• King Goat

    Discussions of what universities do and are in another critical sense. These discussions usually focus solely on the kind of rarefied acade

    • Libertymike

      Come on, King – Munger absolutely destroyed that puerile editorial.

  • Puppet’s Puppet

    This is actually pretty good. Though Levy’s article awkwardly and very unsuccessfully tried to recruit his theory in apology of the demands for student-protester notions of “safe space,” Munger uses Levy’s theory as it should be used. His explanation of how a university works actually goes far beyond any reply to the original editorial, which mostly just babbles on with the now-familiar ridiculous and unsettling claims of “white nationalist” (“sexist,” “ableist,” “transphobic,” “Islamophobic,” etc.) speech hurting, frightening, “endangering the safety of,” or “silencing” fragile “marginalized peoples” on campus. (If you ask me, Duke itself deserves the same consideration this year, “marginalized” as they have just been. Unleash the puppies and stuffed animals on the entire campus to salve their pain, I say.)

    If I have any criticism, it’s that maybe Munger should have taken the bulk of the editorial on a bit more. He could have explained the entire role of protest vs. dialogue in the academic setting. To “protest,” i.e. disrupt, a group’s invited speaker isn’t just to exceed your own rights within the university community and infringe upon those of the group. It’s to act in a way completely contrary to the methodology of academic inquiry that we are supposedly giving at least a crash course in to these kids as we take their money to fund our research. The academic does not “protest” shoddy arguments; he refutes them. To him, in fact, there is no such thing as an “offensive” opinion, merely one that is wasting his time.

    Anti-academic-freedom activists, like the Duke editors in this example, often try to take advantage of this last point by dressing their moral outrage up in the guise of questioning an opinion’s academic legitimacy; but, as in this example, they are typically unable to disguise their real motivation with any thoroughness. Unfortunately, Levy’s speech did little to refute this type of move and much to enable it. In fact it makes little sense to speak of excluding an argument from discussion for lack of merit when you are very clearly not in any position of power or responsibility for doing so. I might debate vigorously with my department committee about whether a philosopher’s argument was compelling enough to fund a colloquium around, but once he arrived, I would not show up to the thing and try to steer the conversation away from engagement with his claims and toward ones I thought more fruitful. And, while I certainly think that (variously) 80-100% of everything that today’s sociology, anthropology, English, and anything ending in “studies” considers respectable is actually somewhere between phrenology and alphabet-soup vomitas, I would certainly not parachute into their colloquia and simply proclaim it to be so and try to shut them down. If I want to defeat it there, I’d have to bring an argument, regardless of how silly I might feel doing so. And so, of course, might an undergrad org member make a perfectly respectable case for not inviting a speaker in the first place; whereas it would be not only outside some pseudopolitical “right” within the university community, but (hardly incidentally) outside of respectable academic methodology for an “outsider” to fight the speaker’s argument with anything but a well-crafted rebuttal. Munger has pretty much said this, of course, but I think he could have framed it as more of a positive explanation of academic virtue.

    What, then, is the proper role of “protest” in the university community? Munger is correct to position it only in the realm of the “matrix” community, the university community at large–that outer “shell” whose basic purpose is to protect the various “communities of conversation” and sub-conversations where the actual work of academia is done. The line between administration and functional academic work isn’t always crystal clear, to be sure, but in general the matter of “protest” should be policy. An “honorary doctorate,” for example, is a somewhat silly tradition that is pretty much unambiguously “policy.” When Anscombe protested Truman at Oxford, and a half-century later similarly observant Catholics protested Obama at Notre Dame, they weren’t protesting the Presidents’ presence on campus to explain and discuss their positions; they were protesting the awards they were receiving (in Obama’s case, for his so-called commitment to justice). Personally, though I’d have eagerly joined those protests myself, I’d have supported inviting both men to give graduation speeches without such awards. But that vapid event, too, is probably unambiguously an “honor” that can be safely opposed by anyone in the community. All in all, we should remember that protest, while it may be a paradigmatic act of the “freedom of speech” of general civil society, is an inherently political act–and therefore, in the context of the university community, is as much the very sort of thing that the core business of that community (i.e., academic conversation) must be protected from as something that must be tolerated in the university community as a whole (largely as a side effect, if we’re being honest) in order for such conversations to productively thrive. Again, this is basically something that Munger, channeling Levy, says. But perhaps it could have been stated more positively.

  • Ashish George

    Munger says the claim that Murray is a white supremacist is “injudicious.” I agree that Duke groups should be free to invite whomever they like to campus, but why in the year 2017 do libertarians feel themselves obliged to defend the honor of a man who thinks blacks are dumber than whites, which is one of the central tenets of white supremacy in this country? Is default fusionism really such a difficult tic to give up, even on this blog?

    I won’t rehearse the case against Murray here. Roderick Long said what needs to be said.

    “Here’s an analogy: suppose that the next time a child goes missing, I say, ‘hey, maybe the child was kidnapped by Jews who wanted to use its blood to make matzohs.’ When criticised for this suggestion, I exclaim indignantly, ‘Isn’t it possible that this is what happened? Shouldn’t we consider every possibility? Don’t you politically-correct inquisitors care about truth?’ Well, of course my suggestion is possible in some abstract sense. But in light of the actual history of such speculations – their empirical ungroundedness, plus their horrific results – such a suggestion on my part would properly be assigned to the ‘pointlessly offensive provocation’ file rather than to the “serious scientific hypothesis” file. And the fact that I find such hypotheses salient, despite their empirical weakness, reveals my own biases. (Of course all this applies to gender as well – which is why I was glad to see Larry Summers booted out of the presidency of my alma mater.)”


  • Ashish George

    Duke students should be able to do what they like, but why defend Charles Murray against the charge of bigotry? The verdict that he is a white nationalist is based on his belief that whites are smarter than blacks. I’d say that’s one of the core beliefs of white nationalism.

    • Kyle Motsinger

      Because necessary conditions are not sufficient conditions. Holding that belief does not make one a white nationalist. Being a white nationalist makes one a white nationalist, and Murray does not seem to be one.

    • Fallon

      Munger, like many libertarians, is stupid and mean when it comes to racialism.Stephen Jay Gould, William H. Tucker, and a long list of other researchers coming from many disciplines have documented in great detail the ontogeny of biological determinism and very reasonably place Murray and Herrnstein within that tradition. (They are not fooled by Murray’s weak claim to agnosticism.) What should be a basic stipulation (not a moral evaluation mind you) is lost on Munger. What a horrible blind spot. Munger is not alone.

      Part of the pass that Murray gets in this particular instance may be because Murray supports UBI like Zwolinski.

  • Craig J. Bolton

    While I generally like what Mike Munger has to say in this editorial, the same question occurs to me that always occurs when I hear these arguments – are there any limits or boundaries? Suppose a student group held a “closed” ticket event on campus featuring a speaker who advocated rape of any female who was not a fundamentalist Christian? Suppose a student group held a “closed” ticketed event on campus featuring a speaker who advocated the lynching of random Black people to raise the IQ of “our” society? Permitted or not? If not, why not?

    The point of those examples is that there are in fact always limits, and it isn’t much of an argument to covertly argue that yours are OK, but someone else’s are a suppression of “free speech.”

