I have no choice.
September 4, 2006 6:03 AM   Subscribe

Is it ethically possible to be a lawyer and believe in determinism?

By determinism’s line of thinking (if I have this correct), free will doesn’t exist and as such we should not be held morally accountable for our actions as they are not truly “free”.

If this is so, or at least, if you believe it is so, can you then go on to have a career in a field which is centred on prosecuting individuals/groups for their actions?

It seems incompatible to me. I know there is the argument that while free will may not exist, praise/blame helps promote/deter future actions and while this line of thinking makes sense to some extent it still does not sit well. You’re still prosecuting someone who had no free will in their actions.

I guess what I’m really asking is, is it possible to be human and truly believe in determinism? It seems that it’s just natural for us to condemn some people’s actions and celebrate others.

If I’ve got the whole idea of determinism wrong, forgive me and try and explain it as I’ve only garnered this from my university philosophy classes. Thank ye.
posted by liquorice to Religion & Philosophy (33 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Disclaimer: No jokes about lawyers and their lack of ethics anyway.
posted by liquorice at 6:04 AM on September 4, 2006

Determinism does not mean you get to escape the consequences of your actions. Prosecute with abandon.
posted by caddis at 6:07 AM on September 4, 2006

What if they're defense attorneys? Anyway there are a lot of legal jobs that don't involve prosecution.

But the basic question is whether or not it's ethical to hold people responsible for their actions if you don't believe in free will. But if you don't believe people are responsible for their actions, then surely you aren’t responsible for any laps in ethics, so why shouldn't they do it?
posted by delmoi at 6:13 AM on September 4, 2006

Yes, of course, if your determinism isn't truly random and is capable of patternizing behavior. The most compelling reason to lock up, say, a child molester for 20 years is to guarantee to your civilian society that this person will not molest any children for the next 20 years. As long as you consider recidivism a logical outcome of the first offense, it makes sense to prosecute and lock people up.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 6:16 AM on September 4, 2006

You’re still prosecuting someone who had no free will in their actions.

Well, it's not like you could have chosen to do otherwise.
posted by martinrebas at 6:31 AM on September 4, 2006 [4 favorites]

If this is so, or at least, if you believe it is so, can you then go on to have a career in a field which is centered on prosecuting individuals/groups for their actions?

I think you've got the whole idea of law as a field wrong. The field as a whole is centered on interpreting and navigating a very complex and technical system of rules and procedures. criminal law (both defense and prosecution) is just a subset of this.

There are both determinist and free will focused criminal justice perspectives. But regardless of which perspective you go with, there is a complex system of checks and balances which must take place before you either implement punishment as a form of retribution (a free will perspective) or force a person into rehabilitation intended to change his or her behavior (a more deterministic perspective).
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:33 AM on September 4, 2006

Determinism, as I understand it, is the position that there is in fact only one possible future; that the scenarios we generally consider to be "possibilities" simply reflect our inability to discern ahead of time what that future will actually turn out to be. FWIW, I personally believe that this model is likely to be correct. I've never been a fan of the many-worlds model.

I personally believe that any presumed ability to choose an arbitrary course of action from multiple possibilities is therefore illusory: the only path we could ever have chosen is the path we actually end up on.


we have to be very very careful bandying about words like "choose" and "possibility" and especially "I" and "we" in this kind of discussion, lest our beliefs about the behaviour of physical systems leak over into our beliefs about ethics.

We use concepts like "choice", "possibility" and "intent" to help us model and understand human behavior, which is always going to be far, far beyond the ability of physics to model usefully. There are just too many layers of organization, and too many emergent patterns, between the behaviour of our constituent particles as modellable by physics, and our behaviour as living, breathing, ethical beings.

Ideas about morality, ethics, choice, responsibility, intent and will are all ideas about human minds. Applied to human minds, they're useful. Applied to non-mind-like systems, they're not.

