This is a (slightly altered for E2) paper I wrote for my Epistemology and Metaphysics class
this past year at the University of Toronto
Moritz Schlick was a proponent of determinism, but also a compatibilist. Schlick suggested that the problem of free will is in fact a pseudo-problem. This assertion, however, utterly fails when tested by C.A. Campbell. Campbell, though,is unable to provide us with an alternative to determinism. This inability is a failure on Campbell’s part to achieve his self-set goal of putting to rest the pseudo-problem argument in general. Schlick's argument for the pseudo-problem status of free will, as well as his definition of moral responsibility, are intriguing on surface examination, but prove hollow in closer analysis. Campbell’s arguments against Schlick, while not completely airtight, are still devastating. Campbell’s alternative to a deterministic free will, however, does not give us an end to the idea of free will as a pseudo-problem, as he promises. Instead, Campbell delivers a concept that only shackles us in a novel way.
Schlick isn’t interested in proving determinism is true, because no one knows whether or not it is true, and no one can settle the question between determinism and indeterminism “by mere reflection and speculation.” This is not a problem, Schlick says, because to tackle the problem of moral responsibility, one requires only a close analysis of the concept, “the careful determination of the meaning which is in fact joined to the words ‘responsibility’ and ‘freedom’ as these are actually used.” (371) So, in short, Schlick is proposing to show that it is quite possible for determinism to be true, and for there to be moral responsibility.
Schlick begins his analysis from the following objection:
‘If determinism is true, if, that is, all events obey immutable laws, then my will too is always determined, by my innate character and my motives. Hence my decisions are necessary, not free. But if so, then I am not responsible for my acts . . . Thus determinism and moral responsibility are incompatible. Moral responsibility presupposes freedom, that is, exemption from causality.’ (371)
Schlick says this argument is based on two confusions. The first of these is a confusion between two types of law. Civil law prescribes certain actions (or the abstention from certain other actions) upon citizens of the state. Citizens are compelled by threat of sanction. The ‘natural law’ of science, however, “is not a prescription as to how something should behave, but a formula, a description of how something does in fact behave.” Since natural laws are just descriptions, they cannot be spoken of as compelling. Schlick uses the laws of planetary motion as an example. These laws do not force the planets to move as they do, but only describe their actual motion. Likewise, in humans, psychological laws do not force decisions, actions or desires on humans that they would not actually want. Rather they simply describe what is. “ ‘Compulsion’, Schlick says, “occurs where man is prevented from realizing his natural desires. How could the rule according to which these natural desires arise itself be considered as ‘compulsion’? ”
There is an evident problem in Schlick’s analysis here. It is not simply a confusion about the definitions of laws that moves one to think that immutable laws of nature would dictate all actions and therefore remove responsibility. The concern is that the very fact that all causes are predetermined precludes responsibility because these causes are external ones. If external causes determine internal causes, that is, desires, how can we say an individual is responsible if that individual has no choice in how he is formed? This objection will come up in Campbell’s criticism of Schlick as well. Schlick is missing the point when he says natural laws do not compel, but only describe. The description is a description of an unavoidable chain of events.
Schlick’s first identified confusion leads into the second. After this conception of the laws of nature being ‘imposed’ upon events, the concept of ‘necessity’ is added. Necessity “is used . . . in the sense of inescapable compulsion.” Applying this usage to natural laws is ridiculous, Schlick maintains, because to be compelled there must be an opposing desire, which is absent in this case.
Does compulsion really require that there be an opposing desire? If a person has no choice in forming a desire in the first place, if that desire is formed completely by external factors, and a person cannot escape, cannot have desires that are contrary to those formative factors, it that not compulsion? Schlick’s idea of compulsion here is unnecessarily limited. If a person is brainwashed to perform a certain action, and to enjoy that action without remorse, that person has still been compelled to perform that action. One need not have an opposing desire to be compelled.
Schlick defines moral freedom as the opposite of compulsion: “a man is free if he does not act under compulsion, and he is compelled or unfree when he is hindered from without in the realization of his natural desires.” This definition of freedom is pretty evidently incomplete, in that it leaves out the possibility of internal hindrances of his natural desires. For example, a woman is hungry and wishes to eat, but her anorexia prevents her from fulfilling her desire. That too, is compulsion, but compulsion from within.
Schlick says that the feeling of freedom one has is the feeling of having acted from one’s own desires, which have their origin in one’s character and are not imposed from without. One has the feeling that one could have acted differently. With the addition of freedom from internal constraints, like the one in the above examples, this is an acceptable description of the origin of the feeling of freedom. This is a feeling we all experience, and it could not be more evident that when are able to act according to our desires, we feel free.
