Plato’s weekend readings, episode 55

readingsHere it is, our regular Friday diet of suggested readings for the weekend:

What’s the point of regret?

Highly disturbing report on how our anti-trust laws are not enforced, and the sleazy practices of some economists.

The Simpsons and Philosophy: the (short) university course.

Should we act on our beliefs? The answer is not as obvious as you might think.

Time for a post-identity liberal politics?

Teach philosophy if you want to strengthen democracy.

Do you feel like a fraud? You may suffer from impostor syndrome, like everyone else.

Website registers professors espousing “anti-American values.” Again.

Human rights, animal rights, robot rights?

The great circadian disruption since the invention of the electric light is bad for our physical and mental health. 

Good example of an entirely unhelpful philosophical analysis.

Darn. Turns out flossing is (probably) good for your teeth after all

You have to act against the gravity of grief.

Are we going toward a future with no jobs, and that’s a good thing?

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Categories: Plato's Suggestions

239 replies

  1. See my rejection of compatibilism, on grounds that there is nothing to which there is a need to be compatible to.

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  2. Coel wrote: “We hold someone “responsible” if it is pragmatically useful to do so. Thus, holding someone responsible for a crime and thus punishing them for it acts as a deterrent. This concept holds fine under determinism, since societal notions of responsibility are one influence on people’s behaviour”

    Assuming that was true, If someone is not to blame or could not have chosen otherwise, how would one explain to them why they are being punished?

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  3. Hi marc,

    Assuming that was true, If someone is not to blame or could not have chosen otherwise, how would one explain to them why they are being punished?

    Quite easily: “we are punishing you because you robbed the bank; the fact that prior causes determined that you would rob the bank, despite our threats of punishment, doesn’t change the fact that we are punishing you because you robbed the bank”.

    How else do you expect human society to run? (Presuming that libertarian contra-causal free will is delusional, which it is.)

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  4. Hi Sherlock, well we can end it here if you want. But I feel the need to point out I wasn’t trying to suggest you yourself had accepted hard determinism or nihilism. Your reply was correct in pointing out I should have used “one” or “people” or something like that. Though the point would still stand that you (as in you) can’t make a cogent statement that hard determinism should lead or should seem to lead to anything, much less that it can be chosen. Hard determinism (if true) precludes making choices, and any connection between how things function (or how one thinks about how things function) and how one would feel about it.

    Coel correctly responded about your take on my being “disingenuous”.

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  5. Coel, I don’t think the idea of punishment is the only or best way to go.

    Getting back to hard determinism.

    Coel wrote: “we are punishing you because you robbed the bank; the fact that prior causes determined that you would rob the bank, despite our threats of punishment, doesn’t change the fact that we are punishing you because you robbed the bank”

    So you’re saying your explanation would be “We are punishing you because we are punishing you and the fact that you are not to blame and could not have chosen otherwise, threats of punishment or not, is irrelevant”

    How would that go over?

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  6. Hi marc,

    So you’re saying your explanation would be “We are punishing you because we are punishing you and the fact that you are not to blame and could not have chosen otherwise, threats of punishment or not, is irrelevant”

    You are to blame. You were part of the causal chain, and in that sense are “to blame”. The fact that your role in it was determined by prior causes does not absolve you of blame.

    Note also that the phrase: “could not have chosen otherwise, threats of punishment or not” is misconceived. Threats of punishment are part of the “prior causes” that determine what you do. If those threats had been different you might well have acted differently. That’s why we have notions of “blame” and “punishment”, to influence how other people act.

    As I asked, how else do you want society to function? That’s a serious question. What alternative are you suggesting (presuming that there is no such thing as libertarian, contra-casual free will)?

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Hi Joe,

    “DB I am not sure saying that we are complicated mousetraps rather than simple mouse traps helps. If determinism is true, are we not mousetraps just the same?”

    No, not really. Mouse traps only react to direct physical input.

    Organisms create, and social organisms interact on issues not immediately relevant to surroundings at all. The information that is being processed (within the entity in question) is orders of magnitude greater, and qualitatively different when comparing a simple mechanical device, a complex mechanical device, and a social organism.

