Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Thomas Pink: Critique of Hobbesian 'Free' Will

Drug Addiction
Rational Scale to Assess the Harm of Drugs
Mean Physical Harm and Mean Dependence
What about mean loss of freedom and mean dependence?
(Image from Wikipedia)

Dr. Thomas Pink explains the Hobbesian view of 'free' will as action driven causally by desires if that action is unobstructed by external constraints. Dr. Pink acknowledges that this Hobbesian view has a certain plausibility . . . but also a central problem:
Hobbesian freedom, remember, is no more than unobstructed desire. The only thing, according to Hobbes, that can remove our freedom, is some obstacle to satisfying our desires. Our freedom can never be taken away by our desires themselves. But common sense thinks of freedom quite differently. It sees freedom as something that can perfectly well be taken away from us, not merely by obstacles to our desires, but by our desires themselves. Consider drug addicts, for example. A drug addict is a person imprisoned, not by obstacles to desire satisfaction such as locked cell doors or chains, but by his own desires. A drug addict lacks the freedom not to take the drug to which he is addicted. And he lacks this freedom not to take the drug because his own desire to take it, and not any external constraint, is forcing him to act. The addict is acting exactly as he desires to act. But despite the lack of any obstacle to acting as he desires, he is still not acting freely. He is still not free to act otherwise. And it is his very own desires that have taken that freedom away. (Pink, Free Will: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004, page 68)
An interesting objection to Hobbes: one's desires can obstruct one's freedom even though Hobbes defines the will as nothing more nor less than one's desires.

But, the Hobbesian might object, is the desire caused by drug addiction an entirely internal desire? Some might counter that the drug is introduced from outside the body. I'm not sure that this objection would be valid, however, for the Hobbesian view hasn't distinguished between imposed and unimposed desires. But even if one grants the distinction, what about unimposed desires that can tend to compel us against our will? On Hobbesian principles, this can't even be properly expressed, for the will is nothing more than desire, which would mean that our desire is compelling us against our desire -- or our will against our will. Moreover, we may find multiple, competing desires.

Are we legion? For we sound like many. And it's beginning to get a little crowded in here.

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At 9:41 AM, Blogger Kevin Kim said...

It's enough to make one wonder about the supposed unity of consciousness.

At 11:07 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

"The SUPPOSED unity? I don't want to think about that."

"Yes, I do!"

"NO! I don't!"

"Well, WE do!"

"Everybody SHUT UP!

"YOU shut up! There are more of US!"

Jeffery Hodgeses

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At 2:59 PM, Blogger Mr. Hugens said...

For the Hobbesian's theory to work you'd have to get a little platonic.

If you take the conception of desire - obviously a meth addiction is not the perfect desire as it ages, kills, and maims (as a result of of lifestyle or the drug - is correlation causal here, I don't wish to know!) - and assert that drugs being an outside influence are then "outside" of the platonic conception, then you have a stronger argument.

Further, you could argue that only someone who is deranged or mentally deficient would have a conception of desire where damaging drug use is beneficial.

Said deranged individual would exist outside of the rational base that most philosophers claim to rest upon - further strengthening the Platonic camp.

In precis; pursuing desires is freedom, that is if, and only if, the desires are conceptual and rational without empirical grounding (who truly can say they don't desire, on some level, sybarite's life?).

Granted my understanding of Plato is only through a misunderstanding of Kant, so don't take me as an authority on either man.

Just my thoughts.

At 3:00 PM, Blogger Mr. Hugens said...

Pardon my grammar, and dropped articles here and there, I'm studying for the GRE and have conveniently lost any command of the English language.

At 7:26 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, John, for the visit. Good luck on the GRE.

I think that the closer one gets to a Platonic conception of desires, the farther one gets from Hobbes, for Plato emphasized telos and reason, whereas Hobbes emphasizes mechanistic causality alone.

Insofar as I understand either Plato or Hobbes.

Jeffery Hodges

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