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Mandos

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  1. whYNOT, here's an article about cancer risk.
  2. This has to be one of the most irrationally histrionic exchanges I have read. The foreskin does not serve any obvious, demonstrable function. Hypothetical functions might include protection of the penis and especially the urethra, but this function is already served by clothing. It might have some marginal effect on sensation during sex, but that hasn't been conclusively documented anywhere and where there have been attempts to explore that in the literature, the reports are conflicting--in some cases, sex was found to be 'better' without a foreskin. I should think that anyone acquainted with sexual behavior and experience in circumcised males would be convinced that sex is quite pleasurable even absent a foreskin. As for the question of advantages to circumcision, these are also somewhat marginal, but the premise that parents have no right to permanently alter the bodies of their children has absurd implications, not least of which would be that parents have no right to vaccinate their children against illness. Molecular change is still change and as far as I'm aware acquired immunity is permanent in the relevant sense. Extending the analogy, one could think of circumcision as a preventative therapy from a number of perspectives: penile cancer, susceptibility to sexually transmitted infection, general hygiene, etc. Now, I grant that, though studies exist that support the existence of such advantages, the advantages are fairly marginal. But they do exist. I am sure some of you will argue that there are ways to address all the mentioned issues without circumcision. The same is true of vaccination. Some of you will argue that it should be up to the child to decide once he is grown. That seems reasonable enough, until one realizes the procedure is more complicated in an older individual. For instance, it will generally be necessary to use anesthesia with an older male, and anesthesia carries its own significant risks. The parents in question can avoid necessitating such risk by circumcising their son while he is still an infant. Unless it can be demonstrated that their son is likely to retroactively object (and the vast majority of circumcised males find no reason to object), this is a legitimate attempt to act in the best interest of their son by proxy--which is what parents have to do in general at this stage, since infants are not able to express their precise desires. Sheesh.
  3. I think the best way to reply to someone who denies the existence of free will is to get them to explain exactly what they mean by free will. And what they mean by determinism. That at least gives one a solid place to start. That being said, there is one point that does not appear to have been raised here. I think most of us are in agreement that we cannot presently predict human behavior with exact accuracy. But what if we could predict human behavior exactly? Would this contradict freedom of the will?
  4. Tenderlysharp, I am not attempting to invalidate the concept 'self'. That way madness lies. I am merely pointing out that, if no patterns existed in the actions of entities, our concepts of entities and causation and action would not help us to predict or to deal with reality--and to this extent they would be useless and perhaps superfluous. I do not subscribe to this position and I don't think Rand did either. What puzzles me is in what sense she meant the will is free to choose. If the choice is made and determined by the will's nature, there is no problem, either for the claim that the action is chosen among alternatives or for the claim that the entity choosing was connected to the choice made--and thus the choice made tells us something about the entity choosing, validating judgment of a person based on that person's past choices. Consider, for instance, the case of Jo and Mary you mention. Imagine Jo saved Mary. Would it be reasonable to expect that, after saving Mary, Jo would kill her? No, because Jo loves Mary, and Jo is not the sort of person who will destroy something he loves--he is the type of person who will risk everything for it. I am contending both that Jo chose to save Mary under the circumstance and that it was in Jo's nature to save Mary, so his actions could have been predicted given sufficient knowledge about his nature. If we are maintaining that Jo is strictly unpredictable, his actions directed neither by the tendencies inherent in his character nor the nature of his particular self, then why expect anything at all from him? One moment he will do one thing. Another moment he will do another. Neither thing is determined by the nature of his volitional faculty or by the nature of his character. He is absolutely free in the sense that any of the available alternative could have happened in the metaphysical sense--which I take to mean they are strictly unpredictable in the sense I described earlier. Nothing we know about Jo can tell us how Jo will act from moment to moment. In a certain sense, the Jo who just saved Mary is not the same Jo Mary is with after having been saved--some memories and character traits happen to attach to him, but his will is absolutely free and not bound to behave according to a particular nature. Each choice thus is entirely free from all the others and no choice tells us anything about what he will do. I don't know about you, but if I were Mary in this situation, I'd run from Jo as fast as I could. I hope it's obvious that I don't hold this sort of view of human beings. I think each individual determines their own destiny to a great extent, but I think each individual does so according to that individual's particular nature. I am myself--I have a particular nature, and I act only as my nature dictates. This does not make my actions unchosen, it merely makes my actions predictable given sufficient information, which I hope I've demonstrated above is not necessarily an undesirable thing. (By the way, you mentioned in passing that a person can choose their own nature. What does the choosing and why does it make the particular choice it makes, if it does not yet have a nature?) Avila, your post is interesting but I feel addressing it would sidetrack the discussion. If you feel it is important that it be addressed, please help me to understand how it fits in and I will try to formulate a response. Eiuol, as I understand you, I think we are in agreement. The substitution of 'individual' is quite legitimate. I only use the more cumbersome 'volitional faculty' in an attempt to be clear about exactly what I mean by an individual that makes choices and should bear responsibility for them. I also wholeheartedly agree that generalizations over all human beings should not be made here. It certainly doesn't follow from the fact that someone is a human being that they will behave rationally, nor does that follow from the particular context in which they find themselves. Rather, I would say that whether or not a person behaves rationally (or in any other fashion) in a particular context is ultimately determined by who the person, that is, the sort of person making the choice. 2046, I certainly do not think what I am describing is the actual state of affairs and I am most definitely not attempting to refute freedom of the will. I am simply trying to clarify what we mean by such freedom. Particularly, I am interested in why Rand seems to have rejected the idea that free will and determinism, properly understood, are compatible. This is essentially my own position, because when I think of 'determinism', I am including choice among the things determining what occurs. I think choices connect to the sort of person choosing, which seems to be a good way to justify hold the person responsible for the choice, rather than just 'the person making that particular choice' which is different than 'the person immediately after making that particular choice' responsible. I hope that was clear--it's easy to get lost in the wording with this sort of thing.
