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Ethics(1912) Chapter 6. Free Will.

时间:2012-03-07 18:34:17 点击:

核心提示:Chapter 6. Free Will....

Chapter 6. Free Will.

Throughout the last three chapters we have been considering various objections which might be urged against the theory stated inChapters IandII. Andthe very last objection which we consideredwas one which consisted in asserting that the question whether an action is right or wrong doesnotdepend upon itsactualconsequences, because whenever the consequences,so far as the agent can forsee, arelikelyto be the best possible, the action is always right, even if they are notactuallythe best possible. In other words, this objection rested on the view that right and wrong depend, in a sense, upon what the agentcan know. And in the present chapter I propose to consider objections, which rest instead of this, on the view that right and wrong depend upon what the agentcan do.(Ch. 6 ?1)

Now it must be remembered that,in a sense,our original theorydoes hold and even insists that this is the case. We have, for instance, frequently referred to it inthe last chapteras holding that an action is only right, if it produces the bestpossibleconsequences; and by搕he bestpossibleconsequences?/Q> was meant揷onsequences at least as good as would have followed from any action which the agentcouldhave done instead.?/Q> It does, therefore, hold that the question whether an action is right or wrong does always depend upon a comparison of its consequences with those of all the other actions which the agentcouldhave done instead. It assumes, therefore, that wherever a voluntary action is right or wrong (and we have throughout only been talking ofvoluntaryactions), it is true that the agentcould, in a sense, have done something else instead. This is an absolutely essential part of the theory.(Ch. 6 ?2)

But the reader must now be reminded that all along we have been using the words揷an,?/Q>揷ould,?/Q> and損ossible?/Q>in a special sense.It was explained in Chapter I (抖 17-18), that we proposed, purely for the sake of brevity, to say that an agentcouldhave done a given action, which he didn抰 do, wherever it is true that he could have done it,ifhe had chosen; and similarly by what hecando, or what ispossible, we have always meant merely what is possible,ifhe chooses. Our theory, therefore, has not been maintaining, after all, that right and wrong depend upon what the agent absolutelycando, but only on what he can do,ifhe chooses. And this makes an immense difference. For, by confining itself in this way, our theory avoids a controversy, which cannot be avoided by those who assert that right and wrong depend upon what the agent absolutelycando. There are few, if any, people who willexpresslydeny that we very often really could,ifwe had chosen, have done something different from what we actually did do. But the moment it is asserted that any man ever absolutelycouldhave done anything other than what he did do, there are many people whowoulddeny this. The view, therefore, which we are to consider in this chapter梩he view that right and wrong depend upon what the agent absolutelycando梐t once involves us in an extremely difficult controversy梩he controversy concerning Free Will. There are many people who strenuously deny that any man evercouldhave done anything other than what he actually did do, or evercando anything other than what hewilldo; and there are others who assert the opposite equally strenuously. And whichever view be held is, ifcombinedwith the view that right and wrong depend upon what the agent absolutelycando, liable to contradict our theory very seriously. Those who hold that no man evercouldhave done anything other than what he did do, are, if theyalsohold that right and wrong depend upon what wecando, logically bound to hold that no action of ours is ever right and none is ever wrong; and this is a view which is, I think, often actually held, and which, of course, constitutes an extremely serious and fundamental objection to our theory: since our theory implies, on the contrary, that we very often do actwrongly, if never quite rightly. Those, on the other hand, who hold that we absolutelycando things, which we don抰 do, and that right and wrong depend upon what we thuscando, are also liable to be led to contradict our theory, though for a different reason. Our theory holds that, provided a man could have done something else,ifhe had chosen, that it is sufficient to entitle us to say that his action really is either right or wrong. But those who hold the view we are considering will be liable to reply that this is by no means sufficient: that to say that itissufficient, is entirely to misconceive the nature of right and wrong. They will say that, in order that an action may bereallyeither right or wrong, it is absolutely essential that the agent should have beenreally ableto act differently, able in some sense quite other than that of merely being able,ifhe had chosen.Ifall that were really ever true of us were merely that we could have acted differently,ifwe had chosen, then, these people would say, it really would be true that none of our actions are ever right and that none are ever wrong. They will say, therefore, that our theory entirely misses out one absolutely essential condition of right and wrong梩he condition that, for an action to be right or wrong, it must befreelydone. And moreover, many of them will hold also that the class of actions which we absolutelycando is often not identical with those which we can do,ifwe choose. They may say, for instance, that very often an action, which wecouldhave done,ifwe had chosen, is nevertheless an action which wecould nothave done; and that an action is always right, if it produces as good consequences as any other action which we reallycouldhave done instead. From which it will follow that many actions which our theory declares to bewrong, will, according to them, be right, because these actions really are the best of all that wecouldhave done, thoughnotthe best of all that we could have done,ifwe had chosen.(Ch. 6 ?3)

