The Ethics Of… Podcast #1 – Free Will

This week we’re trying something just a little different than usual – I’m trying out a podcast format. The topic this week is a golden oldie from the first days of this blog, and a personal favourite of mine: Free Will.

Click the link below to check it out and/or download for listening at your convenience:

The Ethics Of Podcast #1 – Free Will

For anyone who didn’t find this blog via me posting it all over facebook, this is likely the first time you’ll have ever heard my voice and/or learned anything about me personally at all. I hope that’s not too traumatic an experience! As with anything I post up here, feedback is always welcome. If you like the new format, let me know and I’ll do a few more of them. If you hate it, again I want to know and can keep to the tried and tested written format. If you like it but reckon it needs some work, the I DEFINITELY want to know, because that sort of feedback is kinda crucial for not just this blog, but my career in general.


9 thoughts on “The Ethics Of… Podcast #1 – Free Will

  1. I prefer reading your posts. Sometimes I will listen to podcasts but not often: I need to be doing something that does not require thought (like data entry — I listened to many, many pod casts, then!). Often, your blog posts give me cause to pause and think – I cannot do that with a podcast. Also, I teach a course in ethics and your written blog posts make good assigned reading for students.

    However, it should be your choice: if you want to record as a podcaster, I wish you all the best.

    • Hi Kathy, thanks for the feedback I really appreciate it! Super flattered that you’re setting my articles as reading too, thanks for that! I certainly won’t be replacing the articles with podcasts, but thought I’d give the new format a short. May do them in addition to the usual written posts. Thanks again for your help! If you have a topic you’d like me to cover please let me know, I’m always down for requests

    • I feel the same about written articles allowing me to stop and consider points you’ve made. I also like to share the articles with family and friends and I know none of them would listen to a podcast. You have such valuable points of view and insights, it would be such a shame for people to miss out by a change of format. I know podcasts are the “It” thing at the moment, but I think they’re good for commuters or people doing mindless tasks. That’s not me at all and I’m never going to just sit there and listen to a recording.

      Maybe you can do both?

      • Hi Belletristbabe, thanks for the comment and the feedback. Very happy to hear you enjoy my stuff! Good points and I appreciate you taking the time to comment. I’ll definitely keep the old fortnightly article in that case, but maybe do the podcast to compliment it on occasion as well. Thanks again!

  2. Destiny doesn’t make any difference. Nor does causal inevitability. In order to be relevant and meaningful, the cause of a harm must be something that we can fix. And there’s no way to fix destiny or to correct events that occurred during the Big Bang.

    (A) The most relevant and meaningful cause of a deliberate wrongful act is that process of deliberation that resulted in the choice to commit the act. (B) The exception to this is the case where someone or something else, through coercion or other undue influence, forced you to commit the wrongful act against your will.

    In case (A) you decided for yourself what you “will” do, “free” of coercion or undue influence (free will). In case (B) your will was subject to the will of someone or something else, and was not free, (unfree will).

    Philosophy has managed to introduce confusion into this simple practical issue by suggesting that to be “truly” free, one’s will must be decided while free of causal necessity/inevitability. But “freedom from reliable cause and effect” is an oxymoron, because without it, we are not free to reliably cause any effect at all. Therefore that posture, that “free” must be “free from causation”, is preposterous.

    • A good delineation, Marvin. Functionally free will ignores the metaphysical questions because frankly, there’s not much we can do about them. Considering free will on a more behavioural/social level is useful, whereas the question of free will on a causal level doesn’t give us a conclusion we can use. Though as I mentioned towards the end of the recording, those metaphysical questions do have some applications on a sociological level – the implication being that people are products of their environment and the whole hardcore ‘personal responsibility’/libertarian approach to things is fundamentally ineffective as a result, whereas they’d have a lot more validity if free will existed on such a fundamental level.

      • I listened to your podcast. If I may, I’d like to resolve the metaphysical issue for you.

        Determinism is the reasonable belief that all events have causes that we might discover, by observing, experimenting, and reasoning. Knowing the causes of an event gives us greater control over our lives. For example, knowing that diseases like polio and measles are caused by viruses, and that the immune system can be primed to recognize and eliminate a virus through vaccinations, enable us to avoid these diseases. So, this is a hopeful thing, an empowering thing.