    • Puppet’s Puppet

      Quite easy. Anyone on campus is permitted to discuss the merits of any of those positions. And anyone is permitted to determine, as I certainly would, that such positions are not only opposed by him but too idiotic for him to spend any of his time debating in the first place. We do this kind of thing all the time on an informal, personal basis–engaging with views and objections to our own views that we find interesting and compelling, and avoiding those that we do not–and sometimes we need to make such a decision as a group, as when departments or undergrad groups decide what views are “respectable” enough to invite for a talk, etc.

      There might be good reason to invite such views to be discussed on campus–for instance precisely if they are in danger of becoming popular, in order to expose and embarrass them. But I am neutral on that matter, and would probably oppose them in favor of spending money debating things that are interesting. The point is, if you want to fight them, and you were not part of the decision-making process that invited them, you may: (1) attend, and launch your devastating refutation in courteous conversation according to the rules set by the host; (2) distribute informational leaflets throughout campus, picket outside the venue, write editorials; invite an opposing speaker through your own group or department, etc.; (3) both.

      Do I believe that my own preferred “limits” of permissibility on various behaviors are the proper ones, and those favored by others are incorrect? Yes. That is what having an opinion on an issue entails. Do note that my opinion on this particular issue is completely neutral as to the content of the speech in question–as to whether I agree with it or find it offensive, disruptive, or whatever. I never once mentioned anything remotely related to “extremism” or “social disorder.” (In fact, I never used the phrase “free speech” except once in contrast; instead, like Levy and Munger, I discussed these matters in terms of the values and purpose of the university.) So I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about there, really.

    • Farstrider

      More speech, not less, is the answer. That speaker should be allowed to speak, and everyone else should be allowed to protest, and call him an asshole. This is not rocket science.

      • Craig J. Bolton

        So, JoeBob says to an angry Southern Mob, “Let’s go hang that nigger. We all know what happens if you allow those niggers to get uppity !” The answer is to call JoeBob an asshole (and probably end up at the end of another adjacent rope). The answer is more speech, not less. This is not rocket science.

        Or is that always the answer ?

        • Farstrider

          Yeah, that’s the answer.
          Now there are well-established exceptions for inciting actual imminent violence, that might apply in your second scenario. What’s telling about your second scenario, of course, is that it has absolutely nothing to do with the first, which has nothing to do with inciting imminent violence, and is instead just one man expressing an opinion that others disagree with.

    • DBritt

      If a student group did invite someone with such an extreme view, what is the benefit of not allowing the speech to happen? Do you think if a person is not allowed to speak that his/her view will cease to exist? Or on the other hand are you afraid that people are so intellectually weak that literally any message, if delivered, will find converts?

      I see a much greater downside to artificial limits on speech than I see upside.

      • Craig J. Bolton

        The question, as I understand it, is not whether someone is “not allowed to speak” (whatever that may mean in the context of a university determining the use of its private property) but whether certain sorts of speech are permissibly met with outrage. It seems to me to be a new twist on either free speech or academic freedom that advocacy of the suppression of ordinary human rights for certain sorts of people, and, say, effective eugenics, are never to be met with outrage and action arising out of outrage. Even tort law recognizes “fighting words” as a defense

        • DBritt

          I think we’re conflating two things here. I don’t take Munger’s article to mean that people can’t be outraged. I take it to mean that they can’t ban a campus group from claiming a limited space for a limited time for their reasonable purposes. (And of course I include controversial speech as a reasonable purpose.)

          For what it’s worth, I also don’t find general, unrestricted outrage to be very useful. I sometimes worry that we have forgotten how to make the arguments around these viewpoints (white nationalism in particular) that actually convince people who aren’t already convinced. It’s easy to convince people who already agree with you. But these fringe movements are growing for a reason, and it’s not because they don’t see enough outrage in response.

          • Craig J. Bolton

            I alway favor sharpening of one’s own (or other’s) ability to make a coherent convincing argument. However, I also recognize that there is a point where arguments end and action is required. As a sage once put it “…if not now, when?”

            And, as I noted above, some speech is beyond “controversial.” One does not politely debate calls to genocide or tyranny.

          • murali284

            We always politely debate calls to tyranny when those calls come from the left (or in respect to guys like Long, the “so called left”) Lefty forms tyranny* are not just politely discussed, but in many, if not most cases also be the dominant consensus in many universities. This preciousness about not politely discussing tyranny seems more like special pleading to ideologically indoctrinate university students.

            *Some academics openly discuss and endorse forcing the catholic church to ordain women and since that is supposedly permissible also to force Catholic churches to conduct gay marriages. Other tyrannical policies which are politely discussed if not favoured by lefty academics include banning male circumcision, burkas and halaal and kosher butchers. Racial cleansing may not be a thing on the left, but the fervour with which they are ready to wipe out any religious practice that they don’t like would make the puritans proud.

        • Farstrider

          Ah, Craig, you’ve given up the game. All speech can be “permissibly met with outrage.” You have the right to angrily disagree with anyone’s speech. What you don’t have is a right to be free from getting angry in the first place.

          • Craig J. Bolton

            I see, so as a Jew I should just say “Ehh, just another opinion that we can debate” if someone calls for another holocaust ? No right to be free from any anger, even with the owner of the private property where that appeal is made?

            Really? If you took a poll, even among those who have adamantly defended free expression throughout history, do you think that would be the dominate conclusion? Really ? (Now, don’t get angry.)

          • Farstrider

            It would certainly be the consensus view among people who understand the First Amendment. But I think you missed my point. I am not saying you should not get angry, or that you should not react very strongly to such reprehensible views. You should! Nor should you treat the speaker as someone who prefers a different flavor of ice cream. You should not!
            What you should not do is use force or the threat of force to silence them. That’s all I am saying.

    • CbyN

      The first amendment is more or less where it should be and has held up fairly well. It places well-established time, place, and manner restrictions largely concerned with specific instances of violence, fraud, and harassment. Through the legal prism, your questions are straightforward once we consider the specific context.

      For a public school requiring first amendment compliance, both your hypos should be protected. They are not inciting violence against any specific person (e.g. “random Black people”, “any female”). Ok: “Jews should be slaughtered”. Not ok: “This Jew on your campus whose name is Joe Schmoe and resides at 203 Main Hall should be slaughtered”.

      A private institution may impose more restrictions on free speech than a public institution insofar as they are not in breach of contract. A religious school which imposes specific speech/behavior restrictions through its policies (e.g. “thou shalt not say the lord’s name in vain on this here campus”) would not qualify. They could thus easily restrict your two hypos. Otherwise, a private institution like your run-of-the-mill liberal arts college will typically advertise itself as operating a free-speech institution in line with first amendment principles. However, private institutions promoting full free speech rights but with overly vague harassment policies (“you can have your free speech so long as it doesn’t marginalize or make someone feel threatened”) clearly violate the first amendment in principle though schools have been fairly successful in keeping these around, probably as it is a difficult case to prove that they are violating a contract due to two competing policies–one advocating a protection of people’s feelings and another advocating free speech (I am not a lawyer by any means, so I am speculating).

      • Craig J. Bolton

        My understanding was that this discussion was what was appropriate (and had typically occurred?) on university campuses, not the limits of the first amendment (which applies to prior restraint by government) Under that interpretation, my examples are far outside the traditional and customary bounds of permitted speech on university campuses.

        Perhaps you are stating an aspirational standard unlike the traditional standard, but, if so, it would seem that you would have to argue for such a significant redefinition.

