Monday, 29 December 2008

Deliberation and Responsibility

Follow up to Is Free Will Important?

Everyone seeks to substitute a more fulfilling state of affairs for a less fulfilling one. We do this by seeking to fulfil the more and stronger of our desires and act to fulfil such desires, given our beliefs. There are many occasions when we do not know what the more fulfilling state of affairs is, what the more and stronger of our desires are, what the relevant beliefs are to achieve these state of affairs and, as well, as to whether these beliefs are sound or not. These occasions are when we are forced to deliberate, which is to find out what the more and stronger of our desires are, what the more fulfilling state of affairs is, what are the relevant beliefs to achieve this and whether these beliefs have a suitably sound foundation to aid in this.

We often have limited time and resources such as incomplete information to do this, but do this we must. We use memories of past more or less equivalent situations where we remember those outcomes and how we felt about them and then we use these memories coupled with current situation to imaginatively simulate the result of our actions and evaluate their likely consequences. These, in turn, might generate further memories and lead to further projected simulations and the cycle might repeat a number of times. Sooner or later we have ascertained what the more and stronger of our desires are (if we are given or have enough time otherwise we might have to act prematurely but to the best of what we have currently found out) and given our beliefs determine the more fulfilling state of affairs to bring about and so form an intention and act upon it. Still there are many exogenous factors that can interrupt, disrupt or abort both the deliberation process and any of the following actions that result from it. This includes real world feedback from our actions that might get us to reconsider our initial intentions, that is to review, revise, replace or reject those intentions and so, possibly, to modify our intentions and act on these new modified intentions. And all these deliberations and revisions are neuronal processes running in our brains.

In the process of seeking to substitute a more fulfilling state of affairs for a less fulfilling one, one might need the cooperation of and coordination with others and/or the cooperation of and coordination with one's future self to realize this state of affairs. Either way one needs a means of ensuring this continued cooperation and coordination. Granted the means to communicate with others one also needs a commitment, as, sometimes, one needs a commitment of one's future self too. The same applies to others who have convince you to cooperate in realising their desired state of affairs. One uses the social tools of praise, blame, reward and punishment to achieve and enforce such commitments. One can do this to oneself too, praise and blaming oneself as one continues, or not, to act to bring abut the more fulfilling state of affairs.

This also applies not just to commitments one explicitly makes but to any behaviours that can effect others. Reciprocally this also applies to any other's behaviours that can effect yourself. In both directions, outcomes can be praised or blamed and this is what it means to be held responsible for one's actions.

Responsibility and Deliberation
One can now add the features of responsibility into one's deliberations. When one remembers the past this includes the memories of praise and blame, reward and punishment as part of those past outcomes. That is in the memories of these past outcomes, the emotional responses not just to the outcome itself but also to other's reactions to that outcome are included. These are also antecedent factors that contribute and partly constitute one's projections into the future. The evaluations of these simulated outcomes will therefore include the prospect of credit and sanction, honour and shame, costs and benefits - whether from other or from oneself. In making commitments to others' projects, or to jointly desired projects, one factors in too the prospect of credit and sanctions and so on in deliberating over making such commitments.

How do we know what the prospect of credit and sanctions are? This becomes part of the challenge of deliberation. That is it helps by being able to predict not only whether one's actions will bring about the desired state of affairs but also whether these outcomes will be regarded as blameworthy or praiseworthy. So part of the deliberation process is to predict the prospect of praise and blame, since the better one understands what is blameworthy and praiseworthy, the better one is able to estimate the likely outcomes of one's actions. That is part of the deliberation is to be able to give an account for one's actions and show that they are praiseworthy or, at least, not blameworthy, that is to recognize that one can be held responsible for one's actions. And still all these projections, predictions and prospects are part of the neuronal processes occurring in brains we call deliberation (or volition).

When, as part of deliberation, one incorporates being held responsible for one's actions, then the relevant past memories of praise and blame and the estimated future prospects of credit and sanctions can alter the soundness of one's beliefs, can change the more more and stronger of one's desires and can revise what is the more fulfilling state of affairs to bring about - otherwise none of this could affect the deliberative neuronal process. Indeed this still happens if one does not consciously acknowledge being held responsible for one's actions since praise and blame, reward and punishment are still constitutive of the deliberative process. Indeed if these too are ignored then one will make poorer simulations of the future with less accurate predictions of outcomes and one might be surprised and, at the very least, disappointed by feedback from one's actions by others.

Sooner or later most learn - by favourable as well as deleterious experiences - to incorporate these factors into one's deliberations. If one does not, then, sooner or later, material forces, such as legal sanctions, will likely end up restricting ones scope to act and bring about, contrary to one's desires, less fulfilling state of affairs.