Schlick, putting his concept of moral freedom into practice, formulates a theory of punishment as a means of ‘education’, to change the causes, the motives of conduct of an individual. This is done with a view to reformation of the offender, and to deter others from committing similar acts. To find the one who is ultimately responsible for an act, one must find the “one upon whom the motive must have acted in order, with certainty, to have prevented the act (or called it forth, as the case may be).” One cannot be helped in this determination by recourse to remote causes, such as parenting, heredity, or social surroundings because there is no way of reliably discerning their contribution, and they are, Schlick says, “generally out of reach.” Instead, “we must find the person in whom the decisive junction of causes lies. The question of who is responsible is the question concerning the correct point of application of the motive.” This definition is narrow. It is only relevant to judgment of individuals in the present, who are available for this moral correction.
Campbell takes issue with Schlick’s assertion that the assumption that “moral freedom postulates some breach of causal continuity arises from a confusion of two different types of law.” Against Schlick’s assertion, Campbell says that moral freedom isn’t taken as breaching causal continuity because of a belief that natural laws (or causal laws as Campbell calls them) compel in the same way the civil laws do. Rather it is just the belief that admitting “unbroken causal continuity” forces one further to admit that no one could have acted otherwise than one did. As has already been shown, this is just the argument that Schlick set out to deal with. Campbell rightly points out the fundamental problem with Schlick’s argument. While this is already enough to fatally undermine Schlick, Campbell goes on.
Now, Campbell says, it might be an error to suppose that because of being unable to do otherwise, a person is not a fit object for praise or blame. Another possibility is that it may be an error to assume that one could not have acted otherwise without “a breach in causal continuity.” Campbell proposes to look at these particular issues later. For the moment, he is satisfied to say that Schlick’s distinction between civil and natural laws does nothing to show these assumptions either true or false. On the contrary, Campbell says that Schlick’s analysis of moral responsibility contradicts common assumptions. Schlick says, “the only freedom demanded by morality is a freedom which is compatible with Determinism.” Campbell allows that, if this holds, there really is no problem of ‘Free Will’.
Campbell, however, claims Schlick’s analysis is “untenable.” The way Schlick links moral responsibility with punishment, and specifically punishment as a kind of education, should lead us to think that a dog that steals some of its master’s food is morally responsible. We don’t, however, hold the dog responsible because we see its actions as “a link in a continuous chain of causes and effects.” From this, Campbell says, we can draw that we “do commonly demand the contra-causal sort of freedom as a condition of moral responsibility.” While Campbell correctly points out a hole in Schlick’s definition, he jumps prematurely to the conclusion that we therefore necessarily hold a contra-causal idea of freedom. It is legitimate for Campbell to assert that Schlick’s idea of the morally responsible individual being the locus to which one can apply corrective measures is grossly incomplete. Schlick leaves himself wide open for the example of the dog. A dog can be corrected in the same way Schlick proposes a human be, but no one would say a dog could ever be morally responsible. Campbell errs, however, when he says that people do not assign morally responsibility to dogs because their actions are simply causal sequences. Dogs avoid moral responsibility because they are thought to lack a moral ‘faculty.’ Dogs are thought mentally unable to make moral judgments, but are still felt to be free to choose their actions, if on an instinctual level.
Campbell brings forward further examples, but by this point Schlick’s argument is in tatters. His rebuttal serves to respond to Schlick, Campbell says, but does not serve to put to rest the pseudo-problem theory. Campbell now sets out to do just that by presenting a coherent alternative to the compatibilist stance. Campbell alludes briefly again to Schlick’s argument when he says “freedom from external constraint is a necessary condition, but not a sufficient condition . . . even granted this freedom, it is still conceivable that the agent had no freedom to choose otherwise than he did, and he will therefore require that the latter sort of freedom be added if moral responsibility for the act is to be established.” Campbell believes that the only way to add this freedom is to postulate contra-causal freedom. It is not unreasonable for Campbell to assert this, but the onus is now on him to show that contra-causal freedom is a reasonable alternative.