    • Anomaly

      Good question, though the students writing for the chronicle got it wrong: the Murray event was closed to the public (and “ticketed”) by the Duke administration so they could manage security. And they did an admirable job. The event showed just how wrong the caricatures of Murray are.

      Would the commenter above (“Ashish”) who called Murray a white nationalist because he observes whites have, on average, higher IQs than blacks call Murray an Asian nationalist for noting that East Asians have, on average, slightly higher IQs than whites?

      • Ashish George

        White nationalism is about maintaining a hierarchy that stretches across education, healthcare, housing, incarceration, and employment. That claim about East Asians can easily be internalized by the exponents of the hierarchy without threatening the imperatives of a historical subjugation whose roots go back to colonial times and whose most consistent target has been blacks. As BHL’s own Roderick Long wrote elsewhere:

        “Here’s an analogy: suppose that the next time a child goes missing, I say, ‘hey, maybe the child was kidnapped by Jews who wanted to use its blood to make matzohs.’ When criticised for this suggestion, I exclaim indignantly, ‘Isn’t it possible that this is what happened? Shouldn’t we consider every possibility? Don’t you politically-correct inquisitors care about truth?’ Well, of course my suggestion is possible in some abstract sense. But in light of the actual history of such speculations – their empirical ungroundedness, plus their horrific results – such a suggestion on my part would properly be assigned to the ‘pointlessly offensive provocation’ file rather than to the ‘serious scientific hypothesis’ file. And the fact that I find such hypotheses salient, despite their empirical weakness, reveals my own biases. (Of course all this applies to gender as well – which is why I was glad to see Larry Summers booted out of the presidency of my alma mater.)”


        • Anomaly

          The fact that a claim can be dangerous does not mean it is false. Claims about group differences are actually quite well supported scientifically. The two best recent overviews of the evidence are “The 10,000 Year Explosion” by Cochran and Harpending, and “Human Biological and Psychological Diversity” by Bo Winegard et al.

          On the sex and gender issue, you couldn’t be more wrong. The evidence is now utterly overwhelming that what Larry Summers said is right. In fact, he was recyclying claims from Steven Pinker, who was summarizing the evidence of the best gender psychology researchers on the planet. If you’re interested in the evidence, here’s a nice overview:

          • Jeff R.

            Harvard fired the wrong guy!

          • Ashish George

            “The fact that a claim can be dangerous does not mean it is false.”

            Good thing Long isn’t saying that in the passage above. His point is that the past failures of arguments about group differences should tip the epistemic scales toward doubt about future arguments in the same vein and make us suspicious of the objectivity of the people advancing those arguments. Dispute that if you like, but don’t maintain the self-flattering pretense that this controversy is about wilting flowers terrified at the prospect of “dangerous” ideas that you, brave knight of empiricism, have the courage to tame.

          • Anomaly

            K, epistemically caution is wonderful. But it was you, not me, who claimed the Duke students were right to call Murray a white nationalist (for maintaining that there are small, heritable group differences) and it was you, not me, who said how glad you were to see Larry Summers fired for making some pretty cautious remarks about male/female differences. The core claims of Summers and Murray have been largely vindicated, if not universally embraced, by those in the relevant fields.

            So I guess I don’t know what your point is. Why should we be hostile to speakers who express views that fall well within the range of mainstream science?

          • Ashish George

            “The core claims of Summers and Murray have been largely vindicated, if not universally embraced, by those in the relevant fields.”

            I’d like to see a citation for this if you have one. Something like a study of the academic literature pertaining to their respective controversies and the percentage of credentialed authors in the relevant fields who accept the core claims of Summers and/or Murray. Can you produce this? You sound very confident.

            I’ll admit I can’t produce a comparable study showing the opposite. But again, my point (and Long’s) concerns the historical and conceptual reasons to be skeptical of these claims in the first place. See also what Long says about constitutive conditions and enabling conditions.

          • Anomaly

            Fair enough: we agree about skepticism.

            The best overview of differences between the sexes are:
            Diane Halpern, Sex Differences in Cognitive Ability (Pinker summarizes the evidence succinctly in his debate with Elizabeth Spelke.

            There are many books and articles on group differences, but for a very recent overview of (and evidence for) the central claims of Murray’s famous book, see A Tale of Two Bell Curves:

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            You might be interested in this (a non-consequentialist defense of truth): https://naturalrightslibertarian.com/2013/08/a-non-consequentialist-defense-of-truth/

          • Fallon

            Anomaly cites Harpending, who is the go to theory guy for Nicholas Wade, author of the biological determinist A Troublesome Inheritance. Wade (and hence Harpending) is flatly condemned by all of the key scientists, like Neil Risch, Noah Rosenberg, Jon Pritchard, Sarah Tishkoff, Jun Li, Augustin Fuentes, Ken Kidd, etc., for his perversion of their works in service of wild unsupported conjecture. They even wrote a letter to the NY Times– signed by 139 colleagues. https://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/10/books/review/letters-a-troublesome-inheritance.html?_r=0

            Anomaly has sunk to Holocaust Denier type tactics and you might anticipate the straw man baiting script that has been recycled for decades. ‘There are group differences. What is wrong with stating that?’ Of course that is not what Anomaly and other racialists/sexists are after. They probably know that no researchers doubt human differences and group themes as part of nature *and* nurture! Many of the signatories to the NY Times letter still use the word ‘race’ in their population designations even. What they don’t do is apply an a priori essentialist meaning like Harpending. Contrary to Harpending and Anomaly– the emergence of the idea that there are no subspecies of human and that race in this context has no biological usefulness— is the new thing. It is Harpending types that live in the past. A past where astrology, the Ptolemaic Solar System, and racist/classist biological determinist theories prevailed– partly due to their shared characteristic as having tons of evidence supporting them! I mean didn’t X happen during a full moon? Doesn’t the sun start in the east and work its way west every damn day? And aren’t ‘whites’ and ‘asians’ and ‘blacks’ generating these social stats (school achievement, class, econ, IQ, crime, inventions etc)? Well of course there is a natural hierarchy. Hmm. What could be the political implications of this!

            You dig?

          • Fallon

            Just for clarity: Harpending is Wade’s theory guy. Harpending is denounced by the scientists whose work Harpending claims supports his theories.

          • Jeff R.

            Just for clarity: Wade was a science reporter at the NYT for 30 years and his book consists of more than regurgitating the theories of one guy you read somewhere that some other people didn’t like.

          • Fallon

            Oh did your wittle feelings get hurt snowflake? Harpending has done the race realist and white nationalist (or white diaspora-ist heh) rounds for years. I have seen him lecture. At one point he yapped on about how Western Civilization is based lactose tolerance.

          • Fallon

            Here is the full list of names and affiliations that understand Harpending and Wade to be wackjobs. https://cehg.stanford.edu/letter-from-population-geneticists.These are people that usually have a hard time agreeing with each other on many many scientific things. Now, why might they find agreement in their rejection of race realism sold by Harpending? Is it because Harpending is the modern Galileo? Well then– I thought Charles Murray was the modern Galileo! Or wait. wasn’t Richard Lynn supposed to fit that role? Gosh so many racists are Galileos.

            Maybe they will all jump out of clown car. Hey– is that you driving jeffry?

