The Dark Side of Gregg Caruso’s Free Will Denialism

Gregg Caruso, a philosophy professor at Corning Community College, gave a talk about the “Dark Side” of Free Will. In doing so, I think he lets the cat out of the bag, showing that free will deniers come to us with a socio-political agenda.

Caruso has a slide that outlines the “Dark Side” (shown around 3 minutes into the talk). It reads:

The Dark Side

Free will beliefs are correlated with

Religiosity
Punitiveness
Just World Belief
Right Wing Authoritarianism

Whoa! “Religiosity” is the “Dark Side.” It looks like the professor is peddling the “Religion is Evil” talking point of the New Atheist movement. As for “Right Wing Authoritarianism,” does this mean Left Wing Authoritarianism is correlated with a lack of belief in free will? Or maybe for the professor, there is no such thing as Left Wing Authoritarianism.

Anyway, the professor didn’t want to talk about those two little hand grenades and instead focused on punitiveness and just world belief. I didn’t watch the just world belief part of the talk, so I can’t comment on that.

When it comes to punitiveness, we see the common theme of free will denial – a certain soft spot for murderers, rapists, and other forms of violent criminals. For some reason, the free will denialists insist on being their advocates.

Caruso argues that we need to treat rapists and murderers as patients (that original idea was explored in a book from the 1960s called Clockwork Orange). He argues, “We have a duty to the well-being and rehabilitation of criminals.” In other words, since rapists and murderers are not morally responsible for murdering and raping, we need to treat them as victims. Victims who temporarily need to be quarantined for the safety of society until we tend to their well-being.

Caruso holds to an ideology that tends to thrive in intellectually inbred fantasy lands. But let’s try to apply it to the real world.

Recently, a 19 year old girl, Jessica Chambers, was doused in a flammable liquid, even to the point of having it poured down her throat, and was then set on fire. She died several hours later with burns over 98% of her body.

According to Caruso’s ideology, the true victim here is her murderer. We need to find him as soon as possible, put him in a hospital-like setting, tend to his well-being, and rehabilitate him. Perhaps with enough rehab, he can get a good job and start his own family. How noble.

As for Jessica, we’re supposed to view her as someone who died in some type of accident, as if her murder was not really different from her getting drunk and dying in a car wreck. Her death was tragic, yes, but we need to move on as we tend to the real victim here – her murderer. How compassionate.

Prof. Caruso shows us one facet of the dark side of free will denialism – we brush the victim off to the side and turn the killer into the victim.

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20 Responses to The Dark Side of Gregg Caruso’s Free Will Denialism

  1. G. Rodrigues says:

    “He argues, “We have a duty to the well-being and rehabilitation of criminals.” In other words, since rapists and murderers are not morally responsible for murdering and raping, we need to treat them as victims. Victims who temporarily need to be quarantined for the safety of society until we tend to their well-being.”

    If there is no Free Will, the Religious, Punitive, Right Wing Authoritarians are likewise victims (of their genes, the environment, whatever). Do they get the same special treatment of rapists and murders? For what ills should we put them in an asylum?

    Liberal, Progressive, Left-Wing are likewise victims (of their genes, the environment, whatever). Do they get the same special treatment of rapists and murders?

    So everyone is a victim. Who gets to decide who is to be locked down in an asylum and who gets to walk around free? The Liberal, Progressive, Left-Wing Caruso? Liberal, Progressive, Left-Wingers like Caruso do immense harm to society by promulgating moral abominations like the denyal of Free Will, so according to his criteria we should put *him* in an asylum. Does Caruso disagree? On what grounds? He says there is no Free Will, so he is bound to believe what he believes as a product of whatever causal factors got to him first, so why should we even pay attention to any reason he gives? That is, none at all. So off to the asylkum with him.

  2. Crude says:

    I suppose we could say that a denial of free will tends to correlate with calls for re-education of intellectual opponents, and bending over backwards to coddle rapists and murderers.

  3. Dhay says:

    It’s odd that “quarantine” should be used in this context: quarantine is isolation to prevent the spread of infection. The image Caruso is using here, presumably after long and thoughtful consideration, is of the cause of crime being not a disease, or a number of diseases, but specifically infectious disease(s).