    On praise/blame, these are part of the feedback mechanisms which help people adjust behavior in preferred ways. Yes it doesn’t make much sense to us this for base physical issues like height, though of course people do things to alter themselves physically to gain advantage. However, rewarding practicing very hard to maximize one’s potential, or punishing those that fail to refrain from a harmful activity are meant to (and can) increase internal incentives (drives) to do or not do something.

    On the psychopathy example, I’ve heard such arguments (based on “mirror neurons”) though it may be more complicated than what you describe. Taken for sake of argument then yes it still makes sense to praise people for not doing harmful actions, even if they are pre-disposed not to. That strengthens connections to stick with non-harmful acts beyond relying on “mirror neuron” mediated avoidance behavior alone. Of course, it is always worth more praise when someone does something that is a greater challenge, and in this case (with psychopaths) builds added pressure to avoid activity for which they are missing “average” resistance.

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  8. Hi Socratic,

    “I think “compatibilists” are definitely, on average, wedded to old, theological ideas of sin and guilt, even if dressed up in modern drag of “responsibility.”

    Well I guess I’m glad I’m not an “average” compatibilist. Not only do I loathe theological concepts of sin and guilt, I didn’t get to my position due to any concern for “responsibility”

    Quite the opposite, hard compatibilists have been the one’s using their theory to make a lot of noise about “responsibility”, because for some reason if that were true then responsibility doesn’t exist and so people can choose… oh wait, what? Then people will by some unforeseen mechanism not punish people. Huh?

    It is true that I, as a compatibilist, have had to start talking about “responsibility” more often because of this relatively recent movement. But then I attack their failed concepts of responsibility and what it would lead to on many different grounds, not only because compatibilism preserves concepts like “responsibility”.

    My interest in compatibilism has been (as I have said several times now) an interest in the relation between objective (scientific/mechanical) and subjective (personal/intentional) accounts of decision making, which includes improving (making more consistent) language related to that.

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  9. Yeah I saw that coming too. I’ll keep it simple and start over without the notion of blame

    Coel wrote: “we are punishing you because you robbed the bank; the fact that prior causes determined that you would rob the bank, despite our threats of punishment, doesn’t change the fact that we are punishing you because you robbed the bank”

    That sounds to me like “We are punishing you because we are punishing you and the fact that you could not have chosen otherwise is irrelevant”

    And I also left out the clause “despite our threats of punishment” because it’s obviously irrelevant to this particular person’s ability to have chosen otherwise.

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  10. Hi Socratic (part 2),

    “See my rejection of compatibilism, on grounds that there is nothing to which there is a need to be compatible to.”

    A recognition that there is compatibility between the objective and subjective accounts of decision making. That is to say that these different levels can be reconciled in some way and are not exclusive of each other.

    Hard determinists are forcing a false dilemma, suggesting that because there are deterministic systems involved that subjective accounts are entirely false (and usually without any utility). Either one is true or the other is true.

    I guess I call mu on that.

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  11. Hi marc,

    That sounds to me like “We are punishing you because we are punishing you and the fact that you could not have chosen otherwise is irrelevant”

    Or rather, we’re punishing you because we want to minimise the robbing of banks, and punishing people who rob banks deters others.

    Again, serious question, how else do you want society to function? Are you seriously suggesting abandoning notions of blame and responsibility and not punishing anyone for anything? Think about the consequences of that, and you’ll see why — for entirely pragmatic reasons — evolution has programmed us with notions of blame and responsibility.

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  12. Hi Marc, if punishment or threats of punishment serve absolutely no function in stopping behavior (for that person or anyone else) then I would agree that punishment would make no sense… beyond gratification it gives to those who want the person punished?

    I also agree that punishment is probably not the best method for treating most criminal behavior anyway.

    However, what are you calling punishment? Locking someone away to prevent them from attacking others… is that punishment or protection? The same could be said for the death penalty (for merciless, incurable killers).

