The title of this post is admittedly pompous, but I promise it’s relevant. I was chatting with an online colleague about the travails of my anti-agency journey. I’ll lay it out here as well.
About a month or so ago, I embarked to research on my suspicion that human agency is ostensibly hogwash*. I went down many rabbit holes to find the skeletal remains of many rabbits who have embarked on this path before me. I thought I had some unique epiphany and I would just have to articulate my position, but it turns out not to be the case. In fact, it’s a crowded space—lots of skeletal Leporidae. Moreover, many of these blokes are still alive and kicking.
As it happens, we all fit under the large umbrella of free will scepticism, but there are several flavours mostly differentiated by where one prunes the branch. Scepticism of free will is the common bond, but the differences, as one might expect, lead to different implications. Some branches still allow for responsibility—even absent agency—, others even insist on responsibility despite not having agency—and still others, like me, claim responsibility is impossible.
All of these perspectives hinge on the validity and strength of determinism or indeterminism. Soft determinism (AKA compatibilism) allows for free will and determinism to coexist, so that’s not on my radar.
As I’ve cited elsewhere, there are not many non-religious determinists these days, as the state of science and quantum theory pretty much obsoleted the idea. But by my reckoning, from the perspective of the would-be agent, it doesn’t matter because in either case, this person (or other animate objects—no need to overspecify) is affected by the causal chain and does not affect it. This lack of affectation is precisely why we can’t attribute responsibility or desert.
This is not just some philosophical mental masturbation. It turns out that entire legal frameworks are designed on the prevailing held beliefs, and the more degrees of free will a culture assumes people have, the more punitive that society is—and vice versa. More on this in a future post where I intend to write about Gregg Caruso’s perspective and where and how our positions deviate.
* What is hogwash anyway? Not Googling it.