How to annoy misanthropes and bleeding-hearts

Related to Not for the Sake of Selfishness Alone, Crime and Punishment, and Separate morality from free will.

Here is a simple method for resolving some arguments about free will. Not for resolving the question, mind you. Just the arguments.

One group of people doesn’t want to give people any credit for anything they do. All good deeds are ultimately done for “selfish” reasons, where even having a goal of helping other people counts as selfish. The quote from Lukeprog’s recent article is a perfect example:

No one deserves thanks from another about something he has done for him or goodness he has done. He is either willing to get a reward from God, therefore he wanted to serve himself. Or he wanted to get a reward from people, therefore he has done that to get profit for himself. Or to be mentioned and praised by people, therefore, it is also for himself. Or due to his mercy and tenderheartedness, so he has simply done that goodness to pacify these feelings and treat himself.

- Mohammed Ibn Al-Jahm Al-Barmaki

Another group of people doesn’t want to blame people for anything they do. Criminals sometimes had criminal parents—crime was in their environment and in their genes. Or, to take a different variety of this attitude, cultural beliefs that seem horrible to us are always justifiable within their own cultural context.

The funny thing is that these are different groups. Both assert that people should not be given credit, or else blame, for their actions, beyond the degree of free will that they had. Yet you rarely find the same person who will not give people credit for their good deeds unwilling to blame them for their bad deeds, or vice-versa.

When you find yourself in an argument that appears to be about free will, but is really about credit or blame, ask the person to agree that the matter applies equally to good deeds and bad deeds—however they define those terms. This may make them lose interest in the argument—because it no longer does what they want it to do.