On The Morality of Trapping Orcas

There is something faintly ridiculous in writing on broadly philosophical themes whilst, in the main, rejecting the questions, let alone sensitively treating the typical answers. This will be a shining exemplar of just that foolishness, yet I see no reason why a few hundred words cannot be spared to overturn millennia of errant thought.

To most, Free Will is a charming romp with a killer whale, but to philosophers and (chuckle) theologians it is even more significant. But why? They have their agendas, basically.

The theologian, amateur or pro, needs the idea to pathetically wimp out of the quandary where their giant imaginary friend seems unable or unwilling to do anything about the dreadful world we inhabit. It is variously the price and glory we are tasked with.

The philosopher typically needs it because they like to speak about ethics, and a lot of philosophers think a choice made on the basis of past experience, or on the particular exigencies of a given situation, is little different than being forced to choose at gunpoint. At gunpoint, most people conclude that the coercion removes the ethical component we naturally attribute to having a free choice.

The most glorious among you will note that the word ‘free’ has been bandied around with true abandon. ‘Free’ as in ‘uncoerced’ in the case of acting at gunpoint, and the far more mysterious initial use, and I need to say a little about its counterpoint before putting that usage away for good.

The counterpoint is in actions deemed to be ‘mechanically’ or ‘deterministically’ caused. I think we are advanced enough to now realise that we are complex biological machines, that our actions are caused by faculties as various as the memories we store and reconstruct, the chemicals and electrical impulses that move our thoughts and limbs etc. If you believe otherwise, stop reading (in fact, stop doing anything, just leave). Yet this ill-defined form of freedom, that of will, persists.

The counterpoint of the counterpoint (… the ‘point’, free will) would then seem to be something uncaused. Something not informed by past experience, or local exigencies. This is strange, though. Let us not even get to wondering about uncaused events. They may make sense in dense cosmology, but I doubt they play a universal role in the realm where I decide whether to have a sausage roll.

My thought is other. How, or why, would an uncaused element (not just an element, but its originator) in a decision even be relevant? Evidently it was not informed by prior events, so it would seem to spring from nowhere. And yet not only is this not viewed as some empty interloper, it is seen as the very source of ethical authority, without which all actions are even more devoid of ethical legitimacy than those performed at gunpoint. A phenomenon utterly disconnected, causally and informationally, from actions is pleaded as necessary for those actions to be deemed uncoerced. This seems a mode of freedom someone in chains would find frivolous at best.

Hence I reject the entire question. Just because it was asked does not make it sensible. (Disclaimer: this post was written under extreme duress.)


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