I see no conflict between the fundamental idea of determinism (that only what will happen, will happen), which applies to everything, and the idea of free will, which is an attribute of minds. It seems to me that my perception of my own free will proceeds directly from my inability to predict precisely what I will do next; this is interesting but not paradoxical. Calling this perception "illusory" strikes me as a little harsh.

An analogy might help. We know that the behaviour of gases can be explained by assuming that they're composed of many tiny hard particles with empty space between, each particle following the rules of Newtonian mechanics. But it's seldom useful to analyze gas behaviour by direct application of that model; instead, we tend to use aggregate, statistical measures like temperature and pressure.

It seems to me that the notion of free will, applied to mind-like systems, is useful for the same kind of reason that the notion of pressure is useful when applied to gas-like systems. That is: describing these systems in terms of their underlying physics is simply too complex to be feasible.

If the underlying physics of what causes a person to decide to beat another person to death with a blunt instrument are not even describable (and they're not; there's just too much going on to model) then we're forced to use concepts on a more appropriate level. Will and choice and ethics and morality are some of those.
posted by flabdablet at 6:48 AM on September 4, 2006

By the way:
I guess what I’m really asking is, is it possible to be human and truly believe in determinism?
Yes. I am, and I do.
posted by flabdablet at 6:51 AM on September 4, 2006

It works like this:
  1. Without "free will", our actions can be said to come from an extremely complex set of inputs and variables, built up over our lives and processed in a complex computer.
  2. Some people's inputs and variables lead them to commit crimes.
  3. If a fair and free court finds that a person commits a crime, then we have on our hands a person whose mental machine is producing outputs that the rest of society will not tolerate
  4. Society then, will either attempt to repair that machine; or it will remove that machine from where it can do harm. Happily both methods are roughly complementary.
The ethical question here is whether the majority has the right to act on an individual that it considers broken. But since this is a basic requirement for social cohesion in existing societies, it's a more abstract than actual question.
posted by bonaldi at 7:22 AM on September 4, 2006

What flabdablet beautifully said.

Also: We live in an information system. Every decision we take is based on myriad of experiences and memories. So every time you practice law (or do anything else), you are adding information to the system, so you are acting upon the determinism of others and upon yours. Every time you label an event as "good" or "bad", you are changing your memories and you are influencing your future decisions.

"Determinism" doesn't mean that a closed program is unfolding, but that a complex open system is acting according to the sum of all the memories it accumulates all the time.

On preview: excellent point, bonaldi.
posted by bru at 7:31 AM on September 4, 2006

Woah, jinx!

Personally, I agree with bonaldi. I will go on to say that in my opinion the whole process would work a lot better without moral outrage. Yes, it's free, easily available, and is capable of some positive effect but empathy is much more powerful for getting to the heart of problems.
posted by teleskiving at 7:39 AM on September 4, 2006

If, in fact, determinism rules the universe, even moral dilemmas go out the window. The only universe in which a dilemma can operate meaninfully must be open ended. Of course, you would never know the difference.

Sorry, but I had to write that.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:42 AM on September 4, 2006

Is it ethically possible to be a lawyer and believe in determinism?

Yes - in the sense that you'd have no internal conflict, no competing set of beliefs, no intellectual dishonesty. So what, you're a lawyer, it was destined to be. So what, you're prosecuting someone, again destiny, you're just along for the ride.

Or maybe No - if ethics is moot in the face of determinism. You can't be something that doesn't exist.

If, in fact, determinism rules the universe, even moral dilemmas go out the window.

Yeah agree with that, anything else leads to inconsistency, attempting to have it both ways.

a person whose mental machine is producing outputs

The ethical question here is whether the majority has the right to act on an individual that it considers broken.

