This title is one of the ones where I have no idea which words should be capitalized. Maybe I should do what the book itself does and get around this problem by just screaming the title at the reader in all caps.
Essay author Nicolas Michaud is a professor for at least one Flordia university. Rate My Professor gives me three different results, all in Florida, so I’m pretty confident in the accuracy of the contributors’ section claim that he uses university teaching as a cover while training an army of minions for world domination. For one thing, look at that name.
The title gets my hackles raised that this might be one of those “free will doesn’t exist if you redefine free will to mean something dumb” essays, though. We get confirmation on page two that this is, in fact, the case:
But to know whether we should thank the Warriors for saving the world, we need to know whether they have free will. If they don’t have free will and have no choice but to save the world, then why thank them? Why thank someone who has no choice but to do something?
The practical answer is because gratitude is an instinct for long-term cooperation by establishing trust that debts incurred will be repaid, and it is beneficial to demonstrate this in general even if the specific person you’re repaying would keep helping you regardless of your reaction. Also, if you’re belaboring whether or not to express gratitude to people who have already fulfilled a prophecy to save the world, then whether or not they will continue to help you is up in the air, so it’s a good idea to encourage them to keep protecting you from danger.
The moral answer is that gratitude is an expression of justice and fairness, that people who help others deserve to be helped in return, and the fact that someone was able to predict in advance that the Warriors of Light would be both capable and generous enough to get up to world saving does not change the fact that they were willing to risk life and limb to help others. The prophecy didn’t single them out by name, only number and accomplishment, so it’s not like they knew in advance everything would turn out okay. For that matter, the prophecy never said all four would survive the final battle.
The whole premise of the front half of this essay is redefining free will from “capable of choosing one course of action over another based on internal deliberations” to “capable of making completely and utterly unpredictable decisions,” and then after switching to the second definition, pretending that you’re still using the first to make declarations about morality and justice. If “free will” just means “unpredictability,” then who cares whether or not the Warriors of Light have it? You’ve redefined “free will” to have nothing to do with making decisions, and the Warriors of Light still made the decision to help the world, regardless of the fact that the decision was predicted in advance. This is the part where Nicolas Michaud would say “aha! But if you can predict in advance with perfect accuracy how someone will decide, was there ever really a decision made at all?” The answer is yes, and also, why would you think otherwise? Holding someone accountable for their decisions is about intention, not predictability. If we can perfectly predict in advance that these four level 1 losers have the intention (and ability) to save the world, not only should we thank them, we should start thanking them right now rather than waiting until they pull it off. Whatever future-predicting magic we have in this hypothetical is perfect, so we don’t need to wait for them to prove they deserve our gratitude. We already know. Thanks in advance for saving the world, have a free sundae. This argument is literally “they only saved the world because they’re kind, generous people who believe in justice and want to help others! What’s so praiseworthy about that?”
This argument always comes off like “it’s not my fault I missed my kid’s baseball game! The universe is deterministic! I never had a choice!” When we say “you had a choice” we aren’t talking about the boundary conditions of the universe, dumbass, we mean that the critical factor that led to you missing your kid’s baseball game was you. Your car didn’t break down, you didn’t forget, you just decided to stay home and watch TV instead, which means we can expect you to act selfishly as a general rule and we will repay your anti-social behavior by excluding you from the parts of society that we reserve for people who act in a reasonably pro-social manner.
(I apologize to any people named You who may have felt attacked by that last paragraph.)
Side note about forgetting, the reason why there’s no point in blaming people who forget to do things is that this is an engineering problem, not a moral one. If someone is genuinely forgetful and not just selfish, setting up a system that reminds them to do things will solve the problem.
Additional side note, addressing kleptomania:
Consider someone who can’t help stealing. If someone is unable to refrain from committing a crime, we often absolve the person of blame. That is the whole basis of the insanity defense.
No, it isn’t. The basis of the insanity defense is that someone who commits a crime because they have misunderstood the situation in a clearly deluded way is different from someone who commits a crime despite understanding the situation perfectly. The former is a medical problem. If we were able to cure this person of their delusions, they would no longer commit any crimes. The latter is a moral problem. The thief knowingly chose to harm someone else for their own benefit. The problem is not that they are confused, but that they are selfish. The problem is not with what they believe, but with who they are. Okay, so they didn’t choose to be a selfish person. So what? Why is “because I felt like it” suddenly a defense?