    Taking Caruso’s words seriously for a moment, we should put each prisoner into solitary confinement; or group them finely — so that murderers would be with murderers, rapists with rapists, fraudsters with fraudsters, arsonists with arsonists, burglars with burglars, drug pushers with drug pushers, and brawlers with brawlers — into groups which have the same contagious infection; but by Caruso’s thinking, these must not be allowed to mix, lest they infect each other and eg spread the arson virus to fraudsters, etc etc.

    Is there any scientific basis for the Caruso’s implicit assertion that crime is caused by one or more specifically infectious diseases? How many diseases? What is the mode of infection — airborne, contact, other? Are there names for these diseases — or treatments?

    Are all crimes caused by infectious disease? Are some caused by non-infectious disease? Are there crimes not caused by any diseases, and if so, how do those differ from crimes caused by the free choice of the perpetrator?

    Crime is just one class of actions which are allegedly free-will-less: lack of free will apparently applies across the board, to any and every action and “choice” whatsoever; when I go to a concert, is it because I had no choice, I had been infected with the Male Voice Choir virus; when people tell me they “caught the running bug”, should I take them seriously.

    No, I don’t think Caruso gave his ideas long and thoughtful consideration: perhaps he is not actually good at philosophy, or prefers empty rhetoric, or has a form of dyslexia whereby he struggles to understand everyday words; nor did he try his ideas out beforehand — even his youngest philosophy students would surely have mown down “quarantine” very promptly, had it been presented to them in class.

  4. Dhay says:

    An implication of Caruso’s notion that crime is caused by infectious disease, is that prospective perpetrators – that’s all of us – should receive innoculative pre-emptive treatment, presumably a milder form of the treatment given to those murderers, rapists, arsonists, brawlers, etc who have actually committed a crime, to ensure the prospective perpetrator – that’s all of us – does not get to actually perpetrate their crime.

    Not that all of us would necessarily have to receive all of every type of innoculative treatment against criminality. Pre-screening for criminality could be carried out on everyone to test for the presence of these infectious diseases, and to identify which one, much as breast and prostate cancers are currently pre-screened for (in the UK, anyway); and we could additionally be tested for a genetic or lifestyle or other cause of predisposition towards catching the disease – being Christian, or Black, or living in the Bronx, or being poor, uneducated or otherwise disadvantaged, perhaps. To work, the pre-screening would have to be compulsory, and would have to result in the arrest, quarantine and compulsory pre-treatment of especially the already infected, but also of the infection-prone person.

    Sounds dystopian; sounds like the basis for a Sci-Fi horror film; so did Caruso really think his “quarantine” idea through.

  5. dustproduction says:

    For the record: “Dr. Gregg D. Caruso is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Corning Community College and Editor-in-Chief of the scholarly journal Science, Religion and Culture. He received his B.A. in Philosophy from William Paterson University and his M.Phil and Ph.D. in Philosophy from the City University of New York, Graduate Center. He is the author of “Free Will and Consciousness: A Determinist Account of the Illusion of Free Will (2012)” and the editor of “Exploring the Illusion of Free Will and Moral Responsibility (2013)” and “Science and Religion: 5 Questions (2014).” An active member of the local community and a believer in the power of idea,”

  6. dustproduction says:

    How does one deny a “BELIEF?” Doesn’t one accept it or not? Free will is just a belief, and it is little more than linguistic trickery to attempt discussing it as more than that.

    “The free will inventory: Measuring beliefs about agency and responsibility”

    Abstract
    In this paper, we present the results of the construction and validation of a new psychometric tool for measuring beliefs about free will and related concepts: The Free Will Inventory (FWI). In its final form, FWI is a 29-item instrument with two parts. Part 1 consists of three 5-item subscales designed to measure strength of belief in free will, determinism, and dualism. Part 2 consists of a series of fourteen statements designed to further explore the complex network of people’s associated beliefs and attitudes about free will, determinism, choice, the soul, predictability, responsibility, and punishment. Having presented the construction and validation of FWI, we discuss several ways that it could be used in future research, highlight some as yet unanswered questions that are ripe for interdisciplinary investigation, and encourage researchers to join us in our efforts to answer these questions.