Well, in this scenario "right" implies responsibility and ability, and "considers" implies judging, assessing. So we have a deterministic criminal and a free-willing society, a non-responsible criminal and a responsible society?
posted by scheptech at 9:19 AM on September 4, 2006

I think you're misunderstand determinism and closed systems and destiny, scheptech. Determinism does not imply coerced action, which is all that abrogates responsibility.
posted by bonaldi at 9:38 AM on September 4, 2006

Beautiful responses. All I can think to add is that in no way does determinism excuse you from participation. Whether you're aware of it or not, things will unfold as they will. Lawyer away!
posted by GilloD at 9:58 AM on September 4, 2006

You’re still prosecuting someone who had no free will in their actions.

There are philosophers who devote a good chunk of work towards this exact idea- that a person is still responsible for their actions in a deterministic world. Or that Free Will and Determinism are compatible. Unfortunately, I took these classes so long ago I can't recall their names, but you might want to ask your philosophy professor about this exact idea.
posted by jmd82 at 9:58 AM on September 4, 2006

That's the thing I find so frustrating about philosophy jmd82 -- the amount of work that toils into effective dead ends, the refusal to think that there might be a reasonable enough solution to a problem that it can then be built upon instead of flogged to death.

Not to bring science into it, but the notion of honing your thought, sloughing off dead ends and getting somewhere, instead of inspecting once's naval is a good one.
posted by bonaldi at 10:05 AM on September 4, 2006

More law than philosophy in this response:

Following delmoi, the law is not centered on "prosecuting individuals/groups for their actions." It is a system *intended* to provide and protect rights, enable commerce and the flow of ideas, and protect the powerless. A small part of the legal system is directly concerned with prosecuting criminal cases. There's a lot more to it.

Think of the law as "a body of agreed-upon rules," not as a tool of narcs. When you take that perspective, and you spend some time thinking about the competing interests that shape laws, things become clearer.

It is a system, a deeply flawed one, but one that is designed to--and frequently does--self-correct. There's beauty in the design; occasional beauty in its operation. And a lot of stupid, stupid waste and inequity.

If you choose to join the system by becoming a lawyer, you will think more in terms of your committment to the process, not individual guilt. As a prosecutor, you'd be enforcing a set of agreed-upon societal rules. As a defense attorney, you'd be protecting the integrity of the system by ensuring that it isn't abused against the powerless.

It's interesting that the legal system can inspire tremendous loyalty and idealism across the ideological spectrum--a harsh law-and-order prosecutor and a rabid commie defense atty can often find common ground in their love of the system as designed (if not as practiced). When a judge enforces a correct decision that offends him personally, in order to keep his oath of office--respecting the system above his personal prejudice--the sight can bring a tear to the eye of even a cynical lawyer.

By the way, the principal intellectual prerequisite for the practice of law may be a tolerance for ambiguity. Law school helps.
posted by Phred182 at 10:30 AM on September 4, 2006

If you are a determinist, the answer to this question shouldn't worry you too much. You couldn't help but ask it, and those who respond couldn't help but answer in a certain way, and you'll accept and reject certain of those responses in a certain way, and so on and so forth. So the thing to do is sort of be cool and have a beer and see how things turn out, or at least try your best to feel that way about it, whatever "try" could possibly mean in the context of the sort of determinism under consideration here. This way of thinking will serve you well in your life; ideally your life would be like watching television with only one channel. If I thought that making the suggestion would do any good, I would suggest avoiding AskMeFi, to avoid the appearance of things that appear to be, but really aren't, "decisions", which might be scary or confusing.

If this doesn't match up very well with your experience of the world, or you believe in "trying", or it otherwise sounds unappealing, look for arguments against determinism, some of which can be found in teleskiving's post.
posted by Kwine at 11:38 AM on September 4, 2006 [2 favorites]

Or you could ignore strawmen.
posted by bonaldi at 11:43 AM on September 4, 2006

Law is simply a a set of rules for preventing, identifying, and resolving disputes. In most cases, we don't notice it working. We live in buildings, go to work, get paid, pay for goods and services, and talk to friends. Most disputes can be resolved informally. In some cases those disputes can involve highly technical rules. So one of the things that lawyers do is to describe the inpact of those rules on the current dispute. If those disputes go to court, there is a strict and technical process for resolving them. Lawyers guide their client through the procedural and ceremonial processes involved in resolving a dispute.