Now these objections seem to me to be the most serious which we have yet had to consider. They seem to me to be serious because (1) it is very difficult to be sure that right and wrong do not really depend, as they assert, upon what wecando and not merely on what we can do,ifwe choose; and because (2) it is very difficult to be sure in what sense it is true that we evercouldhave done anything different from what we actually did do. I do not profess to be sure about either of these points. And all that I can hope to do is to point out certain facts which do seem to me to be clear, though they are often overlooked; and thus to isolate clearly for the reader抯 decision, those questions which seem to me to be really doubtful and difficult.(Ch. 6 ?4)

Let us begin with the question: Is it ever true that a mancouldhave done anything else, except what he actually did do? And, first of all, I think I had better explain exactly how this question seems to me to be related to the question of Free Will. For it is a fact that, in many discussions about Free Will, this precise question is never mentioned at all; so that it might be thought that the two have really nothing whatever to do with one another. and indeed some philosophers do, I think, definitely imply that theyhavenothing to do with one another: they seem to hold that our wills can properly said to be free even if wenevercan, in any sense at all, do anything else except what, in the end, we actually do do. But this view, if it is held, seems to me to be plainly a mere abuse of language. The statement that we have Free Will is certainly ordinarily understood to imply that we really sometimes have the power of acting differently from the way in which we actually do act; and hence, if anybody tells us that we have Free Will, while at the same time he means to deny that we ever have such a power, he is simply misleading us. We certainly havenotgot Free Will, in the ordinary sense of the word, if we never reallycould, in any sense at all, have done anything else than what what we did do; so that, in this respect, the two questions certainly are connected. But, on the other hand, the mere fact (if it is a fact) that we sometimescan, insomesense, do what we don抰 do, does not necessarily entitle us to say that wehaveFree Will. We certainlyhaven抰got it,unlesswe can; but it doesn抰 follow that wehavegot it, even if wecan. Whether we have or not will depend upon the precise sense in which it is true that we can. So that even if we do decide that we reallycanoften, insomesense, do what we don抰 do, this decision by itself does not entitle us to say that we have Free Will.(Ch. 6 ?5)

And the first point about which we can and should be quite clear is, I think, this: namely that we certainly oftencan, insomesense, do what we don抰 do. It is, I think, quite clear that this is so; and also very important that we should realise that it is so. For many people are inclined to assert, quite without qualification: No man evercould, on any occasion, have done anything else than what he actually did do on that occasion. By asserting this quite simply, without qualification, they imply, of course, (even if they do not mean to imply), that there isnoproper sense of the word?SPAN class=emphasis>could,?/Q> in which it is true that a mancouldhave acted differently. And it is this implication which is, I think, quite certainly absolutely false. For this reason, anybody who asserts揘othing evercouldhave happened, except what actually did happen,?/Q> is making an assertion which is quite unjustifiable, and which he himself cannot help constantly contradicting. And it is important to insist on this, because many people do make this unqualified assertion, without seeing how violently it contradicts what they themselves, and all of us, believe, and rightly believe, at other times. If, indeed, they insert a qualification梚f they merely say,揑nonesense of the word?SPAN class=emphasis>could?/Q> nothing evercouldhave happened, except what did happen,?/Q> then, they may perhaps be perfectly right: we are not disputing that they may. All that we are maintaining is that, inoneperfectly proper and legitimate sense of the word揷ould,?/Q> and that one of the very commonest senses in which it is used, it is quite certain that some things which didn抰 happencouldhave happened. And the proof that this is so, is simply as follows.(Ch. 6 ?6)