  7. Michael says:

    For the record: “Dr. Gregg D. Caruso is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Corning Community College…..

    Irrelevant.

    An opposing view:

    It’s the same story Caruso tells in the video I have posted. There are no responses to the opposing view I provide in my blog entry.

    How does one deny a “BELIEF?” Doesn’t one accept it or not? Free will is just a belief, and it is little more than linguistic trickery to attempt discussing it as more than that.

    Caruso denies the existence of free will. Like other free will denialists, his denialism comes with an agenda.

  8. dustproduction says:

    Re: “Caruso denies the existence of free will.”

    Is your claim that he says he “denies” or are you putting words in his mouth? I heard jim claim that he is “skeptical” about it.
    skeptical |ˈskeptikəl| ( Brit. sceptical)
    adjective
    1 not easily convinced; having doubts or reservations : the public were deeply skeptical about some of the proposals.
    2 Philosophy relating to the theory that certain knowledge is impossible.

    But more to the point, why are you entitled to believe in free will and he is afford the right to not believe in it?
    Can you present an argument against the points he raises about correlated beliefs, such as “Just World Belief” as a blame the victim approach?

  9. Michael says:

    Is your claim that he says he “denies” or are you putting words in his mouth? I heard jim claim that he is “skeptical” about it.
    skeptical |ˈskeptikəl| ( Brit. sceptical)
    adjective
    1 not easily convinced; having doubts or reservations : the public were deeply skeptical about some of the proposals.
    2 Philosophy relating to the theory that certain knowledge is impossible.

    I’m sorry, but when one advocates for such radical changes in social structure, they do not do so from a position of mere skepticism. Consider this bit of nonsense from Caruso:

    For moral responsibility skeptics like myself, this means we are never morally responsible for our actions in the basic desert sense the sense that would make us truly deserving of blame or praise.

    Wrong. Skepticism is not strong enough to insist “we are never morally responsible for our actions.” The correct way to phrase this is as follows:

    For moral responsibility skeptics like myself, this means we cannot be sure we are morally responsible for our actions in the basic desert sense the sense that would make us truly deserving of blame or praise.

    But more to the point, why are you entitled to believe in free will and he is afford the right to not believe in it?

    He is free to believe whatever he wants. I never implied otherwise. Free will and free choice are wonderful things.

    Can you present an argument against the points he raises about correlated beliefs, such as “Just World Belief” as a blame the victim approach?

    As one who accepts the reality of my experiences with free will, yet does not adopt a “blame the victim” approach, it’s hard for me to envision the connection that supposedly exists.

    As for the “correlation”, we’ll overlook the fact that correlation is not causation, and point out the “correlation” is based entirely on one study by two people. For some reason, Caruso wants to treat the study as Absolute Truth, but in science, we need to see the data independently replicated. Until it was been twice independently replicated, there isn’t much reason for us to take it seriously. I don’t think Caruso knows how to think like a scientist.

    But we can consider the basic philosophy. I’m not sure Caruso’s views are any better than a “blame the victim” approach. As I wrote above, he has his own Dark Side to explain. For his approach not only seems to be an “ignore the victim” approach (turning rape victims into people who suffer unfortunate incidents), but it wants to turn the rapist/murdered into The Victim. How is ignoring the victim in order to make the rapist/molester/murderer the True Victim any better than the “blame the victim” approach?

  10. dustproduction says:

    One point here that seems to demonstrate the limits of your argument:

    Re: Caruso wants to treat the study as Absolute Truth, but in science, we need to see the data independently replicated.

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  11. Michael says:

    One point here that seems to demonstrate the limits of your argument:

    Actually, it doesn’t. All you have done is repost the references from Caruso’s paper. When it comes to his correlation argument, it’s all built around one of those references.

  12. dustproduction says:

    Read them all since you seem to believe “the “correlation” is based entirely on one study by two people.”
    But I’m done debating this point, since many of your arguments here apply just as well to the original posting here.

  13. Michael says:

    LOL. He’s “done debating” without ever lifting a finger to engage the points I raised in my blog entry.

  14. dustproduction says:

    Is this you a person “who believe(s)… strongly in free will (and) would be more interested in giving wrongdoers their just deserts”? Are you one of the people whose “free will beliefs correlate with religiosity, punitiveness, and political conservative beliefs and attitudes?”