        However, a corollary of reliable cause and effect is that each event can be viewed as the reliable result of specific causes, and each of these causes may be viewed as an event with its own causes, and so on. The logical conclusion is universal causal necessity/inevitability. Everything that happens is always causally inevitable. It is a logical fact.

        Should this fact worry us? No, because this particular fact changes nothing. Deterministic inevitability is not an inevitability that is “beyond our control”, because it incorporates our control and our choices in the overall scheme of causality.

        If you ask someone why they chose A rather than B, they will happily explain to you why A was the better choice. And they can explain it in terms of the purpose they wanted to achieve and the reasons why A accomplished this purpose better than B. Because the purpose and the reasons were their own purpose and reasons, their choice was inevitable. And they will make the same choice every time, as long as the conditions, purpose, and reasons remain the same.

        So there’s nothing scary about the fact that our choices reflect who we are, what we think, and how we feel. It is authentically us making the choice and deciding for ourselves what we will do. Our will is freely formed by our own choice.

        Except when it’s not. If someone is holding a gun to your head and making that choice for you, against your will, effectively subjecting your will to his will, then your will is not freely made by you. There are other less violent examples. Mother says, “No, Johnny, you cannot have your desert until you finish your vegetables”. So Johnny eats the vegetables, but not of his own free will. Another example would be someone placed under hypnosis and given a post-hypnotic command to take off a shoe when someone says “snowflake”. Another example would be someone with a mental illness or brain injury that prevents him from making a rational choice. We can summarize all of these under the category of “undue influence”.

        So, here we have “free will”, making the distinction between the cases where we decide for ourselves what we will do and the cases where we are subject to coercion or other undue influence. And this is the meaning of “free will” that is used to establish responsibility and accountability.

        In both cases, whether we choose of our own free will or someone else forces their choice upon us, the event is the inevitable result of deterministic inevitability. Either it was inevitable that I would make the choice or it was inevitable that someone else would make the choice.

        And this is why the idea of deterministic inevitability is useless. Since everything that happens is always deterministically inevitable, it makes itself irrelevant by its own ubiquity. By that I mean that it is like a constant that always appears on both sides of every equation, and it can be safely subtracted from both sides without changing the result.

        And that’s why it seldom comes up. The only reasonable thing to do about the fact of deterministic inevitability is to acknowledge it, and then forget it.

        All of the utility of determinism comes from knowing the specific causes of specific events. The facts of Psychology and Sociology are useful. They empower us to better deal with mental and social problems.

        Now, you would think, since there is nothing useful we can learn from the fact of deterministic inevitability, that people would not spend so much time talking about it. But it turns out there are a lot of ways to misuse the idea.

        Telling people that they have no control over their lives, for example, would be a malicious use of the idea of deterministic inevitability. And that’s what we hear from the “hard determinists” out there. Instead of empowering us and giving us the knowledge to gain better control of our lives, they use determinism to enslave us, strip us of free will, and attack moral responsibility.

        Personally, I find that unethical, and immoral.

  3. When you have a written post, people can read it at their own speed. When it’s verbal, everyone must slow down to your speaking speed and that gets a little tedious. Suggestion: If you’re reading a script, then post the script AND the podcast, then everyone can choose the medium they prefer. Some may want to listen while they’re exercising or doing other things. And if you did not prepare a written script, then you’re really going to be difficult to listen to. Personally, I only listened to the beginning of the podcast. I could see the timer counting up, but there was no down-counter indicating how long the podcast was, and I wasn’t about to make an open-ended commitment for however many hours you were going to go on.

    • Thanks for the feedback, Marvin. I appreciate you taking the time to offer your thoughts. Good idea re posting the script as well, unfortunately as you guessed, I tend to speak off a dot-pointed list rather than a full script to get a more natural/conversational flow, so there isn’t much a script to go off. The podcast came to ~20 minutes, but yeah I can see why you’d be worried about length without any count-down showing up. Given your feedback and that of others I’ll retain the fortnightly full written post and maybe throw in a podcast to compliment it as well. Thanks again for your feedback!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s