          • Fallon

            Or for even more clarity (trademark pending). Wade is explicitly condemned by the scientists he uses to advance his wack theories that Harpending et al. have had great influence on.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Long’s “point,” which you recycle, plainly begs the question. Of course Jews don’t kill Christian children for their blood. But group differences are still validly up for debate. I guess it’s just because Jewish mother’s, more than any others, love music, that an astonishing percentage of classic Broadway tunes were written by Jews. Or their love of learning alone explains why 25% of Nobel prizes in the hard sciences have gone to Jews. Or, why Jews make up a ridiculous percentage of the most influential academic philosophers over the last 100 years. Now, claim that 100% of that is environment if you like, but its OBVIOUS that this question is way more contestable than whether or not Jews kill Christians for their blood. That’s why your comparison begs the question.

          • Ashish George

            Your persuasive deployment of the caps lock button has convinced me.

          • King Goat

            “The fact that a claim can be dangerous does not mean it is false.”

            No, but it does mean it’s dangerous…It’s interesting how some supposed utilitarians give up on the philosophy at this point, in the name of some abstract value of ‘truth’ regardless of its tension with the harm principle.

          • Anomaly

            I used to agree with you on this, but now I’m not so sure. I just published a paper arguing that even consequentialists should be willing to pursue controversial research on gender and race. In case you’re interested, here it is:


          • King Goat

            Your paper provides some interesting hypotheses about ways that more knowledge and acceptance of group differences *could* lead to humanistic conclusions promoting a better world for most involved. But my point is an empirical one. Historically we know how the research and conclusions of the ‘top scientists’ of the day on this subject (many of which, tragi-comically were often later shown to be spectacularly wrong-ideas of Asian, Jewish, Irish, etc., innate, and, even more laughably fixed, intellectual and moral deficiencies) have been used, and it won’t pretty. Even today we can see from our resident essentialist Sean the kinds of conclusions people will come to as they buy more into essentialist difference findings and theories, and they’re, as he concedes, conclusions hostile to many opportunities and supports of great value to the effected populations.

          • Anomaly

            Thanks for reading the paper. You’re right to be skeptical of evidence in this domain: motivated reasoning abounds on all sides!

          • Sean II

            Don’t know if you clicked through to read Long’s original piece, but it’s interesting as an accidental confession on the roots of biology denial.

            The arguments are so bad you can’t help but see through to what’s behind them: a conviction that these things [divergent evolution, sexual dimorphism, heritability of behavior, normal distribution of traits] simply cannot be because their being would make nonsense of premises that are too important to lose [free will, universal morality, perfectability of man, social equality, etc].

            Sometimes I wonder if the denialists are what they are because they understand the implications better.

            Murray has always tried to sell the idea of: “Don’t fear these truths, they have no policy implications! We can just solve the problem by treating everyone as an individual.”

            But that’s not true. Individual assessment is too costly, and stereotyping is too accurate. People already avoid the former and embrace the latter every chance they get. They are not gonna do that less once the taboo against it has been removed.

            The heritability of behavioral traits really is fatal to free will. Indeed, free will (a.k.a. impulse control) probably just is an unequally distributed trait.

            And so on down a long list. The biological basis of violent crime really is an argument for harsher sentences of life course offenders. The fixity of intelligence really is an argument against education as we know it. Divergent evolution really is fatal to the idea that we can have a society which is both diverse and socially equal.

            The point being: we have to sympathize a bit with the protestors here. They think certain facts threaten the society they want, and they are not hallucinating. They think Murray’s assurances to the contrary are unconvincing, and they are not wrong.

          • Anomaly

            Everything you said is right, especially about Murray. I asked him in person over dinner whether he thought there were any policy implications to the claims everyone fears. Murray said no. But Jensen certainly thought so in his 1969 paper, and I think you’re right that policies from immigration to education would be affected by beliefs about group differences. Like Murray, I’ve been a denialist about this. But I now think you’re right and Murray is wrong.

            Knowledge of heritable group differences will — sometimes rightly — affect how we see other people, including predictions we make about them.

          • Sean II

            Indeed. A more realistic promise is: “Okay, group differences exist and they have obvious policy implications, but let us build a society in which limiting those harms is one of our highest priorities.”

            Of course, the irony is: imprecise pledges like that require high social trust, which is hard to come by and getting harder, in large part because we’ve spent so long pretending it is possible to have multiculturalism without disputes about basic values between identity groups. Hard to form a social contract around the idea “we shall resort to X only when reasonably necessary” if there is little agreement over reasonableness and necessity to begin with, and if everyone (rightly) expects the faction in power to abuse the slack in such terms, every chance they get.

            Libertarians often try to escape this problem by having unambiguous rules only – the NAP being a famous attempt to eliminate all of the hard cases in human interaction. But of course that doesn’t work. Rules only come in two flavors: 1) tidy, with absurd consequences, or 2) non-absurd, but cluttered with messy questions of degree – “timely”, “undue”, “excessive”, etc.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            I think you make a lot of good points here, but I don’t see how the existence of inheritable behavioral (group) traits is fatal to free will, any more than heritability in general is. We all presumably inherit a cluster of talents, dispositions, traits, aptitudes. etc. from our parents, but this is not usually supposed to preclude free will; these things might simply incline us to or increase the likelihood that we make certain (free) choices. I believe inheritable group characteristics would be fatal to free will only if all children of group X act in manner Y (say commit a certain crime).

            Maybe my friend Danny Frederick. author of what I regard as a classic paper on this subject, https://www.academia.edu/348757/Free_Will_and_Probability, would care to weigh in on this.

          • Sean II

            The threat to free will doesn’t come from group differences specifically. Heritability of individual behavior is poison enough.

            You know the free will Ayn Rand was talking about when she said “man is a being of self-made soul”? Well, those words can’t – in anything like their intended meaning – survive the fact that, say, Conscientiousness is 50% heritable, 49% chance (aka non-shared), ~1% shared environment. Or whatever. Even if you assume every bit of that chance is choice (for some of it may be), you still end up with an uninspiring edit: “Man is a being of somewhat self-made soul, bounded only by…a tether that pretty much keeps him well within recognizable range of his parents. So much so that the first thing you should do on contact with any big exception is investigate for paternal discrepancy.”

            You know the free will conservatives and right-libertarians are always touting as a solution to single motherhood, obesity, addiction, crime, poverty, etc? That doesn’t survive either.

            Ever known a drunk? Ever tried to help one? One thing quickly becomes obvious: the decision he faces when confronted with drink/don’t is not the same decision we face. The booze does more for him that it does for us. The effort we need to resist it is small. The effort he needs is massive.

            For all we know, asking him to go through a week sober is like asking you and I to go through Navy SEAL training.

            Would anyone accuse us of akrasia for washing out of that?

            Right, so that’s the free will I’m calling dead. Which doesn’t rule out some subtler version of the concept, a’la Danny. But it most certainly DOES rule out the version on which much of our culture and policy is based.

            Bryan Caplan sometimes poses the excellent question: “What great wrong will our grandchildren denounce us for ignoring in our time?”

            One thing I’m pretty sure they’ll say is: “Grandpa, is it really true that you used to pay people in high schools to yell at kids for being fat? Didn’t you know about [spectrum of heritable obesity disorders here]?”

            “I’m afraid so. We called them ‘gym coaches’, and if I’m honest, we all kind of knew what they were doing was pointless and cruel.”

