say; I don’t want to jump prematurely to that conclusion. But it it’s worth at least mentioning that my feelings have not asked you to apologize for what they are.
Now, as far as I can tell, you are still failing to register various distinctions, which perhaps explains your frustrations. The questions I have asked are not identical, are they?
I am sorry that you feel the way you do about our dialog. I regard your attitudes as regrettable largely because they are so misguided.
We had a very good discussion under way once in a comment thread a couple of weeks ago. I had hopes for something better than this. I’m sad it didn’t turn out that way.
But if you think there is a substantive difference between your questions in #22 and #30, and that I am misguided for not sharing that opinion, then you are wrong. The two questions actually are substantively identical.
If you are referring to some questions other than #22 and #30, then you are calling me misguided for some reason you have not bothered to communicate.
Either way I have nothing further to say to you. With regrets, I stand by my assessments already stated. If in the future you have a desire to engage in discussion with me on one of my blog posts, please demonstrate the respect of not putting on the condescending tone. Please demonstrate also the respect of not acting as a secretive sort of Socrates toward a disciple. It’s unbecoming for two adults to interact that way—unless they are agreed that one of them actually is a Socrates.
Until then, good day to you.
Tom, I would hope that one day you will revisit this thread, asking yourself this: what would have happened if I had not refused to concede the distinction in #22?
For my part, I do not wish to attempt to explain difficult points to someone who refuses to concede obvious points.
Someday, RR, you might revisit this thread and ask yourself, what would have happened if I had exercised the respect of responding to Tom’s quite reasonable requests in #21, #29, #31 and #33, rather than playing secretive Socrates with him? Or, what would have happened if I had bothered to explore what Tom meant in #23 concerning the irrelevance of what I wrote in #22, just in case it meant something of importance?
But I had said good day to you. If you have a last word to offer after this one, I expect I will let it stand without reply.
But I already know what would have happened. Witness your frustrations of our last interaction where I took for granted your observance of obvious distinctions!
Good day to you.
RR, can I make a comment about what you said above? Here is an assertion you made:
“To have one’s path determined by government coercion is different from having one’s path determined by one’s own desires, beliefs, and other attitudes (even if these attitudes are themselves determined by “biological events”).”
To rephrase what you’ve said, it seems that you’re trying to make a distinction between a path determined by ourselves versus a path determined by others. But I don’t see how that’s a true distinction for the following reason…
If someone were to impose their will upon me, isn’t that merely an example of someone else making a choice based on their own desires, beliefs and attitudes? As such, isn’t it true that both of the cases you mention above is really the same thing, with the only difference being whose desires, beliefs and attitudes are being fulfilled?
Further, the person whose path is being chosen by another still has the free choice whether to let his path be chosen (he could choose imprisonment or death rather than following the dictates of the government, for example). In this sense, everyone continues to make free-will choices even if the consequences to these choices may be extremely unpleasant and unlikely to be chosen.
I think Tom and I are in agreement that if someone is able to make a choice to fulfill their beliefs and desires (whatever those may be), then free will MUST exist as a fact and not simply as an illusion. To try and divide situations as you seem to have done is not a valid response to this problem for the materialistic worldview.
Scott, you mention a variety of different cases, and it is best to avoid rushing to the conclusion that their differences are inconsequential. When someone else imposes his or her will upon you (contrary to your own beliefs/desires/deliberations), this is quite different from when your behavior is determined by your own beliefs/desires/deliberations. Put the question to yourself: doesn’t it matter to you whose wishes are determining where you work, whom you marry, etc.?
You also claim this:
the person whose path is being chosen by another still has the free choice whether to let his path be chosen
But your claim is not obviously true. It seems to simply assume that the coerced person has what you call “free choice” (whatever that means).
I said I was going to say good day and end this conversation, but then I got to wondering whether I might have already done so previously. I mean more than just a couple of weeks ago. It turns out that I have.
You know, when two different commenters tell a blogger that he has been doing a poor job of debating on the blog, he begins to wonder. I actually asked a group of independent observers to check in and see if I was doing as poorly as you said. But when that blogger finds out that the two different people are actually one and the same person coming back to comment under false pretenses after having been banned, that puts it in an entirely different light.
I expect you will soon be getting another email from Joe Carter, the editor of this blog, not unlike one he sent you sometime on or shortly after March 20, 2011.
Good day again.
Dear Tom: He couldn’t help it. He had no choice.
Such is the way of determinism.