The Curious Case of my Interview/Discussion with Ruth Millikan

I started my YouTube interview/discussion series Consciousness Live! last summer and scheduled Ruth Millikan as the second guest. We tried to livestream our conversation July 4th 2018 and we spent hours trying to get the Google Hangouts Live to work. When it didn’t I tried to record a video call and failed horribly (though I did record a summary of some of the main points as I remembered them).

Ruth agreed to do the interview again and so we tried to livestream it Friday June 6th 2019, almost a year after our first attempt (and since which I did many of these with almost no problems). We couldn’t get Google Hangouts to work (again!) but I had heard you could now record Skype calls so we tried that. We got about 35 minutes in and the internet went out.

Amazingly Ruth agreed to try again and so we met the morning of Monday June 10th. I had a fancy setup ready to go. I had our Skype call running through Open Broadcast Studios and was using that to stream live to my YouTube Channel. It worked for about half an hour and then something went screwy. After that I decided to just record the Skype call the way we had ended up doing the previous Friday. The call dropped 3 times but we kept going. Below is an edited version of the various calls we made on Monday June 10th.

Anyone who knows Ruth personally will not be surprised. She is well known for being generous with her time and her love of philosophical discussion. My thanks to Ruth for such an enjoyable series of conversations and I hope viewing it is almost as much fun!

[unfortunately I accidentally deleted the video of our discussion, audio available here: )

Kantian Compatibilism?

Spring Break is winding down for me and so I must soon quit the life of discussing philosophy and playing Assassin’s Creed IV and get back to discussing philosophy and playing Grand Theft Auto V. Since I have recently been bashing compatibism I figured I would do some small penance and write down some thoughts that first occurred to me when I read Joshua Green and Jonathan Cohen’s recent-ish paper For the Law, Neuroscience Changes Nothing, and Everything and which occurred again after my discussion with Gregg Caruso and Pete Mandik for SpaceTimeMind. The idea is that if one is going to be a compatibilist one should be a Kantian Compatibilst if at all possible.

As any reader of Kant knows, Kant himself was no fan of compatibilism, at least not of the kind that was floating around in his day. He says,

This is a wretched subterfuge with which some persons still let themselves be put off, and so think they have solved, with a petty word-jugglery, that difficult problem, at the solution of which centuries have laboured in vain and which can therefore scarcely be found so completely on the surface. (Critique of Practical Reason p 189-190)

And indeed it seems that many philosophers think that any kind of compatibilism (or determinism) forces one to a consequentialist account of morality and moral responsibility. But why? I think it is mostly because Kantians have traditionally been Libertarians about free will, but there doesn’t seem to be any principled reason for that.

A Kantian Compatibilism, as I am imagining it, is a view that asserts that free will is compatible with determinism and that free will is still a real feature of the world, just one that we discovered something surprising about. Once this basic move is made one can then go and interpret Kant’s writing in this way, substituting the compatibilist notion of freedom for Kant’s libertarian notion. How would this work? Here is a typical passage from the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, “Autonomy of the will is that property of it by which it is a law to itself (independently of any property of the objects of volition”. This lends itself nicely to a compatibilst interpretation: Autonomy is simply the will being determined by the Categorical Imperative rather than something ‘foreign’ to the C.I. “morally good actions are just the ones that are determined by the supreme moral law” has a very Kantian ring to it, and if one accepted it then one could say most, if not all, of the things that Kantians want to say. Some actions are free (determined in the appropriate manner), some are not (determined some other way), and we are morally responsible for the free ones, the ones that are determined or caused in the right way,and finally, morally good actions are the one that are determined via the Categorical Imperative.

I am not endorsing this view but if I were ever forced to be a compatibilist I would defend it, so what’s wrong with it?

The Higher-Order Approach to Consciousness: The Hot Ticket or In Hot Water?

A propos of the recent discussion of this issue, I am pleased to announce that my paper has been accepted to the Southern Society for Philosophy and Psychology meeting to be held in New Orleans! So, let it snow ’cause in March I’ll be doing philosophy in the Big Easy!

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