            You get the idea…

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            We’re already pretty far off the original topic, so this probably isn’t the occasion for a full-blown discussion of the merits of insisting on personal responsibility, but I disagree. Plenty of people, of all races, have overcome severely disadvantageous early environments, including broken homes, to achieve great things. If you want to focus specifically on African Americans, Thomas Sowell, Ophray Winfrey, and Walter Williams leap immediately to mind, and these are just famous names I happen to be familiar with. Obviously, it doesn’t include the many thousands of black doctors, lawyers, engineers, scientists, etc. who are not famous in this way.

            So, you want to say that all these folks had parents with high IQs and admirable personal characteristics, well, okay, prove it. I don’t believe that’s what the evidence shows. The best explanation is that these high achievers were born with certain favorable natural endowments and then worked like hell, and maybe had some good luck along the way. An account that is perfectly compatible with our ordinary understanding of free will.

            I don’t know anyone who actually says that “free will is the solution single motherhood, obesity, addiction, crime…,” but the fact that there is no “solution,” is not a good reason to jettison notions of free will and accountability for all competent adults.

          • Sean II

            1) “Plenty of people, of all races, have overcome severely disadvantageous early environments…”

            And why shouldn’t they? Environment doesn’t matter very much.

            2) “Thomas Sowell, Oprah Winfrey, and Walter Williams leap immediately to mind, and these are just famous names I happen to be familiar with…Obviously, it doesn’t include the many thousands of black doctors, lawyers, engineers, scientists, etc.””

            So what? There’s nothing unexpected about this. It’s in the nature of normal distributions that, given an n of 40 million, even something (IQ>130) which occurs at a rate of 0.1% (in that population) will get you 40,000 examples.

            That doesn’t overturn anything I believe, or anything Murray believes. That IS what we believe.

            3) “So, you want to say that all these folks had parents with high IQs and admirable personal characteristics, well, okay, prove it.”

            Twin/adoption studies have done exactly that.

            4) “The best explanation is that these high achievers were born with certain favorable natural endowments and then worked like hell…”

            No, the best explanation is that willingness to work like hell is one of those natural endowments. Indeed that’s the very example I chose before. Conscientiousness (+ low time preference, high future orientation) is what makes people work like hell and it is (they are) highly heritable.

            5) “I don’t know anyone who actually says that “free will is the solution single motherhood, obesity, addiction, crime…,”

            30 years of conservative talk radio and punditry beg to differ. For a long time that seemed like the only solution they ever talked about. Recall that Murray’s big rival for conservative intellectual of the 90s was Bill Bennet.

            I’ll admit they’ve come off that line in recent years, so I guess even those guys have some threshold for shyness before a mountain of contrary evidence.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Point #3 is the key one. I seriously doubt that geneticists have identified a set of variations known as “conscientiousness,” that is heritable. This trait itself consists of a cluster of personal characteristics, such as industriousness, an ability to comprehend and abide by social norms, attention to detail, etc. If you disagree, please provide specific language from the twin/adoption literature that discuss “conscientiousness.” And, most importantly, that show achievement is tightly correlated with the possession of these genes, rather than the free choices made by these people.

          • Sean II

            So, two fallacies here which need to be answered.

            1) “Show me the gene.” Not how this works. It is possible to know that something is heritable before identifying the variant(s) responsible. Indeed that’s usually how it goes.

            2) “But X isn’t any one thing”. Also irrelevant. The fact that a trait is complex and/or continuous says nothing about it’s heritability.

            Likewise, the fact that a trait is polygenic (all the best ones are!) does not mean it isn’t heritable, nor does it justify a leap to the comforting safety of radical skepticism.

            So those two points aren’t successful objections to anything.

            (And it’s always here when I notice that the person asking makes no comparable demands on his own evidence – i.e. why do you think the mutability of traits gets to be a given? Why do you not feel compelled to go find twin/adoption studies in support of your own view? Because as a matter of history, your claim is by far the more extraordinary. Most of the people who ever lived noticed that behavioral traits run in families. It’s only in the West, and only for little while, that people seriously tried to talk themselves out of accepting this rather plain fact.)

            In any case, here’s what you asked for:

            First an oldy:

            Then some more recent:


          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            I have no reason to deny that “behavioral traits run in families.” In fact, I accept it, but I fail to see why you think this helps your case. The issue is whether notions of personal responsibility are unwarranted or useless. Your point would only have relevance if identical twins, having common parents, invariably displayed identical levels of conscientiousness. I doubt that this is true. If we’re going to refer to things “as a matter of history,” I note that people have been punished for criminal behavior for a very long time, and this institution implicitly assumes personal responsibility.

            As for your studies, I don’t understand how they support your argument. From the first of the more recent studies:

            “No genetic variants that significantly contribute to personality variation were identified, while our sample provides over 90% power to detect variants that explain only 1% of the trait variance. This indicates that individual common genetic variants of this size or greater do not contribute to personality trait variation, which has important implications regarding the genetic architecture of personality and the evolutionary mechanisms by which heritable variation is maintained.”

            From the second:
            “We found significant and substantial heritability estimates for neuroticism (15%, s.e. = 0.08, P = 0.04) and openness (21%, s.e. = 0.08, P < 0.01), but not for extraversion, agreeableness and conscientiousness."

            Perhaps you can quote the exact language you are relying on. Also, it would help me if you could specify the data that would falsify your claim.

          • Sean II

            1) You’re misunderstanding both of those cites. The language you excerpt refers to the search for *specific loci* in connection with heritabile personality traits.

            Note that one begins “variation in personality is 30-60% due to genetic influence” while the other puts it at “40-60%”. Both make this loud and clear, right up front. Neither ends up disputing the point.

            When one paper says “we found .15 for X but nothing for Y”, they simply mean “among the SNPs searched here”. Likewise the other is scanning a range of common variants and finding no concentrated effect among them – meaning these traits are either very polygenic (likely) or due to rare variants (less so).

            2) Personal responsibility is not a necessary premise for punishing criminals. Not at all. We don’t imagine mad dogs to be free moral agents, but we kennel and shoot them just the same.

            3) That first point is a weird straw man. As commonly used free will does not mean “just anything less than clonic identity”. It means, at a minimum, that we get to choose more often than not among things which define is as people.

            It means roughly what Rand meant.

            And it turns out to be false. We don’t get to decide more often than not. The most important things about us – our brains, minds, personality – are largely assigned at conception.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            You are using a custom-made, idiosyncratic definition of “free will.” You chose to attack Rand’s formulation, but apparently didn’t notice that I offered no defense of her statement. What I have consistently said, from my first comment on, is that you have not provided “a good reason to jettison notions of free will and accountability for all competent adults.” You quote studies that show that roughly 50% of the “variation in personality…is due to genetic influence.” So? Variation in personality doesn’t help you: some people are outgoing, some shy, some are inclined to exuberance, some inclined to be morose, etc. This is not the same as “conscientiousness,” which is where you started. Moreover, a 50% genetic influence on personality doesn’t even begin to make your point. 50% leaves plenty of room for the individual’s unique character or “grit” to determine life outcomes.

            I note that you supplied no answer to the falsification question.

            People who claim to justly punish other persons assume personal responsibility, or simply do it on a utilitarian basis. Throughout the last few centuries, the former logic dominates the latter. Certainly, it does when we say “better that 100 guilty go free than one innocent person be wrongfully convicted.”

