There can be no morality without free will. Therefore, a blog about real-world morality must discuss real world free will.
I have been asked, “Does desirism depend on no variety of free will existing or just contra-causal free will?”
I have a problem answering this question because I do not think that people have a clear and precise idea of “free will”. For some, it is the power to violate the laws of physics just by wanting to do so. For others, it is the capacity to choose actions based on one’s own desires.
I am going to describe what desirism requires in terms that do not mention free will, and leave it to the reader to decide if if their concept of “free will” fits somewhere in the picture.
The heart of the question concerns whether an agent “could have done otherwise”.
We do not blame a person for failure to teleport a child out of a burning building because people do not have that ability. “Ought” implies “can” and “cannot” implies “it is not the case that one ought”.
Some would argue that the employee who takes cash out of the till and the parent who beats a child also could not have done otherwise. Given their personal history, the physical structure of their brain at the moment of action, the environment, they are as powerless to prevent taking the money or beating the child as the person who “let” the children burn in the fire.
Consistency, then, requires that we hold them to be as blameless as the person who did not teleport the child out of the burning building.
Desirism handles this problem by putting reward/praise and punishment/condemnation in the determined universe.
Reward and punishment are actions, themselves having determined causes (the beliefs and desires of those who reward and punish) and determined effects (altering the desires of those rewarded or punished and of those who experience the rewards and punishments).
The reasons to reward and punish come from the desires of agents. They are the same kinds of reasons as the reason to avoid putting one’s hand in a hot fire or to go to the dentist.
Some agents might have reasons to reward or punish that few of us have reason to endorse. This is a fact – as real as the desires that generate our reasons to act.
There are, in the world, actions that people generally have many and strong reasons to praise or condemn. Their existence does not depend on any type of free will. In fact, they depend on praise and condemnation themselves having certain determined effects.
The human brain contains a reward center. When an action produces an unexpected reward or payoff, this activates the reward center and strengthens the desires that produced the action that produced the reward. When an action produces an unexpected negative return, this strengthens aversions to that which produced the punishment.
Furthermore, the human brain contains mirror neurons. This allows each of us to experience the rewards and punishments of others as if they happened to us. Giving a person an award at a banquet in his honor not only boosts his desire to do the same thing, it boosts the desires of everybody in the audience to perform similar actions. Public condemnation produces in others aversions to those types of acts that resulted in condemnation.
Written By: Alonzo Fyfe
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