It is impossible to exaggerate the frequency of the occasions on which weallof us make a distinction between two things, neither of whichdidhappen,梐 distinction which we express by saying, that whereas the onecouldhave happened, the other couldnot. No distinction is commoner than this. And no one, I think, who fairly examines the instances in which we make it, can doubt about three things: namely (1) that very often there really issomedistinction between the two things, corresponding to the language which we use; (2) that this distinction, which reallydoessubsist between the things, istheone which we mean to express by saying that the one was possible and the other impossible; and (3) that this way of expressing it is a perfectly proper and legitimate way. But if so, it absolutely follows that one of the commonest and most legitimate usages of the phrases揷ould?/Q> and揷ould not?/Q> is to express a difference, which often really does hold between two thingsneitherof which did actually happen. Only a few instances need be given. Icouldhave walked a mile in twenty minutes this morning, but I certainly couldnothave run two miles in five minutes. I did not,in fact, do either of these two things; but it is pure nonsense to say that the mere fact that Ididnot, does away with the distinction between them, which I express by saying that the onewaswithin my powers, whereas the other wasnot.AlthoughI did neither, yet the one was certainlypossibleto me in a sense in which the other was totallyimpossible. Or, to take another instance: It is true, as a rule, that catscanclimb trees, whereas dogscan抰. Suppose that on a particular afternoon neitherA抯 cat norB抯 dogdoclimb a tree. It is quite absurd to say that this mere fact proves that we must be wrong if we say (as we certainly often should say) that the catcouldhave climbed a tree, though she didn抰, whereas the dogcouldn抰. Or, to take an instance which concerns an inanimate object. Some shipscansteam 20 knots, whereas otherscan抰steam more than 15. And the mere fact that, on a particular occasion, a 20-knot steamerdidnotactuallyrun at this speed certainly does not entitle us to say that shecouldnot have done so, in the sense in which a 15-knot onecouldnot. On the contrary, we all can and should distinguish between cases in which (as, for instance, owing to an accident to her propeller) she did not,becauseshe could not, and cases in which she did not,althoughshecould. Instances of this sort might be multiplied quite indefinitely; and it is surely quite plain that we all of us docontinuallyuse such language: we continually, when considering two events, neither of whichdidhappen, distinguish between them by saying that whereas the onewaspossible, though it didn抰 happen, the other wasimpossible. And it is surely quite plain that what we mean by this (whatever it may be) is something which is often perfectly true. But, if so, then anybody who asserts, without qualification,揘othing evercouldhave happened, except what did happen,?/Q> is simply asserting what is false.(Ch. 6 ?7)

It is, therefore, quite certain that we oftencould(insomesense) have done what we did not do. And now let us see how this fact is related to the argument by which people try to persuade us that it isnota fact.(Ch. 6 ?8)

The argument is well known; it is simply this. It is assumed (for reasons which I need not discuss) that absolutely everything that happens has acausein what precedes it. But to say this is to say that it followsnecessarilyfrom something that preceded it; or, in other words, that, once the preceding events which are its cause had happened, it was absolutelyboundto happen. But to say that it wasboundto happen, is to say that nothing elsecouldhave happened instead; so that, ifeverythinghas a cause,nothingever could have happened except what did happen.(Ch. 6 ?9)