            I’m not the best person to debate this with you, and I think I’ve said everything that I usefully can. You are welcome to the last word.

          • Sean II

            I did answer the falsification question.

            For both of us.

          • Sean II

            Hey Mark,

            I forgot to say thanks for the discussion. Talking to people like you and Danny is what makes the place worth visiting.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Thanks, and I agree.

          • Hi Sean,

            This, I think, is false:

            “Free will means, at a minimum, that we get to choose more often than not among the big things which define us as people.”

            The big things that define us as people include rationality, self-consciousness and the capacity to use language argumentatively. That is in every case due to biological inheritance. Thus, it is not something that any of us chooses. Yet those properties imply that we have free will. Having free will does not imply having the capacity to choose whether we have free will.

            Much of what you say I would not dispute. I just dispute its relevance to the question of free will.

            There is an important point that you might have overlooked and which might be connected to your affirmation of the quoted sentence. The point is that even if our nature, our constitution, is made for us at the time we are born (which I doubt that anyone maintains), we are not born knowing what that nature or constitution is. We have to discover what it is by trying things out. So, even the big things that define a person individually, and distinguish him from (many) other persons, are not known to that person a priori but have to be discovered by him through trial and error. It is not that we choose who we are; it is more that we can discover who we are by making choices. I discuss that in more detail in my paper on the importance of freedom, especially freedom of expression, which is available here:

          • Sean II

            1) I see your point, so let me rephrase:

            There’s a thing people believe – quite adamantly, it turns out – which finds expression in phrases like Rand’s “self-made soul” or in the common encouragement given to children that “with hard work they can grow up to be whatever they want”. At bottom this is the same thing that animated Mark’s argument with me – his belief that, say, Oprah Winfrey is ultimately just a poor child who decided not to be a poor adult, and that other people might similarly decide to change their own lives (if not indeed to such grand degree).

            Whatever that thing is called, it’s a big part of our culture. And it’s a very big part of what makes people throw stones at Charles Murray. It’s the premise of the entire US educational establishment, and of that vast labor known as modern parenting. In any our art and fiction, if there should be a character who denies that people can change in this way, he is always a detestable villain.

            Whatever we call that thing, it’s false.

            2) I couldn’t agree more on your last point. The process of discovering and coming to grips with our talents, limits, tendencies, range of options, etc. is as exhilarating as anything in life.

            It’s also a fine argument for freedom.

          • Okay, it is not true that anyone can be anything. And some people are unable to do some things because of their biological inheritance. But almost anyone can change himself radically by criticising and abandoning views about how to live that were drummed into him by parents, peers and the wider culture in which he grew up. Lots of people do that, though it can be difficult overcoming habits that have been ingrained over decades.

          • Sean II

            I’m not sure people can change as radically as we hope.

            Example: for a while it seemed we were radically changing our society by a successful escape from Christian beliefs, taboos, social controls, etc.

            But here we are, in 2017, talking about an incident where a gang of scolds and faith militant witch hunters went riot in their fervent need to silence a heretic and protect the emerging anti-blasphemy code which in turn protects a new set of sacred myths…a set that just so happens to include the novel idea that as humans we are all made alike in one image.

            In my language that means: “This population evolved a certain trait, which having been thwarted in one expression, stubbornly insists on finding outlet in another”.

          • That’s not inconsistent with what I said. I was speaking about individuals rather than populations or cultures.

            For instance, imagine a man brought up in a straight-laced, sexually repressed culture who is aggressively anti-gay because he recognises but hates a tendency to homosexuality within himself. He gets a job with a big company in a large city where he has to mix with many gays and where the people around him are neither pro- nor anti-gay (it is just not an issue for them). He gradually begins to reconsider the views he previously held about gays and eventually allows himself to experiment with homosexual activities. He then comes to realise and accept that he is gay (or at least bi) and lives a very different life, and has a very different outlook, to the ones he had before he moved. There must be many people of whom that sort of thing is true.

          • Sean II

            Okay on your main point but this I can’t resist mentioning because it is relevant to the larger debate. Your example had a very interesting false note to it:

            “…the people around him are neither pro nor anti-gay (it is just not an issue for them)…”

            But of course there is no society like that. Something close to it existed for a few years in the 1990s, but it wasn’t stable and it didn’t last.

            Instead we ended up with a society where homosexuality (and beyond) became positively sanctified, where hetero- and cis- have taken a place alongide white and male as some thing to apologize for, as markers of villainy, privilege, oppression, where it is thought fit to punish dissenters with wildly disproportionate means.

            Again, someone from my point of view would say: “What a shocker! Turns out that a species which evolved through 100,000 years of group conflict, with ruthless enforcement of in-group norms, is great at taking sides, but shite at neutrality. Turns out that we (and especially some among us) can’t really grok this freedom thing, but instead keep lapsing into a habit where everything must be reduced EITHER to a totem or a taboo.”

            That’s just one example of course, but good enough to illustrate what draws me to this perspective…

            It makes many correct predictions. And of course it couldn’t do that if free will in the expansive Randian sense actually existed.

          • I may be wrong, Sean, but I suspect that what you say about attitudes towards gays reflects an American perspective. In big companies in big cities in Britain or Holland, for instance, I would have thought that what I described is pretty much the norm. But I packed up work more than ten years ago, so things may have changed in a more American direction since then.

            On the general point about the us-and-them pathology, I agree that it runs deep; but a mark of civilisation is that it does not show itself in ordinary situations. Of course, even within the same city, even within the same company, some areas are more civilised than others.

            Just a reminder: I am not endorsing what you call the ‘Randian sense of free will.’

          • Sean II

            1) Don’t know about Holland but my U.K. friends seem to think the Isle is running ahead of the Colony for this particular hysteria.

            I think a lot probably did happen in those ten years. Things are moving fast now, as evidence by the way trans teleported from “what’s that again?” to “every decent person agrees” in about half a decade.

            2) Yes, one of the striking things about this climate is the fact that it poisons group interaction without necessarily manifesting hostility on the ordinary or individual level.

            3) I know you don’t, but I also know the Randian sense of free will (human malleability, whatever) is the dominant one.

            That’s what most people believe, and what most policy is based on.

          • Lacunaria

            It is false, but only in the sense that it is not a perfect model. However, that (technically false) belief permits accomplishments that would not be possible if people didn’t believe they have a choice (Danny’s #2). So, I think we should err on the side of a foundational belief in choice and personal responsibility.

            But you don’t actually seem to be arguing against free will, per se, so much as against our over-reliance upon will power. Indeed, you seem to be advocating for freedom through more effective use of free will by going further upstream of our habits and statistical “fates” or choosing different goals. Know thyself. Rather than constantly resist eating junk food, don’t keep it around you in the first place.

            I think there is an important place and latent demand for this message in art and fiction, since it ultimately does serve freedom and control over preferred outcomes, though you’re right that people don’t like to be told to change their dreams.

            The fact that they can change their dreams, however, is quite empowering. Mike Rowe advocates a related message — that we build passion for our choices, rather than simply following our passions.

          • It is worth distinguishing two questions:

            (1) What factors make a person what he is?

            (2) How does what a person is relate to his behaviour?

