...scientists have been on a rampage writing ill-considered public announcements about free-will which … in some case verge on social irresponsibility … The recent flood of books by neuroscientists has very little worthwhile stuff and a lot that’s seriously confused; and now, as we’re actually beginning to get some scientific confirmation, it makes a difference … because … some research shows that if you present people with the claim that science has shown that we don’t really have free-will … they will actually behave less morally; they will be more apt to cheat. — Daniel Dennett, from a podcast to be found here

The research he refers to isn't consistently replicable, which is like saying it's false. 

Yeah, OK, let’s pretend guns don’t exist, because if we say they do they might be used to kill people. I find it astonishing that a philosopher would use an argument from social concern to attack an argument from evidence – evidence that he actually agrees with: that there is no contra-causal free-will. Dennett wants to insist on using the label associated with dualism, because that might persuade people to be good; or, that to remove that label and emphasise the reality of physicalism might lead them to be bad? This doesn’t fit with Dennett’s arguments against religion, where he acknowledges that religion might persuade some people to be good, but that’s not a good enough reason to claim religious beliefs as truths. (Ron Murphy)

Dennett basically embraces Kant's ridiculous and fallacious argument that we need God because if he didn't exist, bad people would ultimately go unpunished. No, Dennett doesn't believe in God. He embraces the form of the argument but without the content. He argues, basically, that if we didn't have free will, everything is permitted. You can invert the expression and see what he's really getting at: if we didn't have free will, nothing would be impermissible. 

So, what grounds grounds do we have for controlling people, for that is what morality is all about, is it not?

Are we responsible for our actions? Of course we are in the sense that we are the proximate cause of our actions. But does mere proximity result in moral responsibility? What grounds do we have for taking people's political freedom from them and placing them under arrest, in jail or prison, or even for taking their life from them in capital punishment. 

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Yes, it seems that the Christian morality teaches that you would commit crimes if you knew you'd get away with them, albeit, ironically, Christians seem to be over represented in the population in prison, relative to the general population...whereas atheists are so far under represented to the point of statistical absence.

So, it is an evil teaching that, in reality, historically, is associated with increased crime.

It doesn't work...because a basic tenant of crime commission is the assumption that you won't get caught/punished.

It also doesn't work because once a person assumes he's going to be punished (go to hell), he has nothing to lose by committing more crimes.  

If the bad person is the superstitious sort who is mostly concerned with the afterlife...he is, in his world view, justified in a post-hell-sentence crime spree, as he's already going to hell...and, perhaps, willing to ignore the natural world having detectives and so forth, and prisons, in the real world to imprison and/or execute his corporal body.

If the bad person is not superstitious, and is aware of the real world's justice system, he might be deterred by the fear of imprisonment or execution.

If its a good person, he has no motivation to perform a bad deed even if he thought he'd get away with it.

Perhaps all Christians being told they are sinners from birth makes them natural born killers/criminals:  The "good ones" are kept from going on murderous rampages only due to their superstitious fears.

I suppose its an equivalent fear to that of children not being good because Santa (Dead Turkish Clergy) will give them coal (hell) instead of presents (heaven).

According to Christian teachings essentially, without Santa and his threat of coal instead of the reward of presents...children would go on murderous rampages...because without Santa, there can be no morality.


I hate the argument that without God people would suddenly start behaving badly either, I suppose, because they're not being watched or they no longer fear hell.

But then you have the whole "sacrament" of confession whereby you can absolve yourself of your sins. It's present in different forms in both Catholicism/Orthodoxy and Protestantism. Well, gee, why not rob that bank or burn that homeless woman alive, then? After all, according to the popular bumper sticker, "Christians aren't perfect, just forgiven." They will point out, of course, that's only if your confession and request for forgiveness are sincere. But still, there must be some people who did some horrific and dreadful things walking around and feeling okay about it because they confessed before God.

Yeah, its their get out of hell free card.

Its also how they can say you are born a sinner, but can keep your membership if you also do yet another ritual.

So, murderous rampage, then, ask forgiveness, and, you are absolved, as long as you SINCERELY did not want to be burned forever in a lake of fire.

Rinse, Repeat.


Yeah, that doesn't sit well with me either. It's one of those many things with religion where I get what they were trying to do but it's poorly implemented. Reminds me of a lot of government policies ;-) 

One of the main problems with organised religions is that they are too black and white. All sinners can absolve themselves. No - it should be some sinners can absolve themselves given the right circumstances. Abortion is always wrong. No, abortion is sometimes wrong - given the circumstances. And so on, ad infinitum.

You've always got to worry about people who are very sure about things, especially complex questions. It betrays a dangerous false righteousness.


". What sort of dark shit do these people have inside them...?"

I don't know how dark it is but it sure STINKS when they let it out.

"So, what grounds do we have for controlling people, for that is what morality is all about, is it not?

- classical theory states that we need everyone to be a good cooperator, because if they are not, society does not flourish.  In the very old days, our small group would not flourish.  So it's in everyone's interests to punish those who cheat / do not "cooperate".  Of course, societies vary somewhat in how they define "cooperate".  Small groups tend to be very egalitarian; large groups tend to be very stratified with a rigid structure. 

"some research shows that if you present people with the claim that science has shown that we don’t really have free-will … they will actually behave less morally; they will be more apt to cheat.

- so it seems that a sense of free will and a sense of responsibility go together, which is understandable. 

"some research shows that if you present people with the claim that science has shown that we don’t really have free-will … they will actually behave less morally; they will be more apt to cheat.