And now let us assume that the premise of this argument is correct: that everything reallyhasa cause. What really follows from it? Obviously all that follows is that, inonesense of the word揷ould,?/Q> nothing evercouldhave happened, except what did happen. This reallydoesfollow. But,ifthe word揷ould?/Q> is ambiguous梚f, that is to say, it is used in different senses on different occasions梚t is obviously quite possible that though, inonesense, nothing ever could have happened except what did happen, yet inanothersense, it may at the same time be perfectly true that some things which did not happencouldhave happened. And can anybody undertake to assert with certainty that the word揷ould?/Q> isnotambiguous? that it may not have more than one legitimate sense?Possiblyit is not ambiguous; and,ifit is not, then the fact that some things, which did not happen,couldhave happened, really would contradict the principle that everything has a cause; and, in that case, we should, I think, have to give up this principle, because the fact that we oftencouldhave done what we did not do, is so certain. But the assumption that the word揷ould?/Q> isnotambiguous is an assumption which certainly should not be made without the clearest proof. And yet I think it often is made, without any proof at all; simply because it does not occur to people that words often are ambiguous. It is, for instance, often assumed, in the Free Will controversy, that the question at issue is solely as to whether everything is caused, or whether acts of will are sometimes uncaused. Those who hold that wehaveFree Will, think themselves bound to maintain that acts of will sometimes havenocause; and those who hold that everything is caused think that this proves completely that we have not Free Will. But, in fact, it is extremely doubtful whether Free Will is at all inconsistent with the principle that everything is caused. Whether it is or not, all depends on a very difficult question as to the meaning of the word揷ould.?/Q> All that is certain about the matter is (1) that, if we have Free Will, it must be true, insomesense, that we sometimescouldhave done, what we did not do; and (2) that, if everything is caused, it must be true, insomesense, that wenever couldhave done, what we did not do. What is veryuncertain, and what certainly needs to be investigated, is whether these two meanings of the word揷ould?/Q> are the same.(Ch. 6 ?10)

Let us begin by asking: What is the sense of the word揷ould,?/Q> in which it is so certain that we oftencouldhave done, what we did not do? What, for instance, is the sense in which Icouldhave walked a mile in twenty minutes this morning, though I did not? There is one suggestion, which is very obvious: namely, that what I mean is simply after all that I could,ifI had chosen; or (to avoid a possible complication) perhaps we had better say搕hat Ishould,ifI had chosen.?/Q> In other words, the suggestion is that we often use the phrase揑 could?/Q>simply and solely as a short way of saying揑should, if I had chosen.?/Q> And in all cases, where it is certainly true that wecouldhave done, what we did not do, it is, I think, very difficult to be quite sure that this (or something similar) isnotwhat we mean by the word揷ould.?/Q> The case of the ship may seem to be an exception, because it is certainly not true that she would have steamed twenty knots ifshehad chosen; but even here it seems possible that what we mean is simply that shewould, ifthe men on board of herhad chosen. There are certainly good reasons for thinking that wevery oftenmean by揷ould?/Q> merely搘ould,ifso and so had chosen.?/Q> And if so, then we have a sense of the word揷ould?/Q> in which the fact that we oftencouldhave done what we did not do, is perfectly compatible with the principle that everything has a cause: for to say that,ifI had performed a certain act of will, I should have done something which I did not do, in no way contradicts this principle.(Ch. 6 ?11)

And an additional reason for supposing that thisiswhat we often mean by揷ould,?/Q> and one which is also a reason why it is important to insist on the obvious fact that we very often reallyshouldhave acted differently,ifwe had willed differently, is that those who deny that we evercouldhave done anything, which we did not do, often speak and think as if this really did involve the conclusion that we never should have acted differently, evenifwe had willed differently. This occurs, I think, in two chief instances梠ne in reference to the future, the other in reference to the past. The first occurs when, because they hold that nothingcanhappen, except whatwillhappen, people are led to adopt the view called Fatalism梩he view thatwhatever we will, the result will always be the same; that it is, therefore,neverany use to make one choice rather than another. And this conclusion will really follow if by揷an?/Q> we mean?SPAN class=emphasis>wouldhappen, evenifwe were to will it.?/Q> But it is certainly untrue, and it certainly does not follow from the principle of causality. On the contrary, reasons of exactly the same sort and exactly as strong as those which lead us to suppose that everything has a cause, lead us to the conclusion that if we choose one course, the result willalwaysbe different insomerespect from what it would have been, if we had chosen another; and we know also that the difference wouldsometimesconsist in the fact thatwhatwe chose would come to pass. It is certainly often true of the future, therefore, that whichever of two actions wewereto choose,wouldactually be done, although it is quite certain that only one of the twowillbe done.(Ch. 6 ?12)