So just as an example, about 20 years ago, a large limestone building downtown was up for sale. Unfortunately, when the building was resurveyed, it was found to overlap a city alley by about 6 inches. So there was a dispute between the seller who wanted a few million dollars and out of that building, the buyer who wanted clear title to the building, and the city who had a variety of services running under the alley.

Whether this dispute was determined or the product of the free will of a now-dead construction worker was't really an issue. The parties were involved in a dispute not entirely of their creation, and needed to manipulate the rules of property law to resolve it. A carefully prepared deed partioned off a six-inch wide triangle of the alley to the seller, who had a clear title to sell the building to the developer. All of this was done using carefully prepared contracts to prevent further conflict.

This case is probably more typical of how the law works than most of the criminal cases we see.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:08 PM on September 4, 2006

From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on Compatibilism:

1.3 Determinism

A standard characterization of determinism states that every event is causally necessitated by antecedent events.[4] Within this essay, we shall define determinism as the metaphysical thesis that the facts of the past, in conjunction with the laws of nature, entail every truth about the future. According to this characterization, if determinism is true, then, given the actual past, and holding fixed the laws of nature, only one future is possible at any moment in time. Notice that an implication of determinism as it applies to a person's conduct is that, if determinism is true, there are (causal) conditions for that person's actions located in the remote past, prior to her birth, that are sufficient for each of her actions. (emphasis mine)

bonaldi's just shooting from the hip with his strawman accusation, liquorice. I think some form of compatibilism is what you are looking for, and the EoP is a good place to start. It's the thesis that free will and determinism can be made compatible with one another.
posted by Kwine at 12:19 PM on September 4, 2006

I think you're misunderstand determinism and closed systems and destiny, scheptech.

Heh, well that's a lot to misunderstand for sure.

I understand that there are often strongly argued 'technical' definitions of terms like determinism and that this one hasn't been settled. And that there are commonly held popular concepts. Popularly, determinism doesn't means coerced exactly but at least pre-determined un-alterable and therefore responsibility-free action. And my answer is offered in that context, which I take to be the spirit of the question.

I don't read the question like this: "tell me a school of thought's definition of the term 'determinism'", I take it more like: "can I take ethically take part in punishing a person if I believe that persons actions were involuntary?".
posted by scheptech at 12:20 PM on September 4, 2006

No, I'm not Kwine. There's nothing in your bolded text that says your life "would be like watching television with only one channel" -- merely that given a full understanding of the near-unimaginable complexity at work, an observer can say what's going to happen next.

But for all practical intents, that's not an option -- even at a vastly reduced scale, like computers. Imagine two chess mainframes with different software set against each other. After a round or two, even the coders would be hard put to say what move they're going to do next, and there's no way you could say they aren't judging or making choices.

What it does rule out is this notion of "free will" -- although if that's some fuzzy idea that we get to choose without outside coercion, then yes, we do even in a deterministic world, just as the computer gets to choose its chess move. This isn't compatibilism, it's saying that free will is bunk.
posted by bonaldi at 12:48 PM on September 4, 2006

and there's no way you could say they aren't judging or making choices.

I'd have to disagree with the computers/people analogy, computers, no matter how simple or complex, don't make judgements or choices - programmers make choices, and machines follow their instructions, just real fast. Given enough time to analyse any given set of inputs, the chess coders would indeed be able to say what's next. Otherwise, they got a bug no?
posted by scheptech at 1:49 PM on September 4, 2006

Well, yes -- that's the point. Given enough time, you can work out what the computer's going to do. It's just a causal machine. But you can't do it in the instance -- it's too complicated, and it certainly appears to making a choice about which move to make.