- so it seems that a sense of free will and a sense of responsibility go together, which is understandable. 

That isn't consistently replicable, which is like saying it's false. In science, unless a hypothesis can be independently repeated by other researchers, it's a false hypothesis. Even if you take the position that we're talking about a social science and thus a soft science, results that sometimes repeat and sometimes don't are not useful.

It’s has been used—by Dan Dennett and Eddy Nahmias among others—to show that unless people believe in some form of free will, they’ll behave badly and society will fall apart.

Very interesting conclusion considering that is absolutely not what Dennett was implying. This webpage you are referencing is a guy who claims a friend could not replicate the study...but then he doesn't tell us what that study is but instead refers to a newspaper column that will be written for the New York Times. Funny that you cannot find any information on the replication studies (nothing) but that we cannot even evaluate them or try to replicate those ones themselves because they haven't been subjected to srcutiny. Making incredibly bold claims (like that most studies cannot be replicated) requires providing impeccible information and evidence...something they haven't done. It was also found that a notable portion of those tests which weren't replicated weren't shown to be false but instead found a weaker result. While I buy it that many studies haven't been replicated, including important ones, we have no reason to accept what they said on this study because it's simply a claim with nothing to back it up.

Dennett basically embraces Kant's ridiculous and fallacious argument that we need God because if he didn't exist, bad people would ultimately go unpunished.

No. This is a gross misunderstanding of Dennett's analysis and an even worse misunderstanding of Kant. Dennett points out, and nothing more, that when it is suggested to subjects that they may not be accountable for their actions, that they were more likely to cheat. This has no bearing on Dennett's ethics because his is a detontological-evolutionary one. That means, whether we live in a hard-determinist world or not, it makes no different on one's responsibility. You'd have to read his works instead of looking at a webpage some guy threw together attacking Dennett's claims without referencing his work or showing any evidence. Always a good idea to read the primary sources rather than an unsourced critique which is prone to biased affirmation.

When Kant says to the effect we should formulate our moral principles as though God exists...he is not suggesting that we consider that God exists, but that our moral principles if formulated in a de-ontological way would carry the same kind of universality that God's moral laws would have (if God actually did exist). Kant starts from the very beginning with a clean slate and forms his categorical moral statements through reason which is about as far the opposite as you can get from a God handing down rules. No only that but these sets of moral laws are made individually meaning that for the most part it is impossible to agree on a set of universal God-like laws but rather categorical ones on an individual basis.

In any case...this is all irrelevant because in a deontological system it doesn't matter what the circumstances are, how the action conflicting with a moral principle happened and even if you have free will or not, the conflict is still a conflict and the ifs and the ands and the buts are irrelevant.

FYI Hopefully, this will be academic enough for you.

I guess we'll have to disagree over how to interpret Kant, but I'm not alone in my interpretation. Maybe I'm guilty of simplification (this is a discussion group with a lot of people with no academic training in philosophy after all), but I think my view is basically valid and defensible. 

Kant held that a rational, moral being must necessarily will “the highest good,” which consists of a world in which people are both morally good and happy, and in which moral virtue is the condition for happiness. The latter condition implies that this end must be sought solely by moral action. However, Kant held that a person cannot rationally will such an end without believing that moral actions can successfully achieve such an end, and this requires a belief that the causal structure of nature is conducive to the achievement of this end by moral means. This is equivalent to belief in God, (emphasis mine) a moral being who is ultimately responsible for the character of the natural world. (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Kant or no Kant...I think people are, generally, as good as any other primate, and, due to being raised in a social environment, act socially with each other.

The exceptions are discouraged/punished/shunned, killed or banished, etc, depending upon the species.

That's why people act "morally".  They want to be good, because they were raised to want to be good.

If told that to be good, no one can see your face, or penis, well, that becomes part of what they strive to do...even if it seems silly to those who see penises and faces and don't think twice about it.

If told that they HAVE TO be good to avoid punishment, they simply incorporate that into their beliefs the same way the no pee pee in public "moral" was inculcated into their lives.

If told that good people believe in particular supernatural beliefs, they then believe that they should believe it too, because they know they are good....but are free to criticize the supernatural beliefs of others as retarded BS...especially if taught to "defend their faith at all costs".

So DEFENDING the faith is now also part of being a good person, and so forth.

They don't know that they are good because that's just who they are. They THINK they need specific supernatural explanations.  

Some people are just BAD PEOPLE (Bad Monkeys, etc), and, will act bad because that's THEIR nature.  Some are simply too impulsive, have too little sense of consequence, etc...and, they end up in trouble.  MOST of them DO believe in the supernatural beliefs they were taught, but just can't help it, because they don't see themselves as good, enough at least...the way normal people do.


There is a tale in Plato's Republic of the Ring of Gyges. I'm not going to go into the whole myth so I'll just summarize it this way. There was a ring which, if you turned it in a certain way rendered you not just invisible, but totally undetectable. 

If you wanted something, you could steal it. If someone offended you, you could kill them. And you could behave this way with total impunity. The question is this, if you had such a ring, what reason would you have for being good?

Socrates' reply was basically that if you were to use the ring, you'd end up being enslaved to your desires and appetites and would be far less happy, ultimately, than someone leading a life of honesty.

Another answer is that when you deceive others and have a secret life of dishonesty, you become alone in the world. You have no real friends because no one can trust you. Even those who do trust you are unaware that they shouldn't. You become trapped behind a wall of your own making.


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