    The blog entry here is bias and distorted and you know it. Caruso has no “certain soft spot for murderers, rapists, and other forms of violent criminals.” His video mentions separating those that cannot be rehabilitated)
    What may be too complicated to comprehend is this. “According to Waller, “Blaming individuals and holding people morally responsible…is not an effective way of making either systems or people better; instead, it is a design for hiding small problems until they grow into larger ones and a design for concealing system shortcomings by blaming problems on individual failure. If we want to promote effective attention to the causes and correction of mistakes and the developments of more effective behavior and more reliable systems, then we must move away from the model of individual blame and instead encourage an open inquiry into mistakes and their causes and into how a system can be devised to prevent such mistakes and improve individual behavior”

    This is the remedy prescribed for your ilk” “people should be allowed their
    positive illusion of libertarian free will and with it ultimate moral responsibility; we should not
    take these away from people, and those of us who have already been disenchanted ought to
    simply keep the truth to ourselves.”

  15. Michael says:

    The blog entry here is bias and distorted and you know it.

    I am no more biased than Caruso is. The difference is that while I am just a guy on a blog, Caruso promotes himself as a scholar representing scholarship. His bias is thus far more problematic.

    As for distortion, you have not shown any examples of distortion on my part. As for Caruso, I have shown he is distorting things by selling himself as a free will “skeptic.” Notice how you ignored my demonstration.

    Caruso has no “certain soft spot for murderers, rapists, and other forms of violent criminals.”

    That’s how he comes across to many of us. In his worldview, rapists/murderers are people who make mistakes and we thus need to tend to their well-being and rehabilitation. Sounds awfully soft to me. How am I wrong?

    What may be too complicated to comprehend is this. “According to Waller, “Blaming individuals and holding people morally responsible…is not an effective way of making either systems or people better;

    Waller is just another academic who buys into the illusion of making the “better man.” In the 1920s and 30s, those in academia thought we could be “better” through eugenics. Same old empty promises of utopia.

    instead, it is a design for hiding small problems until they grow into larger ones and a design for concealing system shortcomings by blaming problems on individual failure.

    This simply demonstrates that Waller is a conspiracy theorist. Holding people morally responsible for their actions is not some sneaky conspiracy to “conceal system shortcomings.” Only a crackpot would think that.

    If we want to promote effective attention to the causes and correction of mistakes and the developments of more effective behavior and more reliable systems, then we must move away from the model of individual blame and instead encourage an open inquiry into mistakes and their causes and into how a system can be devised to prevent such mistakes and improve individual behavior”

    And the Dark Side of Free Will Denialism is on display. The word salad boils down to this – So when Jessica Chambers was burned alive, it was just a “mistake.”

    It’s not “blame the victim.” It’s denying that Chambers was a victim.

    This is the remedy prescribed for your ilk” “people should be allowed their positive illusion of libertarian free will and with it ultimate moral responsibility; we should not take these away from people, and those of us who have already been disenchanted ought to simply keep the truth to ourselves.”

    Prescribed remedies? People should be allowed? Sounds like authoritarian thinking to me.

  16. dustproduction says:

    How do you expect people to take you seriously? You admit bias and deny distortion.
    Does the word “context” have any relevancy; your beliefs is the context for your views of Cauruso’s? Is this objectivity to you? Another error in your judgements is that you view things in absolutes, with an air of homogeneity.

    Here’s something else for you to blog about. Fresh off the presses: How freedom of thought and conscience are faring worldwide.
    “ACROSS the world, people who reject all religious belief or profess secular humanism are facing ever worse discrimination and persecution, but the existence and legitimacy of such ideas is becoming more widely known and accepted. That is the rather subtle conclusion of the latest report by the International Humanist and Ethical Union, an umbrella body for secularist groups in 40 countries, which in 2012 began making annual surveys of how freedom of thought and conscience are faring worldwide.
    In common with lots of other reports on the subject, it noted that many countries still prescribe draconian penalties for religious dissent, through laws that bar blasphemy against the prevailing religions or “apostasy” from Islam. Some 19 countries punish their citizens for apostasy, and in 12 of those countries it is punishable by death. In Pakistan, the death sentence can be imposed for blasphemy, for which the threshold is very low. In all, 55 countries (including several Western ones) had laws against blasphemy; the perceived offence could lead to prison terms in 39 countries and execution in six.”
    HERE”S THE IMPORTANT PART:
    “Aside from all that ghastliness, the report detected a new trend, a “marked increase” in the specific targeting of atheists and humanists, which was a kind of back-handed acknowledgement of the reality that such beliefs existed and were spreading. ”