The analogy is that we are vastly, incomprehensibly more complicated causal machines -- but we're still causal machines. Our choices are presented to a decision making machine, which presents some of them to our consciousness, and this is where our idea of free will comes in.

But, given enough time, and the ability to collate every single input since birth, plus understand the "programming" of the mind machine, we could determine what a given person would do in a given situation. We can't of course do that, so effectively what we see is free will. That doesn't mean there isn't a causal machine underneath.
posted by bonaldi at 1:57 PM on September 4, 2006

Ah, bonaldi, but I didn't say that life would be like watching television with only one channel. I said that the right way to think about how your life was unfolding would be to think about it as though you were watching television with only one channel-to recognize that apparent choices and decisions were illusions and were in fact predetermined. But the funny part is that choosing to think about your life in this way would itself be an illusory choice, so my offering it as advice for liquorice's problem was facetious and bankrupt.

Much like Hume's rejection of causality, determinism shouldn't be seen as a solid philosophical position, but as a philosophical problem that has far too many implications that don't square with universal human experience, and therefore need to be explained away. Hume didn't throw away inductive reasoning in light of his rejection of causality-he couldn't, it was too important-but tried to explain it as a nasty false habit that people have for getting along in the world. This is what compatibilists do, but without Hume's vituperative name-calling: they take determinism, a reasonable argument with some really awful consequences, and try to bring back some things like choice and responsibility that we know we need.
posted by Kwine at 2:01 PM on September 4, 2006

Wow, some very interesting responses.

I realise that law on the whole is much, much more than just prosecuting those who "done wrong", but my question was more focused on the aspect of criminal and civil law that has to do with that, and the role a barrister has in all of it (Already going to law school, Phred182, but thanks).

I'm not a determinist (well, that's a conclusion I came to after I decided to shelve the whole thing as it was becoming circular), and more of a libertarian in that I don't think compatibilism is possible unless you're changing the definition of determinism in the first place.

I still have a couple of issues, my question in relation to the social context of determinism and lawyerdom has been answered but I don't think it has been in the abstract sense. Being for the "good of society" doesn't seem justifiable when we're dealing with actions that aren't inherently free.

But anyhoo, thanks for the answers so far. Someone made the right point above that if I did believe determinism of this kind existing then it wouldn't matter, because in any case my prosecuting people would be kinda out of my hands. Heh.
posted by liquorice at 4:00 PM on September 4, 2006

Within this essay, we shall define determinism as the metaphysical thesis that the facts of the past, in conjunction with the laws of nature, entail every truth about the future.
FWIW, I don't subscribe to this definition of determinism; I don't believe that determinism as defined this way applies to the real world.

ISTM that any "law of nature" would never be recognized as such, or even formulated in the first place, unless it offered a shortcut to prediction - that is, unless it could be applied reliably to some subset of reality in order to yield useful predictions. ISTM that a "law of nature" that required, in principle, the entirety of past and present reality as input in order to yield certainty about the future could never, in fact, be applied; according to the assumptions underlying one of the best laws of nature we have - General Relativity - no system that could reasonably be construed as an observer has access to that amount of information anyway.

Our other best set of laws - quantum mechanics (/me ducks big slap from ed\26h) is built on the assumption that perfect predictability is, in principle, not possible; ultimately, predictions are probabilistic. ISTM that the success of QM has killed Laplace's Demon stone dead.


the idea that the future isn't predictable with infinite precision does not imply that there's more than one future. It just means that there is no way, in principle, to find out what that future holds apart from hanging about long enough to find out directly.

I can't, even in principle, compute precisely what I am going to do next. I can, however, predict it with a useful degree of accuracy, provided I don't try to use models rooted in particle physics. Instead, I need to use models containing concepts like intent, will, desires, pleasure, pain, ethics - emergent properties of mind-like systems such as my own intellect.

These concepts can be usefully applied to systems that are somewhat less mind-like - such as chess computers. It's quite reasonable to predict that a chess program is about to push its g pawn because it wants to prevent its king becoming trapped. The program (strictly speaking, the system consisting of the program and the computer it's running on) does want that, because it's programmed to want that.