    In any case, if hard determinism is true… and we are all epiphenomal riders… then what reason is there to stop punishing? The punishers are equally unable to stop themselves and no amount of “convincing” should work, their actions determined by outside forces long ago.

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  13. Coel wrote: “we’re punishing you because we want to minimise the robbing of banks, and punishing people who rob banks deters others”

    That’s what I wonder about: “We’re punishing you even though you could not have chosen otherwise because we think it will cause others to not be able to choose to rob a bank”

    To me that sounds like asking for a sacrifice of an innocent for the good of the group.

    “how else do you want society to function? Are you seriously suggesting abandoning notions of blame and responsibility and not punishing anyone for anything?”

    I’m not sure blame is a very useful idea unless it is a distributed notion, and I’m not sure punishment is always useful or the best way to solve conflict (I’m using the terms blame and responsibility in more of colloquial fashion than how you defined them earlier under hard determinism).

    “evolution has programmed us with notions of blame and responsibility”

    I think that’s too strong because those words have a large cultural variability in how they’re used.

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  14. db,

    “However, what are you calling punishment? Locking someone away to prevent them from attacking others… is that punishment or protection?”

    I believe that physical restraint like keeping someone away from having access to the general public is the best idea in some situations.

    “The same could be said for the death penalty (for merciless, incurable killers)”

    I think in general I’d op for restraint rather than that even in those cases.

    “In any case, if hard determinism is true… and we are all epiphenomal riders… then what reason is there to stop punishing? The punishers are equally unable to stop themselves and no amount of “convincing” should work, their actions determined by outside forces long ago”

    I probably I agree, hard determinism or not, it doesn’t stop us from getting on with things, and if I’m following Coel we could still keep punishment or move towards a less adversarial system. But once I start to consider it being a prominent cultural belief and what public policy (and language and discourse in general) would look like I get the impression that as stated it’s not a feasible option.

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  15. Coel Said:
    “Yes our desires effect our actions. But if people don’t choose those desires what sense does it make to praise or blame them for that?

    It’s purely pragmatic. We blame or praise people and hold people responsible because doing so either deters behaviour we don’t want or encourages behaviour we do want. That works fine under determinism.”

    I really don’t think that can explain how the legal system works. In the legal system we take into account not only deterrence but also retribution and rehabilitation. Retribution gives us our strong inclination to punish the guilty and only the guilty. It also means we only want to give punishments that fit the crime. (Deterrence alone might suggest strong punishments even if the crime is minor) We treat civil wrongful death cases different than we treat murder, even though both involve causing another innocent persons death. If neither one is blameworthy then why differ the penalty?

    I suspect our legal system would drastically change if we passed laws based on a belief that people were not blameworthy or praise worthy. I tend to think SG is correct that those who deny people’s blame and praiseworthiness may be turning a blind eye to that denial when they talk about actual laws and policies they want. But I am open to the possibility that I am wrong on this as I realize lots of people have carefully considered these issues closer than I have.

    BTW I just listened to a series of lectures which were an introduction to these issues:
    http://www.audible.com/pd/Nonfiction/Great-Philosophical-Debates-Free-Will-and-Determinism-Audiobook/B00DGDBO2Q

    Although some of the information I already knew, other issues and topics were new. I found his treatment of the law (in light of issues of determinism) pretty interesting. BTW the determinist who denies blame, could also appeal to rehabilitation as a bsis for laws, but that has problems as well.

    I would point out that it seems to me that someone can be a compatibilist (i.e., believe in determinism and free will) without believing that people are blameworthy. Compatibilists can also think people are blameworthy. That might hinge on whether they believe “ought implies could.”

    Ultimately I think the crux of this matter of responsibility goes back to how we define our “self”. Who or what are we actually thinking may or may not deserve blame? Is it a meat puppet? Is there a person somehow outside of that, that is somehow having a hand in the decisions? But even if there is, if the person did not create himself does it make sense to punish that person for how he turned out?