And the second instance, in which people are apt to speak and think, as if,becauseno man evercouldhave done anything but what he did do, it follows that he would not, evenifhe had chosen, is as follows. Many people seem, in fact, to conclude directly from the first of these two propositions, that we can never be justified in praising or blaming a man for anything that he does, or indeed for making any distinction between what is right or wrong, on the one hand, and what is lucky or unfortunate on the other. They conclude, for instance, that there is never any reason to treat or to regard the voluntary commission of a crime in any different way from that in which we treat or regard the involuntary catching of a disease. The man who committed the crimecouldnot, they say, have helped committing it any more than the other man could have helped catching the disease; both events were equally inevitable; and though both may of course be greatmisfortunes, though both may have very bad consequences and equally bad ones梩here is no justification whatever, they say, for the distinction we make between them when we say that the commission of the crime waswrong, or that the man was morally to blame for it. And this conclusion, again, will really follow if by?SPAN class=emphasis>couldnot,?/Q> we mean?SPAN class=emphasis>wouldnot, even if he had willed to avoid it.?/Q> But the point I want to make is, that it followsonlyif we make this assumption. That is to say, the mere fact that the manwouldhave succeeded in avoiding the crime,ifhe had chosen (which is certainly often true), whereas the other man wouldnothave succeeded in avoiding the disease,evenif he had chosen (which is certainly also often true) gives an ample justification for regarding and treating the two cases differently. It gives such a justification, because, where the occurrence of an eventdiddepend upon the will, there, by acting on the will (as we may do by blame or punishment) we have often a reasonable chance of preventing similar events from recurring in the future; whereas, where it didnotdepend upon the will, we have no such chance. We may, therefore, fairly say that those who speak and think, as if a man who brings about a misfortunevoluntarilyought to be treated and regarded in exactly the same way as one who brings about an equally great misfortuneinvoluntarily, are speaking and thinkingas ifit were not true that we ever should have acted differently, evenifwe had willed to do so. And that is why it is extremely important to insist on the absolute certainty of the fact that we often reallyshouldhave acted differently,ifwe had willed differently.(Ch. 6 ?13)

There is, therefore, much reason to think that when we say that wecouldhave done a thing which we did not do, weoftenmean merely that weshouldhave done it,ifwe had chosen. And if so, then it is quite certain that, inthissense, we often reallycouldhave done what we did not do, and that this fact is in no way inconsistent with the principle that everything has a cause. And for my part I must confess that I cannot feel certain that this may not beallthat we usually mean and understand by the assertion that we have Free Will; so that those who deny that we have it are really denying (though, no doubt, often unconsciously) that we evershouldhave acted differently, even if we had willed differently. It has been sometimes held that thisiswhat we mean; and I cannot find any conclusive argument to the contrary. And if it is what we mean, then it absolutely follows that we reallyhaveFree Will, and also that this fact is quite consistent with the principle that everything has a cause; and it follows also thatour theorywill be perfectly right, whenit makes right and wrong depend on what wecouldhave done,ifwe had chosen.(Ch. 6 ?14)