  5. Tenderlysharp, thank you for your contributions. I agree with you that it is important for a person to recognize what choices can and cannot control in order to make effective choices. However, in saying that something is within my control, I imagine an entity, which is my self, my particular volition, which is determining that something. And my particular volition acts as its particular nature demands--this does not contradict the claim that some things are within the control of my consciousness. It merely fixes my fundamental identity. I can imagine alternatives, as I hint at in my previous post, but all alternatives I imagine that do not demand that my choices be determined by my nature seem to eliminate the need for a concept such as the self. Further, as I suggest in my previous post and elaborate briefly upon below, it does not appear that the concept of moral responsibility retains its usefulness if my nature does not determine my choices. You are right that all determinations about a person's nature must be made 'after the fact.' I would not dispute this. However, the same could be said of all information acquired through experience. I do not know that heavy objects fall when unsupported until after I see a heavy object fall when unsupported. Your brief outline of how to evaluate the moral value of human beings seems in line, as far as I can tell, with what Rand and others have said about judging a man according to his character. But, if a man is free such that his actions are undetermined by his nature, there is no reason to expect consistency from a previously consistent man, nor to expect inconsistency from an inconsistent man. No expectations are valid, which undercuts moral evaluation based on past actions. The Peikoff quote you posted is interesting. I confess I haven't read any of his books, though I've read his articles in The Objectivist etc. My question for Peikoff would be, when he says 'Man chooses the causes that shape his actions,' what does he mean by 'man'? 2046, thank you for posting. I am familiar with the claim that the metaphysical freedom of the will is self-evident through introspection. However, I remain unconvinced. I am, of course, aware of alternatives between which I choose. The problem I see is that these choices are not equivalent. When I am cooking at a stove, I am aware that I could, if I chose to, place my hand on the stove. But that option is experienced along with a sort of experiential evaluation which amounts to: I could, but I don't want to, so I won't. It is in this sense that I would hold my nature, coupled with my context, determines my particular choice. It is not in my nature to select burning my hand on a hot stove (unless there is some motivating reason that outweighs the negative experience of burning my hand). I do not think this makes my will unfree. I am free to do whatever I 'want' and therefore choose. Not being able to choose what I fundamentally want amounts to an inability to determine my own fundamental nature, but what sort of thing could determine its fundamental nature, and how would it do so? Eiuol, I think we understand each other. The person you describe as subject to judgment, if I understand you, is subject to judgment because of character traits that manifest as a tendency to perform certain actions. This seems consistent with what Rand says about judging men in The Metaphysical Versus the Man-Made. But Rand also seems to suggest in John Galt's speech that a man bound by a tendency cannot be considered morally responsible, because the tendency is not of his choice. Which brings us back to the question: what is he? What are we claiming when we pass moral judgment, and what difference does it make? I would say that we are judging both the person's character and, if the person is guilty of many moral errors rather than errors of knowledge, the particular volition that produced the character.
