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(1885) Paul Rée, Autonomy, Morals and @realtruth

In order to build and run toy social systems, I have to make decisions about how I can imitate the behavior of people. Imitate people who think they are autonomous, with the help of algorithms that serve me.

Paul Rée published Die Illusion der Willensfreiheit in 1885 in Berlin. Its first two chapters of are on internet in an anonymous English translation. I summarize what is of interest to me in two bullet ponts (the first with the beginning and the end of that translation and the second from Bailey’s First Philosophy of 2006):

  • To say that the will is not free means that it is subject to the law of causality. Every act of will is in fact preceded by a sufficient cause. Without such a cause the act of will cannot occur; and, if the sufficient cause is present, the act of will must occur. To say that the will is free would mean that it is not subject to the law of causality […] recapitulate: the character, the intentions, and the actions of every human being are effects, and it is impossible to assign blame or merit for effects (Rée 1885).
  • Rée diagnoses our mistaken belief in free will as being the result of ignorance of the causes of our own actions. Because we do not see how our actions are caused, we fallaciously assume that they are not caused. Rée explores the implications for morality of the truth of this form of determinism. He argues that if all our actions are necessary effects of prior causes, then we cannot be held morally responsible for them: we cannot legitimately be praised or blamed for our actions […] our preferences themselves are to be explained as causal effects of our genetic inheritance and social upbringing […] (Bailey 2006).

Rée is a hard-liner predestination thinker. I wish him luck, like all other philosophers who look at predestination. The problem is that philosophers are looking for real truth (@realtruth) while I consider it completely unattainable for understanding social systems and their dynamics. I do not trust @realtruth.

This does not alter the fact that the hard line of predestination thinking, and also the need for @realtruth thinking are usually taken seriously when assessing science. Knowledge about social systems must not aspire to meet that need because Rée is right.

After all, his thinking leads to the conclusion that @realtruth and predestination thinking are also illusions that we incorrectly tend to assume to be originally Rée’s, and not the effect of networks of underlying causes that we do not know. We have consequently to make do with illusions.

If we have to make do with illusions, with stories, we have to find manners to identify which are the best. In science, methods and disciplines that strive for @realtruth have been devised for this purpose. In social systems, there is also this aim, but it must be supplemented with methods to identify the best stories that can run social systems best.

So Rée is right. We must suffice with illusions and stories that aim for knowledge about social systems. My toy worlds tell such stories. I have to look for a method to choose the best knowledge story from those available. So I need, in Rée’s terms, the most useful truth illusion. I will have to be able to distinguish it from @realtruth. I call it @proxytruth. Rée helped me on a path that I’m not sure would make him happy.

Ergo: @proxytruth is an illusion that can depict a dream you can chase. As an individual (as in the American dream). But, considering Le Bon, also as a group (as becoming champions for a football club’s fans). I am imagining networks of @proxytruths (plural) that can give direction to and in my toy worlds.