Friday, 26 January 2007

Free Will and Ridicule

A man may believe that no one should be ridiculed for those things over which he has no control – the colour of his skin, the formation of his body, and so on – and also believe that there is no such thing as free will. If he is consistent, then he should believe that no one should be ridiculed for anything – not even for the colour of his opinions or the formation of his views, be they ever so abhorrent or stupid. If such consistency were widespread, I cannot say for certain what life would be like. Ridicule is “a sort of duel without bloodshed,” thought Chamfort, “and, like the real thing, it makes men more polite and more circumspect.” [1]
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[1] Nicolas-Sébastien Roch de Chamfort, Reflections on Life, Love and Society, tr. & ed. by Douglas Parmée (London: Short Books, 2003), §158, p.82. (“That some catatonics are people who have ceased to believe in their own free will is an interesting hypothesis,” says Peter van Inwagen, An Essay on Free Will (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983), p.157.)

6 comments:

Malcolm Pollack said...

The difference, of course, is that our views are mutable, unlike the leopard's spots - and for getting the ball rolling, a spot of ridicule can be "the very dab".

Deogolwulf said...

"The difference, of course, is that our views are mutable"

Quite right, but if our hypothetical non-freewiller is right, then they are not choosable. If he wishes to be consistent with the first belief, which is of choosability rather than mutability, then he has to forgo ridicule.

galileo said...

The point of ridiculing someone's opinion is to get him to conform to our own. Perhaps it succeeds precisely because we are deterministic creatures that work in just that way.

Deogolwulf said...

It may be so, Galileo, but that’s not the point I am making. For when one says a man has free will, one means that he has some autonomous control over some things; and when one says that he has no free will, one means that he has no control over anything — not over his thoughts, motivations, deeds, or deliberations, which are the results rather of antecedent conditions in line with the laws of nature. If a man has no free will, then he has no more control over his words and deeds than he has over his physical endowment. If one believes no one should be ridiculed for those things over which he has no control, then consistently one should believe that no one should be ridiculed for anything.

galileo said...

I appreciate what you are saying, D. It's just that framing the freewill question in terms of an I that has control over my beliefs and opinions has problems of its own. Do you think, for example, that you can change a belief by an act of will?

Deogolwulf said...

It is indeed a complex matter, Galileo, to which I have no answer.