    I think the original article, also hints at the issue of whether people should be blamed for epistemic problems with their beliefs. What should we make of people who do not follow our epistemic standards? Is there moral blame? I think this is a very interesting and fruitful question to think about.

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  16. DB:
    “Hard determinism (if true) precludes making choices, and any connection between how things function (or how one thinks about how things function) and how one would feel about it.”

    This is not how I understand hard determinism. I understand hard determinism as accepting these two claims:

    1) If determinism is true, then we have no free will.
    and
    2) Determinism is true.

    If you accept both one and two you are a hard determinist. I don’t think there is anymore to it than that.

    A compatibilist denies 1.

    A free will libertarian accepts 1 but denies 2.

    So someone might be a hard determinist and still think there is connection between how things function and how one would feel about it.

    DB:
    “Hi Marc, if punishment or threats of punishment serve absolutely no function in stopping behavior (for that person or anyone else) then I would agree that punishment would make no sense… beyond gratification it gives to those who want the person punished?”

    But if the person was no more blameworthy than an inanimate object why should we indulge this gratification at all? It seems irrational doesn’t it?

    “Locking someone away to prevent them from attacking others… is that punishment or protection?”

    When we talk about protection I think we are generally dealing with the notion of rehabilitation more than deterrence. I agree rehabilitation does not entirely fit here either, but I think it’s aims are better suited here than deterrence.

    But whatever we want to call it, it seems that if we completely remove the idea of blame then we probably should lock people up (or not) regardless of whether they actually commit a crime. So, say a lady murders her husband but it is clear to everyone that now that he is dead she will not commit murder ever again, then there would be no reason to lock her up. Also if someone is likely to commit murder and has very good reason to do it, (say they are psycho path and we know they are very angry at several people etc.) but they never actually tries to kill, we would have good reason to lock him up. (based on the rehabilitation/protection view)

    Again it seems we do not follow on this rational because we at base believe there is some blame involved in whether someone should be punished/locked up. This stems from the retribution basis of the law.

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  17. >Hard determinism (if true) precludes making choices, and any connection between how things function (or how one thinks about how things function) and how one would feel about it.”

    Randomness does NOT help!

    Unless there is an alternative to randomness to generate alternative futures, there is no libertarian free will.

    Note: that under the currently mostly widely accepted interpretation of QM, the world has an irreducible element of randomness.

    Many worlds does not help; in that case all possibilities exist and you find yourself in one of ‘em, perhaps one where you rob your local Apple store by driving a car through the window at 4:23 AM (this happened last night in Palo Alto). I trust none of you were involved.

    In other worlds you tunneled right though the store and out the other side w/o getting access. The amplitude for such an event is very small, but under ‘many worlds’ in happens in some worlds.

    You are in any case arguing based on a concept of determinism that’s not been taken seriously since circa. 1920.

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  18. Oh, per the “End of Work,” Amazon is opening a no-staff grocery store near its Seattle headquarters. It’s coming, folks: http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/news/2016/12/05/amazon-go-supermarket-no-checkout-no-cashiers-artificial-intelligence-sensors/94991612/

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  19. Who’s this “we” whose punishing people and choosing and deciding to punish people? Coel will never admit it, but the mask has slipped, as I said.

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  20. Oh, per the “End of Work,” Amazon is opening a no-staff grocery store near its Seattle headquarters. It’s coming, folks:

    –>Sooner than I thought. Now they just need the RFD chip in your butt, to avoid having to wave your phone about…

    Are the shelves robot stocked? Doesn’t say in the article…

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  21. amazon prolly has something even better, and proprietary, but yes, the idea.

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  22. https://goo.gl/yyGP2I

    Kid’s build a model shelf stocking fo bot. … and the bot can’t decide it’d rather go to the beach …

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  23. dbholmes,

    Yeah, I know I said my previous comment was my last but i simply could not leave it there after your latest comment.

    In a recent comment you used the following (slightly mixed) metaphor:

    If you are not in the absolute drivers seat, you are in the front row knowing what is about to happen before everyone else because it is your choice what comes next (at least from your corner)

    I referred back to this when I said:

    I think it is disingenuous to describe the experiences of a passenger in a car in terms that a natural language user would typically associate with the driver.

