Can we characterize libertarianism without assuming moral realism?

3

1

In the discussion about free will, moral realism and libertarianism go hand in hand.

It seems that libertarian free will is assumed to be what we need to “attach” moral responsibility to certain actions. And this is also one of the major critiques of compatibilism, that it just doesn't seem to allow for moral responsibility.

As Nietzsche puts it succinctly:

Men were considered "free" only so that they might be considered guilty – could be judged and punished: consequently, every act had to be considered as willed, and the origin of every act had to be considered as lying within the consciousness (and thus the most fundamental psychological deception was made the principle of psychology itself).

If an all-knowing, “all-honest” being told us that we have libertarian free will and moral anti-realism is true, how can we make sense of it? Could we ever?

Is there any way to better nail down, what libertarianism means – something more illuminating than the standard definition “libertarianism: indeterminism is true and necessary for free will and we also have free will” – which does not assume moral realism? Has there ever been a libertarian moral anti-realist philosopher?

viuser

Posted 2017-03-27T01:24:30.657

Reputation: 3 455

1Are you asking whether free will must entail moral realism? – None – 2017-03-27T02:55:27.260

@BenPiper no, the question is, if we can understand what free will might mean without moral realism. So it's about the weaker claim, that we probably can't. – viuser – 2017-03-27T04:17:14.120

@wolf-revo-cats do you mean stronger claim? – anon – 2017-03-27T06:57:31.920

@anon no, I mean weaker claim. The claim that we can't understand free will, doesn't imply that we don't have it. – viuser – 2017-03-27T18:47:46.113

@wolf-revo-cats seems to me like the stronger claim – anon – 2017-03-27T20:45:38.227

A lack of moral realism assumes naturalism which leads to determinism. So I don't think we could conceive of free will without moral realism. – None – 2017-03-27T22:07:38.527

1Libertarian free will by itself has nothing to do with moral realism or any other ethical position, it means roughly that an agent can act differently in the same circumstances. I suppose, some form of ontological realism is usually presupposed to specify "the same circumstances", and to an anti-realist the difference between libertarianism and compatibilism may be moot because (to him) they argue over ontological fictions. But that is no moral realism, and even anti-realists may care at the pragmatic level which is a better "theory". – Conifold – 2017-03-28T00:21:12.280

Here is a list of (mostly) libertarians on Information Philosopher with short descriptions, I doubt that any of them is a moral realist.

– Conifold – 2017-03-28T00:49:15.830

@Conifold what's the difference between "can act differently" (indeterminism is enough for this) of "has the free choice to act differently"? – viuser – 2017-03-28T02:33:27.233

On some interpretations of "acting" mere indeterminism is not enough for either (electrons behave indeterministically, but do not "act"). Free will generally presupposes some sort of rational (or not) control that enables/constrains the action, I think, whereas indeterminism simply amounts to following (indeterministic) natural laws. There is also often a requirement that chosen actions be "incorporated" into the agent, so as to enable/constrain future actions. – Conifold – 2017-03-28T02:43:08.693

A free being is responsible (due to own authorship of an act or decision). The question is, can responsibility be always labeled "moral". I think this depends on the definition of moral, and in some most wide definition - yes, any action is moral. Note also that "responsible" can be appointed also a non-free being in some settings, for example in antique culture; in this wider sense responsibility as liability can be compatible with complete determinism. – ttnphns – 2018-01-02T10:15:24.750

Answers

2

Conifold and Hubery have it exactly right.

  1. Libertarianism is very roughly the view that necessarily an agent acts freely only if determinism is false, and that some agents act freely.

This has nothing directly to do with morality at all. Someone who rejected the very idea of morality could still support libertarianism.

  1. Moral realism is a view about the truth, and our knowledge of, at least some moral judgements :

a. Moral judgements can be true or false

b. Some moral judgements are true.

c. Some moral judgements are known to be true.

This has nothing directly to do with freedom of action.

I do not deny that intermediate premises can connect libertarianism with moral realism but, absent those premises, the views are logically independent.

Geoffrey Thomas

Posted 2017-03-27T01:24:30.657

Reputation: 34 276

1

Libertarianism is a position that there are agents who can exercise free will because reality is not deterministic and agents conscious enough to exercise free will exist.

Moral realism provides a justification for praising or blaming a free agent for making a choice. As the quote from Nietzsche mentioned one needs an agent to be free in order to blame or praise that agent. However, one does not need a justification for this blame or praise.

A further question tries to link libertarianism with moral realism.

If an all-knowing, “all-honest” being told us that we have libertarian free will and moral anti-realism is true, how can we make sense of it? Could we ever?

One way to make sense of this is to view moral anti-realism as a means for evolutionary change to occur without a determined goal. The libertarian free will provides the ability to make a change and the moral anti-realism provides different paths that change could take. One could look at the position of blaming and praising as coming from a specific group the individual belongs to. The individual belongs to multiple groups and a different position may be taken by each of these groups in judging the value of the free action. The success of some groups over other groups leads to evolutionary change.

Hence one can make sense out of both libertarian free will and moral anti-realism.

Another question asks how to “nail down” libertarianism.

Is there any way to better nail down, what libertarianism means – something more illuminating than the standard definition “libertarianism: indeterminism is true and necessary for free will and we also have free will” – which does not assume moral realism?

One can say more about libertarian free will given John Conway and Simon Kochen’s “The Free Will Theorem”. This theorem shows that if we have free will so does an entangled system of quantum particles. Since libertarianism assumes that we have free will we can conclude so do these quantum particles. Hence free will needs no more than what these quantum particles have. It does not require a brain. It does not require a program. It does not require moral realism nor moral anti-realism justifying praise or blame.

Frank Hubeny

Posted 2017-03-27T01:24:30.657

Reputation: 18 742