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Korean Negotiations

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Berlin on Rousseau

Jean-Jacques Rousseau's role in the creation of romanticism has been exaggerated in some circles, says Isaiah Berlin.

In making this case, he says that there isn't as sharp a break between the canonical Enlightenment figures on the one hand and Rousseau on the other as is sometimes thought, at least if we look to actual content.

"If we consider what it is that Rousseau actually said, as opposed to the manner in which he said it -- and the manner and the life are what are important -- we find that it is the purest milk of the rationalist world....Rousseau's actual doctrine is not all that different from that of the Encyclopaedists. He disliked them personally, because temperamentally he was a kind of dervish from the desert. He was paranoiac, savage, and gloomy in some respects ... he did not have much in common with the people at Holbach's rather irreverent table or at the elegant receptions with Voltaire held at Ferney. But this was to a certain degree a persona…

Against Compatibilism

Now ... why, in the face of such arguments as that I quoted yesterday, am I an incompatibilist?

Here's why: the argument simply misses the point. What William James, and Isaiah Berlin, and more recently Robert Kane (the author of the volume pictured above)  have been saying is that moral judgments with regard to action X (whatever it is) will come to seem meaningless unless we presume that there was a genuine possibility that X would not occur.

Take that woman in the restaurant. We see her look at the menu, we see her order a meal, and presume as empiricists that she has just made a choice. Is this a choice to which moral judgments apply? The naive but appealing answer is, "yes," or at least, "it might be." If you believe in animal rights you will think her decision morally better if she ordered tofu than if she ordered pork.

Aside from that, consider the possibility that she has a medical condition (we need not specify/stipulate further) and she has just orde…

The Case for Compatibilism

Most readers will surely know by now that I am what is known as an "incompatibilist." I believe that determinism as to human behavior is incompatible with moral judgment. 

Today, though, I would like to simply quote a gentleman who recently made the case for compatibilism in the comment section of another blog. It is a very well put statement of the point, and I'll quote it today without further comment or contention. 


A woman goes into a restaurant, sits down, peruses the menu for a minute, and then calls the waiter over to give him her order. We cannot see what is going on in her head. But, assuming she has a normal brain, we expect it to be similar to what happens when we do the same thing, read a menu, evaluate our options, and place an order. We call this empirical event “choosing”. Options are presented, evaluated by some comparative criteria, and a choice is output. So, we know what happened (a choice was made) and we know who did it (the woma…