    Coel then said:

    That’s a revealing analogy, since we are not passengers (we are not disengaged from the causal chain), we are drivers (part of the causal chain). What we do does affect what happens! The fact that what we do is then determined by prior stages of the causal chain does not change that.

    You then agreed with coel’s analysis of my comment, thereby doing a 180 on your own analogy! This humpty-dumpty approach to meaning is not quite up there with claiming that telephone directories “know” stuff, but its on the same slippery slope.

    Doubleplusungood!

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  24. Hi marc,

    That’s what I wonder about: “We’re punishing you even though you could not have chosen otherwise because we think it will cause others to not be able to choose to rob a bank” To me that sounds like asking for a sacrifice of an innocent for the good of the group.

    Not at all, the perpetrator is not innocent, he really did rob the bank. And you are indeed punishing people who rob banks in order to deter people from robbing banks.

    Again, how else do you want society to function?

    Hi Joe,

    I really don’t think that can explain how the legal system works. In the legal system we take into account not only deterrence but also retribution and rehabilitation.

    You are right that humans confuse themselves with whole lot of stuff about moral realism and contra-causal free will, which does muddy the water, but at basics the legal systems is an attempt to modify people’s behaviour by threats of punishment. That’s entirely compatible with determinism.

    We treat civil wrongful death cases different than we treat murder, even though both involve causing another innocent persons death. If neither one is blameworthy then why differ the penalty?

    The murder is blameworthy! The murderer did indeed do the deed! Notions of “blame” do not depend on the delusional ideas of contra-causal free will and moral realism.

    Now, the reason one gives different punishments according to the intention of the act is that whether one is deterred does depend on mental state.

    1) If determinism is true, then we have no free will.
    and 2) Determinism is true. A compatibilist denies 1. A free will libertarian accepts 1 but denies 2.

    No, that’s a poor way of thinking about it, because “compatibilist free will” is not at all the same thing as “libertarian free will”.

    Socratic,

    Who’s this “we” whose punishing people and choosing and deciding to punish people?

    The “we” are the people deciding whether to impose a punishment. There is a whole philosophical stance called “compatibilism” which is all about explaining and understanding the concepts of “choosing” and “deciding” in a deterministic world. It is, indeed, the dominant philosophical position today.

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  25. Hi all, I have little time to post today (and the next couple days) so I have to keep this brief and let things stand (until the issue comes up again).
    ………..

    Hi Marc, other than differing on what to do with murderous psychopaths we seem to be ok enough to let things stand.

    …………….

    Hi Joe, I tried to make it clear in earlier points that in discussing hard determinism it is a specific brand (ala Coyne). I guess this is a problem just like discussing liberals and conservatives and progressives. There are different types of hard determinists and even different types of compatibilists (as Socratic claims, most are a kind I am not).

    One brand, which is highly focused on removing the concept of responsibility go on to say (from your list) that because we have no free will we have no (meaningful) concept of choice… with everything we do being ascribed to historical mechanical processes. They of course could say that there might be a logical connection fixed within the gears of these processes such that if hard determinism is felt to be accepted, certain feelings or decisions will also come to be felt. The problem is that that would be an empirical question, not an argument one can make is necessarily the case.

    “But if the person was no more blameworthy than an inanimate object why should we indulge this gratification at all? It seems irrational doesn’t it?”

    I was not advocating or stating it was rational.

    “Again it seems we do not follow on this rational because we at base believe there is some blame involved in whether someone should be punished/locked up. This stems from the retribution basis of the law.”

    “Blame” is a term that needs some unpacking. I am not (as Socratic incorrectly suggests) a fan of guilt and sin (there is little use in the former and none in the latter).

    All one needs to do to support locking up or punishing people is to identify the source of an act and figure out what are the best options to prevent such acts in the future (and repair as much damage as can be done). The “source” of most actions when we are talking about “people” can be found within them and not outside them**. So we point to the individual and ascribe responsibility to that individual (as it is warranted… they weren’t hypnotized, had a gun to their head, etc) . And we ask what mechanisms can be employed to that individual system to get the results I said above.