Scheptech's argument that "Given enough time to analyse any given set of inputs, the chess coders would indeed be able to say what's next. Otherwise, they got a bug no?" fails in the real world because the chess coders never have enough time to analyze any given set of inputs. If they did, they'd be players, not coders :)

Given a sufficiently complex program (and chess programs are certainly in this class) the only way to predict what the program will do next is to simulate running it, step by step by tiny step; and chess coders are many orders of magnitude less efficient at executing chess programs than chess computers are. Perhaps it is indeed the chess coders who have the bug, not the program? :)

John Searle's "Chinese Room" argument fails for a similar reason. The fact that no identifiable subsystem of the underlying hardware understands Chinese does not imply that the system as a whole fails to do so; Searle's proposed simulation of this system bv a non-Chinese-speaking human in a room processing symbols on paper does fail to understand Chinese, because it is simply too slow - it would take far longer than a human lifetime to process the Chinese for "good morning". In the real world, Turing equivalence is not sufficient.

I guess what I'm trying to get at, in my longwinded and sideways fashion, is that free will is a property of mind-like systems only, and that it doesn't conflict with determinism so much as complement it. Saying that free will is incompatible with determinism is like saying that forests are incompatible with trees.
posted by flabdablet at 5:03 PM on September 4, 2006 [1 favorite]

Strong determinism, the idea that everything which has happened or ever will happen was and is absolutely determined in advance in every detail, is completely incompatible not only with the idea of free will, but makes nonsense of any idea of cause and effect. How can you attribute any thing which happens to any other thing when absolutely nothing different could have happened in the first place? In a deterministic universe, the most you can say is that any one detail or event you can point to 'causes' the entirety of the rest, because given that one detail, the rest is completely determined.

Determinism even makes it hard to distinguish between past (the stuff that's already happened) and future (the stuff which hasn't happened yet) because if the future is completely determined, it already exists in a very strong sense, and it becomes very difficult even to give a coherent statement of the way in which the future becomes the past as time progresses.
posted by jamjam at 5:16 PM on September 4, 2006

Saying that free will is incompatible with determinism is like saying that forests are incompatible with trees.

Beautifully put. It's why I reject compatibility -- it often presents itself as an answer to a false dichotomy. A compromise where there is no clash.
posted by bonaldi at 5:18 PM on September 4, 2006

There's something in the Asimov Foundation trilogy about the behavior of masses of people being mathmatically predictable and individuals being unpredictable. Something about given sufficient numbers of people, behavior can be known in advance, but not at an individual level. So, while the physical world may be deterministic, and larger groups of people may approach a sort of deterministic (as in predictable) behavior, individual people aren't and don't. It's a long stretch to remember but I believe a significant plot device involves the rise of a single exceptional individual called the Mule who alters the predicted course of events. Anyway, interesting stuff, and it all speaks to whether you're more comfortable believing people are just super-complicated meat-bags or there's more to 'em than that.
posted by scheptech at 8:33 PM on September 4, 2006

Scheptech: I'm inclined to say psychohistory deconstructs itself—at least, as presented by Asimov. But I see your analogy, even if I don't see how unpredictability can bubble up out of predictability as you propose.

Now, liquorice: If you're asking this out of a sense of responsibility, a desire to make actions harmonize with principles, that sort of thing, I'd say you don't really believe in determinism, at least in your own case—because if it's involuntary whether you become a lawyer, why bother asking?

Granted, it's possible you believe that there is an agent 'you' that has to answer for the mechanistic 'you' having the career that it must have. To me, that's a wordy way of saying you believe you're in hell. (The agent 'you', that is—the one who asked the question.) I hope you do not believe that, because I think it's ultimately another guise of absurdism, with all the despair that that entails. I can't help it if you do, but I have nothing helpful to say in that case.