    http://www.economist.com/blogs/erasmus/2014/12/atheism-belief-and-persecution

  17. Michael says:

    How do you expect people to take you seriously?

    For one thing, anyone can notice that I raised just one facet of Free Will Denialism’s dark side and you, a champion of free will denialism, have been unable to respond to my point. Armed with Caruso’s work and references, you struggle to deal with something that took me 5 minutes to type up.

    You admit bias and deny distortion.

    All human beings are biased, including you and Caruso. Can you admit that?

    As I noted, I’m not the one trying to peddle my biased ideas under the banner of scholarship. As for distoriton, I have noted that you have failed to identify any examples of distortion. Are you insisting I am obligated to agree with your personal impressions because, well, just because?

    Does the word “context” have any relevancy; your beliefs is the context for your views of Cauruso’s? Is this objectivity to you?

    LOL! Do you think you are objective?

    Another error in your judgements is that you view things in absolutes, with an air of homogeneity.

    Ah, now you rely on your stereotypes.


    Here’s something else for you to blog about. Fresh off the presses: How freedom of thought and conscience are faring worldwide.

    Being unable to address the points I raised in my blog entry, you try to change the topic.

    Let’s stick to the topic of free will denialism and raise another facet. When free will denialists insist we cannot be held morally responsible for our actions, doesn’t that mean the free will denialist is insisting we should not hold the free will denialist morally responsible for his actions? For example, when free will denialists lie and deceive people, they are claiming they are not morally responsible for their lies and deceit, right? Isn’t that what is it all about?

  18. dustproduction says:

    Skepticism = Denialism is your straw dog argument

    denial |diˈnīəl|
    noun
    the action of declaring something to be untrue
    • Psychology failure to acknowledge an unacceptable truth or emotion or to admit it into consciousness, used as a defense mechanism

    We’ve been over this already; Is free will a “truth,” or a belief?
    You are merely seeking to continue opposing your beliefs which are already the status quo, and failing to see that the system is broken.
    Caruso’s conclusion states, ” I agree with Waller that belief in moral responsibility is not a protector of rights for the accused, the convicted, or the unfortunate, but is instead used, quite often, to justify
    treating them in severe and demeaning ways.”

  19. Michael says:

    Skepticism = Denialism is your straw dog argument

    No, that’s your straw dog argument. My argument is: Denialism, not Skepticism.

    Caruso’s denial of free will is tied to a socio-political agenda. We’ve been over this already:

    “I’m sorry, but when one advocates for such radical changes in social structure, they do not do so from a position of mere skepticism.”

    I also highlighted the error in Caruso’s self-label. Caruso writes: “For moral responsibility skeptics like myself, this means we are never morally responsible for our actions in the basic desert sense the sense that would make us truly deserving of blame or praise.”

    Yet, as I noted:

    Wrong. Skepticism is not strong enough to insist “we are never morally responsible for our actions.” The correct way to phrase this is as follows: For moral responsibility skeptics like myself, this means we cannot be sure we are morally responsible for our actions in the basic desert sense the sense that would make us truly deserving of blame or praise.

    You had no counter-argument.

    Caruso’s conclusion states, ” I agree with Waller that belief in moral responsibility is not a protector of rights for the accused, the convicted, or the unfortunate, but is instead used, quite often, to justify treating them in severe and demeaning ways.”

    Ah yes, more from the Dark Side of Free Will Denialism. Notice how Caruso would prefer to refer to murderers and sexual predators as “the accused, the convicted, or the unfortunate.” It makes them so like helpless victims. Your quote simply confirms my blog entry:

    Prof. Caruso shows us one facet of the dark side of free will denialism – we brush the victim off to the side and turn the killer into the victim.

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