            Free will, as I understand it, has nothing to say about (1). All it says in answer to (2) is that the relation is not deterministic. Our constitution, to whatever degree it is made by nature, by culture, by chance or by our own actions, “inclines without necessitating” (to borrow Leibniz’s apt phrase). It may be highly probable that a person with a particular constitution will act in a particular way in a particular set of circumstances; but if he has free will, he might act differently.

            In the paper Mark refers to, I do not argue that we have free will. I believe we have, but I think no one knows whether we do. Most arguments about the topic, in the scientific and the philosophical literature, seem to me to be irrelevant.

            I take up the issue in regard to economic and social-scientific explanation in another paper, here:

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            …but you do demolish one of the most influential arguments against the possibility of free will.

          • Thanks, Mark. Yes, I think I do – THE most persuasive argument against the possibility of free will.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Perhaps due to my inadequate understanding of critical rationalism, I find part of your statement puzzling. As I understand it, you reject knowledge as “justified true belief” in favor of something like “best currently available theory until replaced by something better.” Accordingly, I am wondering how you can “believe” that free will exists, but still say “no one knows whether we do.” In what sense are you using “know”? Nobody may know in the classical sense, but certainly people have arguments and theories, sufficient to formulate a hypothesis. What is the basis for your belief?

          • That, Mark, is a very perceptive question. I was wondering whether anyone would query me about it. I’ll begin with blunt answers to your questions, which may make things more puzzling, then I’ll explain as briefly as I can.

            Here are the blunt answers. There are lots of theories about free will, but none is good enough to count as knowledge. There is no basis for my belief.

            Each of us is born with conceptual resources that will develop into a conceptual framework. The conceptual resources are malleable: they can be developed into different conceptual frameworks under the impact of different influences. The conceptual resources/framework gives us a way of seeing and of understanding the world which is not based on evidence: it is prior to evidence; all evidence is theory-impregnated. But it can be amended in reponse to evidence that is already interpreted by means of the framework. The child’s framework develops by means of the child making guesses about how things are and correcting those guesses partly in light of empirical evidence but mostly in response to other people’s reactions, particularly the adults closest to him. Consequently, the biggest impact on a child’s developing conceptual framework is the culture in which he develops; but it is the child’s guesses, strongly influenced by his biologically inherited conceptual resources, that drive the process and that generate individual differences “at the margin” in conceptual frameworks within a given culture. Within a few years a child has acquired through this process a welter of beliefs about how the natural and social worlds work.

            Part of our biologically inherited conceptual framework is an incipient theory about people. A child expects to be cared for, is on the look-out for faces, and is primed to interact interpersonally with other creatures. The idea of a person involved in the child’s expectations is teleological: a person acts, freely, to achieve an aim. We are all – at least, until we start to reflect on the matter – believers in free will. But there is no evidential basis for that belief: it is just part of our inherited conceptual toolkit.

            We are not prisoners of our conceptual framework: we change it by making novel guesses to solve problems thrown up by employing it. For instance, Newtonian space and time were replaced by Einsteinian space-time. Perhaps in future our concept of a person will similarly be dispensed with in favour of some deterministic or purely physicalistic construction. I consider that possibility in a paper available here:


            In my post to which you are responding I cite my paper on social science in which I say that social-scientific explanation is teleological. In particular, economic explanation invokes the rationality principle. Surely, you might say, economics counts as knowledge, and since it assumes rationality, and thus free will, we know that we have free will. But I am uneasy about that because, it seems to me, economic explanation could be recast in purely physicalistic terms: instead of a person having a high probability of acting in a particular way in a particular situation, it may be that there is a high probability that his body will move in that way in those circumstances. The physicalistic version will be able to explain the same things as the teleological one. The only advantage of the latter is that we find it more natural; but that is just a consequence of our biologically inherited prejudices. So, even though economics is knowledge, there is no theoretical or empirical reason for preferring its teleological to its physicalistic version.

            That, anyway, is how things seem to me at the moment; but perhaps my hostility to the idea of giving any epistemic leverage to a proposition simply because it coheres with our prejudices (‘phenomenal conservatism’) is blinding me to a real advantage of teleological explanations of personal behaviour. As you know, I take an axe to ‘phenomenal conservatism’ in another paper (section 8), viewable here:

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Okay, very interesting and, more importantly, logical. But it still leaves me with a question. I daresay that if you asked 100 random people whether they had free will (could you have decided to have a bagel this morning rather than eggs?), all would say yes (any hold-out being a philosopher heavily invested in a negative answer). If we are otherwise agnostic on this question, why doesn’t this provide sufficient evidence to be the “leading theory”? One answer might be the rejection of phenomenal conservatism, but that assumes that introspective observation is a mere prejudice, rather than evidence of some sort. I’m inclined to reject that view, since it is contrary to our usual practice. E.g. we commonly ask people “are you in pain,” and accept the answer as truthful.

          • An important difference between the questions,

            (1) Are you in pain?
            (2) Do you have free will?

            is that the former concerns the existence of an experience which we can normally know about merely by attending to it, whereas the latter concerns whether our actions are caused by antecedent events of which we may be oblivious. How could one know the answer to the second question without doing some empirical investigation?

            We do not discover which theory is the best that we currently have merely by counting up its adherents. Using that method, some bastardisation of Newton’s theory would win hands down over general relativity and even over Newton’s actual theory. We need to look at things such as explanatory power, surprising predictions that survive testing, simplicity, scope, consistency with empirical evidence, consistency with itself and other epistemic values. And, as is always the case with value-pluralism, more of one value can compensate for less of another: even inconsistency can be tolerated in a theory that is otherwise excellent, as the history of the calculus shows. So the fact that most people accept that we have free will is irrelevant in deciding whether a theory that implies that we have free will is epistemically preferable, ceteris paribus, to one that does not.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Thanks, Danny. I guess I don’t see the difference between 1 and 2 to be as sharp as you do. In deciding between bagel and eggs it does appear to me to be just obvious that I could choose either, and that it is merely a matter of my preference at that moment. Something I perceive “merely by attending to it.” I don’t by any means claim that this is conclusive or even strong evidence of free will, just that it should lead one–if otherwise agnostic–to adopt this supposition as a working hypothesis until falsified. Perhaps another way of saying this is that I don’t see why introspection doesn’t count as “empirical” evidence of some sort. If 1000 people describe a particular experience as painful, this would seem to provide some evidence that it is. Absent some reason to do so, I’m not sure we should totally discount a similar description about our ability to select x or y.

          • I’ll spell things out a bit more. We have two rival hypotheses:

            (a) MF’s choice of bagel WAS NOT determined to occur by events that happened prior to the act of will that produced the bodily motion that constituted the choice;

            (b) MF’s choice of bagel WAS determined to occur by events that happened
            prior to the act of will that produced the bodily motion that
            constituted the choice.

            Each of (a) and (b) is consistent with:

            (c) it seems just obvious to MF that he could have chosen either bagel or eggs.

            Therefore, in the absence of relevant further information, (c) is irrelevant in deciding between (a) and (b).

            Could MF adopt free will as a working hypothesis until it is falsified? I don’t see why not. But he should admit that, epistemically, it currently has no more merit than its negation.

            I agree that introspection may count as empirical evidence with respect to some questions. But it is irrelevant to this one for the reason that I just gave.