Campbell lays out the argument against contra-causal freedom, and attempts to rebut it. It is said, Campbell tells us, that contra-causal freedom implies “a breach of causal continuity between a man’s character and his conduct.” The very fact that a person’s behaviour can be predicted from what we know of their character implies that such a breach can’t exist. If such a breach did exist, there would be random, chaotic behaviour. If a person’s choices don’t flow out of his character, the alternative is that they are merely random ‘accidents’ and not choices at all. If this contra-causal freedom were the case, one couldn’t hold a person morally responsible. To answer the charge that contra-causal freedom is inconsistent with observed predictability, Campbell says that it is simply enough to recognize that there is a large sphere of human affairs that free will doesn’t actually operate in. For example, free will does not operate when there is no conflict between in one’s mind between what feels is his ‘duty’ and what is his desire. If there is no conflict, then there is no reason why a person shouldn’t follow that desire, which does come out of his character. Therefore, there is no issue that Campbell is concerned with in this situation. He is content to leave situations like these to determinism.
Campbell is guilty of both oversimplification and miscategorization in this argument. Conflicts between strong desires involve choice. One does not simply have singular desire after singular desire, following in smooth succession. Completely disregarding any pull of ‘duty,’ one can be pulled in opposite direction by conflicting and equally powerful desires. If the world of desires is completely ruled by determination, what happens here? Is the person paralysed until something tips the scale in either direction? This, however, is not the most important problem with Campbell’s argument. Campbell, in treating ‘duty’ as something separate from desire, is miscategorizing it. Why shouldn’t a feeling of duty be treated as a desire? In fact, there is no reason not to categorize it as desire. A soldier on the battlefield may be ordered to attack a heavily fortified position. His fear of death produces in him a strong desire to disobey orders and flee to protect his life. His duty, however, is to obey those orders and storm that position. If he follows this duty, it is not simply because it is a duty to be followed, but because he desires to follow it. It may be that he knows he will be executed if he disobeys orders, or that he wishes glory for himself. It may be that he believes he is fighting a just war, and that he must fight for a greater good that he desires for his nation and the world. In any event, the soldier chooses that which is his greatest desire. Depicting duty as an action which is chosen merely because it is duty is unjustified and nonsensical.
Campbell does, however, make the argument that the area in which free will decisions are made are just in those situations in which our strongest desire conflicts with our ‘duty.’ It is in these situations that moral praise or blame is appropriate, according as a person “does or does not ‘rise to duty’ in the face of opposing desires; always granted, that is, that he is free to choose between these courses as genuinely open possibilities.” Even if one is free, that person is nevertheless making a choice between desires. ‘Rising to duty’ consists of nothing more in choosing the desire that better, nobler in the eyes of society, and likely oneself. If one struggles to do so, it merely shows that the desire is not overwhelmingly strong, relative to the competing desires.
He tells us that effort of choosing duty is to act against all desires that are the expression of a person’s character. It is therefore not possible, he says, to see that act as the expression of character. Despite this, it is the self that acts: “ . . . the act is not an ‘accident,’ but is genuinely my act.” (386) Since it has already been said the act of choosing of duty is itself an act of desire, it follows that such a thing must flow from one’s character, contrary to what Campbell says. This would place it squarely in the area of determinism, which is exactly what Campbell does not want. To maintain his assertion that this choice is not determined, he claims it as a creative act of the self, accessible for inspection only by introspection.
The problem with this suggestion is that there is no discernable link between the self and the creation. Why does the self choose one option over an other? If it does not do so on the basis of desires, on the basis of one’s preformed character, what connection does it have to the self? It seems that at best it could be an arbitrary decision of the self, a random choice. At worst, it is a spontaneous event, a decision ex nihilo that has no real connection to the self. This can hardly be called free will. It does not flow and it cannot flow, because it has no relation to anything that is true about that self because that is contained in the character. It is also a mystery why we should consider such an action morally praiseworthy or blameworthy since it is unconnected with anything we can really call moral in a person. When we talk about a person being moral, we consider it part of their character, and rightly so. Moral actions flow from the disposition, the character of a person built up over the years. Campbell, while soundly defeating Schlick’s particular argument, has failed to give us the alternative we need to show that free will is more than a pseudo-problem.
Where now are we left? It seems that, notwithstanding the defeat of Schlick, the pseudo-problem theory is still very much a possibility. Although we have no satisfying vindication of compatibilism from Schlick, neither do we have a vindication of libertarian indeterminism from Campbell. It seems then, that the net gain in the debate between Schlick and Campbell is not high. We can claim some narrowing of the field of inquiry, and clarification of the issues. Ultimately, however, we are left with no good answer to the pseudo-problem theory, and no good support. Is free will a problem or a pseudo-problem? Neither Schlick nor Campbell seems able to give us a satisfying answer.
Schlick, Moritz. 1939. "When is a Man Responsible?" In Problems of Ethics, edited by David Rynin. pp. 143-156
Campbell, C.A. October 1951. "Is 'Freewill' a Pseudo-Problem?" in Mind, LX(240), pp. 446-465.