  6. I'm going to try approaching this from another angle. The notion of causation arises from the observation of patterns. Certain classes of states follow other classes of states in particular contexts. If no such patterns existed, causation would be irrelevant. One could assert a connection between every state and its preceding states, but it would not be a useful connection without a consistent pattern allowing it to be applied to other cases. However, if we observe that in general, patterns exist, it is useful to assume an undiscovered pattern exists so that, if there turns out to be a pattern, you'll discover it. One does not generally find what one isn't looking for. I say all of this to briefly present the rationale behind my general approach, which is to regard every action of an entity as being caused by the nature of the entity. This may turn out to be a stance void of meaningful content since it is logically possible that certain types of action do not follow any underlying pattern at all, that is, 'metaphysical randomness' is not logically impossible--each moment may have a particular identity without there being a pattern in the succession of moments. The epistemological nature of such a metaphysically random event would be that it is inherently unpredictable. Regardless of the data gathered or how much this data is analyzed, it will never be possible to know beforehand what will happen. As I conceive of such randomness, it would not even be possible to assess likelihoods, but one might also discuss events in which things can be predicted on the level of a population but not an individual, such as radioactive decay. So, in maintaining that the nature of a particular consciousness does not determine what choice that consciousness will make, are we maintaining that the choice is metaphysically random in the sense I have explained above? If this is what is being maintained, then this would make the actions of beings of volitional consciousness strictly unpredictable in the above sense. This has strange consequences for the concept of moral responsibility. If I hold that a person was responsible for murder, what have I accomplished in identifying their responsibility? Normally, I would think identifying responsibility identifies that this is the sort of person who commits murder, and this person should be treated accordingly. But if a person's actions are strictly unpredictable, a past act of murder tells us absolutely nothing about how a person will act. It would make no difference to me if I dealt with murderers or successful businessmen--I could not predict with any level of certainty or probability how either person would behave. Either of them might uphold an agreement or break it, either might kill me or not, either might perform any action at all. I have no reason to hold any expectations of the person. If I actually were to view people this way, then I don't understand how I could decide how to behave when dealing with another human being. Moreover, I don't see any evidence from Rand's fiction that she saw people this way. But then how did she see people? Why would she have objected to the account I have given of volition?
  7. Vox, I definitely think we're getting closer to understanding each other, and your responses remain greatly appreciated. I agree with your descriptions of the self and the conceptual process behind its identification. I am not sure I follow why to make a statement such as 'it is the nature of this particular self (specifically this particular volitional faculty) to make this particular choice in this particular context' is to deny either consciousness or freedom of the will. If I say 'it is the nature of this particular rock to fall in this particular direction because it is unsupported and located within a particular gravitational field' I am merely saying that the nature of the rock and the rock's context causes it to fall. Similarly, in terms of the self, I am saying that the nature of the self and the self's context caused the particular choice. The self's context determines the alternatives between which the self is choosing--the choice of alternative is entirely up to the self. But if we assume that the self's choice is somehow not dependent on the nature of the self, the question is what causal connection exists, if any, between the self and the particular choice. If there is not a causal connection, then the self does not determine the choice. If there is, I don't see why it is objectionable to say that the particular choice is determined by the particular sort of thing the self is. I choose according to my nature--this does not restrict my freedom, it simply means I have a particular identity, just as everything must. Your admonition to distinguish between questions that philosophy can answer and that particular sciences can answer is welcome and appropriate. Philosophy guides science but it does not address particulars such as you listed and I am not seeking answers to such particular questions here. (As an aside, I think one of the major errors of neuroscience at the moment is its assumption, in spite of the existence of qualia, that the mind can be fully described physically. I've drafted an argument inspired by Mary's room that I believe makes it clear physical descriptors are insufficient for complete description. I plan to post it at some point on these boards for input.) Marc, I am not arguing that the volitional faculty does not choose between alternatives. I don't believe the physical context completely determines what will occur when a volitional faculty is acting--the physical context determines only the alternatives between which the volitional faculty chooses. I also agree that the fact that the volitional faculty determines through its choice which of these alternatives occur makes it responsible for which alternative occurs. My sticking point comes in part from the fact that only one choice occurs and if we maintain that the choice that occurs is not determined by the nature of the person choosing, then are we maintaining the choice that actually occurs is determined by nothing? If so, then how can we simultaneously maintain the person is responsible for which choice actually happens?
  8. I should rephrase again for clarity: what connection did Rand hold existed between the particular chooser and the particular choice that gives the particular chooser responsibility for that particular choice? Eiuol, you seem to be saying that responsibility comes about because a person is required by nature to choose, but they are not required by nature to make the particular choice they do. But then what connection does the person have to the particular choice they make? If they have no connection to that particular choice, then in what sense are they responsible for their particular choice?
