Chapter Three: "Free Will"
"Schoolteachers sometimes say things like this: "I don't mind a stupid pupil, but I do dislike a lazy one." In the grip of the hard determinist argument, you might think that this is just prejudice: some people are born stupid and pitied for it; why should those born lazy not be similarly pitied for that? It is tough luck, either way. But the schoolteacher's attitude will have a point if laziness responds to incentives in a way that stupidity does not. If respect for the teacher's opinion can make you work harder, whereas it cannot make you smarter, then there is one justification for the asymmetry".
"So far we have talked as if "free choice", either of some mysterious interventionist kind or of some substitute "inside" or compatibilist kind, is necessary for responsibility. But is this right? I said above that it might be just bad luck that some crucial consideration does not occur to someone at a moment of decision. But sometimes we do not treat it as "mere" bad luck. We say that the thought should have arisen. The agent is liable to censure if it didn't. Someone setting fire to buildings for fun cannot seriously plead that "it never occurred to him" that someone might get hurt - not unless he is a child or mentally deficient. Even if it is true that it never occurred to him, so there was no free choice to put people at risk, he is still responsible. Recklessness and negligence are faults, and we can be held responsible for them, just as much as we are for more controlled decisions. Some philosophers have found it hard to accept that. Aristotle rather desperately held that negligent people have actually chosen to make themselves negligent, perhaps in early childhood, and that this is the only reason they can be held responsible."
"... He (the Philosopher Peter Strawson) suggests that a lot of what makes human relationships distinctively human is lost. Suppose, for instance, that I have behaved in a way that I want to explain. But I find other people listening to my story with a look in their eyes that suggests that this talk in just another symptom. It is just another sign that I need to be managed or handled or cured or trained. Then I have been dehumanized. I want my decision to be understood, not patronized. I want other people to "hear my voice", which means appreciating my point of view, seeing how things appear to me, rather than wondering what cause a human organism to behave like this ...".
"There are many stories reminding us that we cannot avoid our fates. Here is a version of the famous Islamic parable of Death in Samarkand:
Chapter Four: "The Self"
The disciple of a sufi of Baghdad was sitting in an inn one day when he heard two figures talking. He realized that one of them was the Angel of Death.
"I have several calls to make in this city", said the angel to his companion.
The terrified disciple concealed himself until the two has left. To escape Death, he hired the fastest horse he could, and rode day and night to the far distant desert of Samarkand.
Meanwhile, Death met the disciple's teacher, and they talked of this and that. "And where is your disciple, so-and-so?" asked Death.
"I suppose he is at home, where he should be, studying." Said the sufi.
"That is surprising." Said Death, "for here he is on my list. And I have to collect him tomorrow, in Samarkand, of all places.""
"Hume is pointing out that the self is elusive. It is unobservable. If you "look inside your own mind" to try to catch it, you miss because all you stumble upon are what he calls particular perceptions, or experience and emotions. You don't also get a glimpse of the "I" that is the subject of these experiences. Yet we all think we know ourselves with a quite peculiar intimacy. As we saw, Descartes thought that this self-knowledge survived even
This nugget of the self has seemed to many philosophers to have another remarkable property. It is simple.
The self is not composite.
Here is one of Hume's contemporaries, the "common-sense" Scottish philosopher,
Thomas Reid (1710-1796):
A part of a person is a manifest absurdity. When a man loses his estate, his wealth, his strength, he is still the same person, and has lost nothing of his personality. If he has leg or an arm cut off, he is the same person he was before. The amputated member is not part of his person, otherwise it would have a right to part of his estate, and be liable for a part of his engagements. It would be entitled to a share of his merit and demerit, which is manifestly absurd. A person is something invisible...My thoughts, and actions, and feelings, change every moment; they have no continued, but a successive existence; but the self or I, to which they belong, is permanent, and has the same relation to all the succeeding thoughts, actions and feelings which I call mine.
This simple, enduring "I" is the thing which Hume complained he could never stumble upon. Reid bangs the table, and announces its existence."
"... The glorious history of the regiment would not be nearly so glorious if we could only identify the same regiment as far back as its present membership. We also think like this when it comes to inanimate things with a function. It is still the same computer, although I add to its memory, change the screen, update the system, and so on.
We are often quite careless about how much change to tolerate while still regarding it as the same "thing": witness the joke about the Irish axe which has been in the family for several generations, although it has had three new heads and five new handles. Sometimes we get confused: an illustration is the case of the "ship of Theseus". Theseus goes on a long voyage, and in the course of it bits of his ship need replacing. In fact, by the end, he has tossed overboard used sails, spars, rigging, planks, and replaced them all. Does he come back in the same ship? We would probably say no. But suppose some entrepreneur goes round behind him, picked up the discarded bits, and reassembles them. Can't the entrepreneur claim to have the original ship? But surely we cannot have two different ships each of which is identical with the original?"