    The unusual turn hard determinists (ala Coyne) make is saying “You” aren’t responsible because… then slipping inside the individual’s body to point at the brain… here are more causal mechanisms! These things made this body do things, not “you”. So it is unfair to punish “You” because blame is not with “You” it is at most with these brainy parts which forced “You” to do things against “Your” will.

    Not only is that bizarre philosophically (crypto-Cartesian) and tortured linguistically, it provides no useful service to figure out what to do next… at least no more so than compatibilism which accepts that there are causal mechanisms in the brain.

    We can leave out loaded terms like “blame” and simply say, this is the person who committed the act and was not forced to do so by extraneous conditions**… which is to say the locus of control of the act can best be ascribed within them.

    **- Note: it is of course true that there can be external events which arguably shift the locus of control outside the individual and so suggest remedies are best sought beyond dealing with that individual. So the person could have been starving and needed food (poverty), had been oppressed by someone (injustice), etc. And inside the individual it may be shown that they lack(ed) “healthy” functional causal mechanisms, which shifts the locus to a specified region (or set of processes) which are still better dealt with than the individual as a whole (because it wouldn’t matter without treating the specific anomaly). One can of course move from this to argue to treat all “healthy” functioning brains as “ill” because they allow for actions we don’t like from time to time, but that opens a rather large can of worms.

    Hi Synred, I wasn’t and never would argue that “randomness” grants free will, or choice or anything other than unpredictability in a system. Not sure how you got that out of the quote. And being a compatibilist I totally reject libertarian free will. Heck, after the discussion at Electric Agora off of one of my essays I don’t see the use of talking about free will at all (compatibilism being as I described with no mention of “free will”).

    Hi Sherlock, you totally misread my first statement that you quoted. Yeah it was a mixed metaphor. I condensed two I had used in earlier works that were longer. My mistake and I can see how that could lend to some confusion. But for some reason instead of trying to figure out how my quote and Coel’s worked together, since I said he gave an appropriate reply, you looked for how they would be inconsistent? That isn’t very fair. Ungood.

    My opening stated that “If you are not in the absolute driver’s seat” where was your understanding that not absolute allows for partial? That means you are still part of the “driving mechanism”. This was (yes sorry mixed metaphor) reinforced when I specifically said in the second that you were the first to know what would happen “… because it is your choice“. How that fits with an idea I was describing a completely passive passenger wholly out of the causal chain of events, took some work on your part.

    Here is Coel’s statement again, and it fits perfectly with what I said in meaning even if we are now further mixing metaphors…

    “… since we are not passengers (we are not disengaged from the causal chain), we are drivers (part of the causal chain). What we do does affect what happens! The fact that what we do is then determined by prior stages of the causal chain does not change that.”

    Only if Coel meant we were absolute drivers (the totality of the chain) would that be inconsistent with what I said. So there was no 180. Sheesh.

    Liked by 2 people

  26. Hi Synred and Sherlock, for some reason my replies to you were not separated properly/clearly in the comment above (I used dashes which didn’t show up). If interested, check the above post after my lengthy reply to Joe.

    The abbreviated versions…

    To Synred: I was not advocating randomness nor libertarian free will.

    To Sherlock: You used an unfair and not at all straightforward reading of my statement, and concentrated on common words rather than meanings in (mixed) metaphors (by two different people) to reach a conclusion I had somehow reversed myself. I advise checking the larger explanation in the prior comment. Turns out yours was the humpty-dumpty approach and it had a great fall. 🙂

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  27. Condorcet “The sole foundation for belief in the natural sciences,” he declared, “is the idea that the general laws directing the phenomena of the universe, known or unknown, are necessary and constant. Why should this principle be any less true for the development of the intellectual and moral faculties of man than for other operations of nature?”

    From Wilson, E. O.. Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge (p. 21). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

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