  9. Eiuol and Vox Rationis, thank you for your replies. It seems I've failed to communicate my central point, so I'll offer a little clarification on my position then try to bring out the key issue at the end. I am not saying that 'personality traits' determine a person's choices. I am not saying that a person's choices are determined by something other than the consciousness of the chooser. I am not saying that a person's choices are materially determined (ie by laws governing inanimate matter). I am saying that a person's particular choices are determined by the nature of that person's particular volitional faculty and I am making no stipulations whatsoever as to what determines the nature of the volitional faculty in question. I concede the logical possibility that choices are irreducible primaries, meaning that they cannot be explained in terms of the nature of anything else, including the person choosing. But to say that a person is responsible for the choices that person makes is to assert some connection between the person and the choice. I have only been able to conceive of this connection as causal--and if conceived as causal, I see no reason not to subsume the form of the causation under the general notion that causation acts in accordance with the nature of the entities participating in the causation. So my central question if Rand would have answered 'no' to the subject question might be restated: what connection did Rand hold existed between the chooser and the choice that gave the chooser responsibility for the choice?
  10. The subject got cut off: the full question should read 'Does the particular nature of a particular volition determine that volition's particular choice?' I am going to begin this post with a series of relevant quotes from Rand. "All the countless forms, motions, combinations and dissolutions of elements within the universe--from a floating speck of dust to the formation of a galaxy to the emergence of life--are caused and determined by the identities of the elements involved." - The Metaphysical Versus the Man-Made "The metaphysically given is, was, will be, and had to be. Nothing made by man had to be: it was made by choice." - The Metaphysical Versus the Man-Made "A sin without volition is a slap at morality and an insolent contradiction in terms: that which is outside the possibility of choice is outside the province of morality. If man is evil by birth, he has no will, no power to change it; if he has no will, he can be neither good nor evil; a robot is amoral. To hold, as man's sin, a fact not open to his choice is a mockery of morality. To hold man's nature as his sin is a mockery of nature. To punish him for a crime he committed before he was born is a mockery of justice. To hold him guilty in a matter where no innocence exists is a mockery of reason. To destroy morality, nature, and reason by means of a single concept is a feat hardly to be matched. Yet that is the root of your code. "Do not hide behind the cowardly evasion that man is born with free will, but with a ‘tendency’ to evil. A free will saddled with a tendency is like a game with loaded dice. It forces man to struggle through the effort of playing, to bear responsibility and pay for the game, but the decision is weighted in favor of a tendency that he had no power to escape. If the tendency is of his choice, he cannot possess it at birth; if it is not of his choice, his will is not free." - This Is John Galt Speaking "But man’s responsibility goes still further: a process of thought is not automatic nor “instinctive” nor involuntary—nor infallible. Man has to initiate it, to sustain it and to bear responsibility for its results. He has to discover how to tell what is true or false and how to correct his own errors; he has to discover how to validate his concepts, his conclusions, his knowledge; he has to discover the rules of thought, the laws of logic, to direct his thinking. Nature gives him no automatic guarantee of the efficacy of his mental effort." - The Objectivist Ethics I acknowledge Rand's distinction between the metaphysically given and the man-made in the sense that some aspects of reality arise through the actions of volition and some do not--and I acknowledge that this distinction is important. However, I am not sure I understand what Rand means when she says that nothing made by man had to be. If she means 'had to be' in the same sense that she applies to the metaphysically given, I don't understand her. Each person has a particular nature, just as everything that exists does, and each person's actions must proceed from that person's particular nature if they are to have been within that person's control. The only choice consistent with that nature will be the choice that was actually made, just as the only action consistent with the nature of a heavy object will be to fall when unsupported. If the choice is not determined by the person's nature, then what connection does the particular choice have to the person choosing? More to the point, how can a person be held responsible for a choice if that choice is not determined by the person's nature? Rand seems to hold in the last few quotes above that responsibility depends upon the freedom of the will, and I think this is true in a particular sense. It would be absurd to hold a paraplegic responsible for his failure to walk across a room--that is not a matter open to his choice. But it would also be absurd to say that simply because he did not choose the nature of his particular volitional faculty, he is not responsible for the choices output by this volitional faculty--in holding him responsible, one is effectively holding the nature of his volitional faculty responsible, as far as I can make sense of the concept 'responsibility.' In the case of the paraplegic, the choices output could not meaningfully concern walking or not walking, but they could concern, for example, talking or not talking. (I recognize that I am not talking here about a primary choice in Rand's sense. If you prefer that I reframe this discussion in terms of that, I am willing to do so.) It should be clear that 'could' and its derivatives would be used in different senses were I to say 'A heavy object could fall or not fall' versus 'A paraplegic could talk or not talk.' If 'could' refers strictly to what is possible to the exact natures of the entities acting, only one thing is possible in both cases. But if 'could' refers to what is possible to the exact nature of entities once any volitional faculty that may be present is abstracted, then different things are possible to an entity with a volitional faculty. So my question comes down to this: what would Rand have said to the above?
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