            As I think you know, Mark, I think all beliefs are unwarranted. We are not culpable for our beliefs; but we may be culpable if we affirm them as true. I reject the whole idea of an ethics of belief. Beliefs are also irrelevant to epistemology, which is concerned with theories. There are epistemic values which theories may have; and there are epistemic virtues that researchers may have; but none of that has anything to do with beliefs.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Okay, thanks.

          • Lacunaria

            (c) it seems just obvious to MF that he could have chosen either bagel or eggs.

            While that is literally what Mark was saying, I think that oversimplifies what I see as his underlying point, namely that through repeated experimentation, we individually obtain evidence of our free will.

            i.e. We have repeated the same events enough times in as great a controlled environment as we can attain (as well as across wildly diverse environments) and we identify that our choice is a real, determining factor.

            The argument against free will seems to be that you cannot really create a controlled environment — everything is connected and you cannot escape all of reality to run experiments.

            But that same rationale can invalidate all empirical modeling. Requiring absolute isolation is a higher burden of proof than we use for all other models which we accept and use on a daily basis.

            All the evidence points to the existence of individual free will. It is a useful construct in our daily lives and the social structures we’ve created. And if we don’t have free will, then reality seems structured to make us think we do.

            So, I don’t see how you can say that free will has no more merit than its negation. Where am I wrong?

          • If (c) on its own is not evidence for (a), then gathering together innumerable cases just like (c) is not evidence for (a) either [zero times a very big number is still zero]. And (c) on its own is not evidence for (a) because it is consistent with the negation of (a). Therefore, by modus ponens,…

            My argument is not an argument against free will. It is that there is no cogent argument for free will.

            You seem to be offering a different argument, something like this. When MF chose a bagel, that action seemed to have no cause because the possible causes that we know about are x, y, and z, but none of those were operative. In other situations where people chose freely, all the possible causes we know about have similarly been found not to be operative.

            But, it seems to me, you can construct a plausible argument of that kind only if our knowledge of the possible causes of an action is somewhat far advanced. Given that we are, most plausibly, talking about events in the brain that occur prior to an action, and given the relatively immature state of that sort of knowledge, I doubt that we are in a position to produce a plausible argument of the required kind. I don’t think that we can say in even one case that brain event of type T is what typically causes an action.

            There is a solecism in what I just said. An action, I maintain, cannot be caused. If it were, it would not be an action (though it might look like one). I committed the solecism to avoid circumlocution. But now you will see that I did not quite state your argument.

            Your argument seems to be that we can, in whatever way, obtain evidence to show that an action was caused by a choice. But that, rather than being an argument for free will, would be an argument against it. If an action is caused by a choice, it is not free; indeed, it is not even an action. An action is something I can either do or not do. It must therefore be undetermined. If there is no free will, there is no action. And I do not know whether there is free will (though, I agree, it seems to us as if there is).

          • Lacunaria

            Thank you for your kind (and prompt!) reply! 🙂 Sorry, I’m slower.

            I am arguing that the intersection of multiple (c) events produces new evidence that one (c) alone cannot provide.

            To be clear, I am appealing to using a fuzzy logic that merely converges toward truth, because that is actually the basis of most of our (true) empirical knowledge: certainty is established through repetition. And hopefully “obviousness” follows, which is what I think Mark meant.

            I suppose whether that qualifies as a “cogent argument” depends upon your precise definitions, but we are talking about the existence of a physical phenomenon and not merely an abstraction.

            So, by perfect logic, you are correct. We do not have a perfect model of free will because it conflicts with causality. But we also do not restrict ourselves to that framework in our other empirical models, so why should we do it with free will?

            We have not been able to trace free will back to its precise origin (beyond connecting to the brain), eliminate all variables in testing it, or fully understand its nature (or even precisely define it!), but we do have evidence that something distinct and free-will-like is going on and we seem to have built personal and social structures around its existence.

            Perhaps I’m just showing my academic philosophical ignorance here, since there’s probably a term for this empirical “free will” as distinct from our various models of it. I guess I’m just arguing that even our false logical model of “free will” comes closer to reality than others, which should therefore make it preferred until we find a better model.

          • Here are the two hypotheses:

            (A) Some human behaviour (bodily motions, not actions) is brought about by acts of will (acts of will are by their nature undetermined).

            (B) There are no acts of will, either because all human behaviour (bodily motions, not actions) is determined or because undetermined human behaviour is not brought about by (undetermined) acts of will.

            You want to say, I think, that we have a plausible model for (A) which explains a range of empirical facts. That, it seems, would require that

            (i) there is a hypothesis about which brain events are (or are associated with) acts of will;
            (ii) according to that hypothesis, those events always have a probability smaller than 1 given the entire state of the world at every time before they occur;
            (iii) the hypothesis has survived some demanding empirical tests.

            I agree that, if (i), (ii) and (iii) were known to be true now, we should prefer (A) to (B). I accept that there may be a future time at which the conjunction of (i), (ii) and (iii) is known to be true; but I do not think any of the conjuncts are known to be true at the current time.

          • Lacunaria

            (i) there is a hypothesis about which brain events are (or are associated with) acts of will;

            Why do we need to narrow down which ones? It may be non-local. Nevertheless, it is significant that we have narrowed down our will’s effects to the brain, because we have empirical tests which mess with people’s brain to make them far more compliant, which seems to damage their “free will” or at least its effects.

            (ii) according to that hypothesis, those events always have a probability smaller than 1 given the entire state of the world at every time before they occur;

            You are assuming an understanding of causality and state here which may not be accurate, but yes, we cannot perfectly externally predict the action. Internally, however, we can.

            (iii) the hypothesis has survived some demanding empirical tests.

            As far as I can tell, it is theoretically impossible to scientifically prove free will because, by its very definition, it is not a variable you can externally control while maintaining the very nature we are testing. Externally, all we see are events that we cannot individually predict, which is not enough.

            So, the main empirical tests we can perform are internal to our own free will. However, we are self-aware and capable of rational thought and communication, so those internal tests may be enough.

            For example, I repeat a scenario again and again and simply vary my choice. This provides some evidence to me that my choice can be determinative of outcomes.

            I tell you that I have a lever I can pull that effects outcomes. You tell me that you can do the same thing.

            Does any of that count as empirical evidence?

    • sandy

      Suppose a student group held a “closed” ticket event on campus featuring a speaker who advocated rape of any female who was not a fundamentalist Christian?

      Suppose a student group held an event on campus featuring a confessed and unrepentant member of a Palestinian terrorist organization who openly advocates genocide and was personally involved in planning attacks that gruesomely murdered Jewish children simply for being Jews?

      Oh, right, left-wing campus groups already do that every now and then.

      But of course it’s only the fantastical specter of right-wing extremism on campus, that you’re worried about – not the actually existing left-wing extremism on campus.

      Either way, I agree with the other replies: The answer in both cases is more speech, bot banning events.

      • Craig J. Bolton

        So, I guess that, judging from your example, libel is now included in that “more speech.” Oh, that is right, that is the whole point of the “more speech” argument. Can’t judge speech by its truthfulness.

  • David Harrell

    Speaking of “silencing”: Why are the latest comments now missing from the front page? (I haven’t been here in awhile.)
    That was one of the coolest features of this blog back in the older days. It not only lent a greater sense of community seeing ourselves talk back to you on the front page; it also helped keep the more interesting older threads alive. Losing it was a bad idea.

    • No name necessary

      Zwolinski and co. have had enough of the rabble.