I assume, then, that you feel like you, at least, are undetermined. ('N if you aren't, well, it's (a) a very good illusion, and (b) one that you must fall for. Moreover if you personally have no choice, I see nothing further of interest to think about. So the rest of my discussion is predicated on that assumption.)

So you are undetermined. Does anything force you to believe that the rest of humanity shares your fortune? No. Does anything force you to believe that they do not? Again, no. Hey, maybe everyone but you is a zombie. But theywe say we feel undetermined. We act like we feel undetermined. We give all the same indications of it that you do. Some of us seem to be pretty darn passionate about the feeling of undeterminedness that we say we have. Now, if we don't have it ... er, in that case you live in a world full of sociopaths. Helpless sociopaths. Again, see also 'Hell'.

Now, unless your consciousness can crawl through a magical eighth-dimensional tunnel into my subjective awareness, you can't be certain I feel just as undetermined as you do. But assume that I do, because again, if I don't—nothing to discuss. And there's good evidence for it. (This argument is a close cousin to how I decided to stop thinking about solipsism. Got no proof, but as long as I'm interacting with you I might as well assume you exist. It doesn't alter how you act, and it sure makes things easier for me.)

So now you're undetermined, and I really feel that I am, too. Still no proof that my feeling is accurate, but if it's not, then you are this great Übermensch, ontologically and existentially privileged far above me or anyone else like me. You can act with impunity, disregarding the morals or the sufferings of the simian lot of us. But there are nasty correspondences, in history and in present times, between discounting other people's full, equal reality and worth and being really, really cruel and inhumane.

I have loaded the discussion and risked Godwinning myself with the German word I used above, but don't think for a minute that Nazi Germany is the only example of this, nor that I am merely trotting them out as a stock bugaboo. There are hundreds of examples, in all eras and places and on all scales. There may even be, in your subjective experience, times when you depersonalized someone else, approached them as you would an actor or robot or zombie—less real than you—and found yourself treating them badly. Heaven knows, I've experienced it (assume for the moment that I have a subjective reality). And I've seen other people show the same signs of the belief, and the same apparent cruelty, that I myself showed.

The thing is, I find that I do not like the person I become, the personality I form each time I do that. I'm trying as hard as I can to turn away from it. Historic and contemporary and personal experience stand as a witness and a warning against believing anyone is less of a person than I am—whether or not it's true. Maybe everyone but me, or everyone but you, really is a zombie. 'Live by the foma [useful lies] that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy,' as Bokonon puts it. Take a leaf out of American Pragmatism's book: Now that previous and current philosophy have shown just about everything to be unprovable, uncertain, uninterpretable, or bound hand-and-foot by Gödelesque paradox, presume that the upshot of a belief is not what intellectually precedes it, but what actually follows it.

And here we are at universal free will, having stepped from one useful assumption to another. I have no illusions unlike some philosophers of having proven anything. Especially since the laws of deductive logic are themselves taken on faith. What is 'proof'? But, to my mind at least, each of the assumptions I've made is more useful, in its context, than its converse; and it is necessary to an interesting universe that we make some assumption at each of those steps. (Again, I offer no proof that the universe really is 'interesting', as I have described it. But it sure beats the scant discussion that an 'uninteresting' universe affords.) And with that, to answer your question, I say no: From a purely human perspective, no human endeavor is ethically meaningful if you believe in determinism—least of all lawyerin'.

From a divine perspective, on the other hand ... If you'll indulge a little theology, both the doctrines of my faith and my own mystical streak lead me to believe that God might well endorse this. Because if you're not stuck inside phenomenal experience and irreversibly sliding through time, cause/effect is not so much a process as it is just the family of shapes that mass/energy assumes within space/time. So the past/future dichotomy collapses, and the free-will/determinism dichotomy with it.

/theological bug-out

In conclusion, allow me to say—

Metafilter: Super-complicated meat-bags.

posted by eritain at 5:47 PM on February 6, 2007

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