But, no doubt, there are many people who will say that this isnotsufficient to entitle us to say that we have Free Will; and they will say this for a reason, which certainly has some plausibility, though I cannot satisfy myself that it is conclusive. They will say, namely: Granted that we oftenshouldhave acted differently,ifwe had chosen differently, yet it is not true that we have Free Will, unless it isalsooften true in such cases that wecouldhavechosendifferently. The question of Free Will has thus been represented as merely the question whether we evercouldhave chosen, what we did not choose, or evercanchoose, what, in fact, we shall not choose. And since there is some plausibility in this contention, it is, I think, worth while to point out that here again it is absolutely certain that, in two different senses, at least, we oftencouldhave chosen, what, in fact, we did not choose; and that in neither sense does this fact contradict the principle of causality.(Ch. 6 ?15)

The first is simply the old sense over again. If by saying that wecouldhave done, what we did not do, we often mean merely that weshouldhave done it,ifwe had chosen to do it, then obviously, by saying that wecouldhavechosento do it, we may mean merely that weshouldhave so chosen,ifwe had chosento make the choice. And I think there is no doubt it is often true that we should have chosen to do a particular thingifwe had chosen to make the choice; and that this is a very important sense in which it is often in our power to make a choice. There certainly is such a thing as making an effort to induce ourselves tochoosea particular course; and I think there is no doubt that often if wehadmade such an effort, weshouldhave made a choice, which we did not in fact make.(Ch. 6 ?16)

And besides this, there is another sense in which, whenever we have several different courses of action in view, it ispossiblefor us to choose any one of them; and a sense which is certainly of some practical importance, even if it goes no way to justify us in saying that we have Free Will. This sense arises from the fact that in such cases we hardly everknow for certainbeforehand,whichchoice we actuallyshallmake; and one of the commonest senses of the word損ossible?/Q> is that in which we call an event損ossible?/Q> when no man canknow for certainthat it willnothappen. It follows that almost, if not quite always, when we make a choice, after considering alternatives, itwaspossible that we should have chosen one of these alternatives, which we did not actually choose; and often, of course, it was not only possible, but highly probable, that we should have done so. And this fact is certainly of practical importance, because many people are apt much too easily to assume that it is quite certain that theywill notmake a given choice, which they know they ought to make, if it were possible; and their belief that theywillnot make it tends, of course, to prevent them from making it. For this reason it is important to insist that they can hardly ever know for certain with regard to any given choice that they willnotmake it.(Ch. 6 ?17)

It is, therefore, quite certain (1) that we oftenshouldhaveacteddifferently, if we had chosen to; (2) that similarly we often should havechosendifferently,ifwe had chosen so to choose; and (3) that it was almost alwayspossiblethat we should have chosen differently, in the sense that no man could know for certain that we shouldnotso choose. All these three things are facts, and all of them are quite consistent with the principle of causality. Can anybody undertake to say for certain that none of these three facts andnocombination of them will justify us in saying that we have Free Will? Or, suppose it is granted that we have not Free Will, unless it is often true that wecouldhave chosen, what we did not choose:桟an any defender of Free Will, or any opponent of it, show conclusively that what he means by?SPAN class=emphasis>couldhave chosen?/Q> in this proposition, is anything different from the two certain facts, which I have numbered (2) and (3), or some combination of the two? Many people, no doubt, will still insist that these two facts alone are by no means sufficient to entitle us to say that we have Free Will; that it must be true that we wereableto choose, in some quite other sense. But nobody, so far as I know, has ever been able to tell us exactly what that sense is. For my part, I can find no conclusive argument to show either that some such other sense of揷an?/Q> is necessary, or that it is not. And, therefore, this chapter must conclude with a doubt. It is, I think, possible that, instead of saying,as our theory said, that an action is only right, when it produces consequences as good as any which would have followed from any other action which the agentwouldhave done,ifhe had chosen, we should say instead that it is right whenever and only when the agentcould not have doneanything which would have produced better consequences; and that this?SPAN class=emphasis>could nothave done?/Q> isnotequivalent to搘ould not have done,ifhe had chosen,?/Q> but is to be understood in the sense, whatever it may be, which is sufficient to entitle us to say that we have Free Will. If so, then our theory would be wrong, just to this extent.(Ch. 6 ?18)




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